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Salish food exhibit tells story of the PNW

By Molly Wampler

“Food is the essence of culture, from the collection, to the preparation, to the serving then eating of food; it is what makes us who we are,” the first panel of the “Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound” exhibit currently at Collins Memorial Library reads. These panels primarily quote from a book called Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit, by Elise Krohn and Valerie Segrest.

On loan from the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, this exhibit showcases a history of Salish food in the Pacific Northwest region. “We wanted to highlight the traditional foods of our area,” Jane Carlin, Library Director, explained.

This history, however, is not so simple and upbeat. Another panel of the exhibit told the story of the colonization of this area. In the 1850’s, the panel explained, it became increasingly difficult for the native people to continue their food traditions, as settlers arrived and changed the natural land of the Coast Salish people.

This common narrative is part of what Carlin wanted to highlight in this exhibit. “We have tried to offer opportunities for people to learn more about that [narrative] and see two different sides of the story,” she said. “The principle reasoning behind the Burke exhibit was really to raise awareness of traditional foods…[and] talk about the disruption to the traditional food cycles and production,” Carlin continued.

The library was also able to integrate a variety of campus resources into the exhibit. To add examples of traditional Salish food, the Slater Museum of Natural History at Puget Sound is lending the exhibit several specimen, including a Harbor Seal native to to this area. Carlin appreciated the opportunity to work with Slater. “It is such a wonderful resource here at Puget Sound,” she said.  

In addition to animal specimens, the curators were also lucky enough to be lent traditional Salish baskets from Board of Trustees member Kenneth McGill’s private collection.

This exhibit isn’t an isolated show, but rather was “organized in tandem with the Farm to Table exhibit, a local artist’s interpretation of some of the issues associated with the whole farm to table movement,” Carlin noted. Chandler O’Leary’s art is on temporary display in Collins as well, in the LINK area of the library in front of the circulation desk. These two exhibits overlap in the sense that they both emphasize sustainable food collection and consumption processes, Carlin explained.

“Today, Native peoples are overcoming barriers to revitalize their relationship to traditional foods. The barriers are many: polluted shellfish beds, depleted or extinct fish runs, loss of access to land for hunting or gathering wild plant foods, forgotten recipes, the lure of fast food, and lifestyles that leave little time for food preparation and community feasts,” one of the exhibit’s many panels explains. Carlin hopes that this exhibit helps educate its visitors on this history. Traditional recipes and a mass of reading materials are available for all guests.

Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound resides in the gallery space off the East Reading Room at the library’s entrance, and will be on display through the new year.

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