We are blessed to live on a very special island, where the first people lived for at least 10,000 years and Columbian Mammoths were hunted to feed these "first settlers".

In the mid-19th century, the next wave of settlers from the Eastern part of the U.S. staked their claims here, on Native land. When the treaties were signed in 1855, these peaceful neighbors and friends of the new settlers were moved off their land to government reservations. Their culture was stripped from them by teachers at boarding schools and by government mandates. Their assimilation into American society seemed well on it's way.

Many of the old ways were lost on the younger generations. Skills, refined over centuries of practice vanished in a relative "blink of an eye". In 1934, when a grandson of the old Chief of the local tribe died, his grandfather's canoe was given to our town by an old friend of the chief's grandson. A special shed was constructed by volunteers to protect if from the elements. Other, more modern canoes were also donated, and the Old Chiefs canoe was removed from the shed, and bolted to the shed roof.

Over the years, the fine canoe was battered by the elements - and especially by souvenir hunters, who broke off pieces of the 800 year-old cedar wood, that was lovingly crafted into a classic family canoe. What was left of the canoe was moved back under cover, when our museum was formed and given ownership of the canoe.

In 2012, plans were formulated to restore the canoe. Three skilled carvers, worked on the canoe for the next 3 years. They carefully washed away decades of dust and dirt, replaced, piece by piece, missing wood, and made special hardwood "butterflies" to pull cracks together tightly.

In 2015, the 1840's canoe was brought to the Swinomish Reservation, some 40 miles, so the descendants of the Old Chief could offer their blessing, if they approved of the work we had undertaken to honor them. When the canoe was off-loaded from the truck, two young native children joined in to help, followed by several adult tribal members, who gently took the canoe from our moving crew, and reverently carried the 28-foot dugout on their shoulders into the building for display.

A large contingent of female descendants came into the area, singing songs and drumming to welcome the canoe and to honor us as well. Everyone was filled with smiles and tears, as the head of the 'Canoe Family' proclaimed, "you got it right!" and offered his sincere thanks for our work. When it returned to our museum, one month later, for exhibit, a large group of local non-native volunteers came and hoisted the canoe to their shoulders, having learned the respectful way of treating such a precious object from our Native friends.

This project will always remain near and dear to my heart, as it illustrates how showing respect for other cultures can bridge gaps and foster genuine friendship and mutual appreciation much more effectively than any law.

Island County Historical Museum