Makah museum at Neah Bay celebrates 30 years of culture

NEAH BAY — The Makah Cultural and Research Center is 30 years old.

The museum, one of the oldest tribal museums in the nation, celebrated its 30th year in operation with dancing, song and a gathering of the community Saturday.

The museum, which is at state Highway 112 and Bay View Avenue just inside the Makah reservation at Neah Bay, opened June 6, 1979, and has operated continuously since then, said Meri Parker, Neah Bah Chamber of Commerce director.

Said Janine Bowechop, museum executive director: “Our museum has cultural preservation for our own tribe, but we also work really hard so that visitors will have the opportunity to learn as much as possible during a visit.”

The museum houses about 1 percent of the artifacts that were excavated from the Makah Ozette Village archaeological site in the 1970s.

“We kept the celebration really low-key, with mostly just tribal members,” Parker said.

Parker, who helped with the excavation, said the museum was a source of pride for Neah Bay, as it has been used as model by other tribes seeking to build their own museums.

The staff at the museum, which welcomes about 14,000 visitors per year, also provided consultation to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., when the National Museum of the American Indian was in the early stages of planning.

About 75 Makah tribal members and community visited the Smithsonian for the exhibit opening in September 2007.

Several honored

On Saturday, the five surviving members of the original 1979 founding members of the museum board of trustees were honored and given blankets, Parker said.

Four of the 1979 tribal council members also received gifts.

“We had dancing and food and welcomed just a few people who were involved in the excavation,” Parker said. “It was a really nice time.”

Said Bowechop: “Michael Lawrence, the current chairman, had a lot of wonderful things to say talking about how the MCRC contributes to the treaty resource protection and how proud he was of the community input and involvement.

“I thought he really nailed it when he described the museum as representing who we are as Makah.”

Other influential members of the tribe who helped with the construction of the museum were also honored, Bowechop said.

“It was so wonderful to hear them say such positive things,” she said.

Also invited to the festivities was Paul Gleeson, an Olympic National Park archaeologist.

He said that the museum was constructed not to house the artifacts, but to tell the story of the Makah people.

The museum has received a host of awards, including the Honoring Nations award from Harvard University in 2007.

“I believe the tribal chairman is right when he said that people around the world recognize the museum as world-class,” Bowechop said.

“We are also really proud that all of our board of trustees and all of our staff are enrolled tribal members.”

The museum is open every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, phone 360-645-2711.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladaily news.com.

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