Cultural, research center celebrates 43rd anniversary

Ozette village artifacts preserved after excavation

Bruce Colfax was one of many Makah who worked at the Ozette excavation that ran for 11 years starting in 1970. Colfax, an artist whose wood carvings, sculpture and prints belong in private and public collections across the country, is a former member of the Makah Cultural & Research Center board of trustees whose role it is to protect the artifacts found at the site. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

Bruce Colfax was one of many Makah who worked at the Ozette excavation that ran for 11 years starting in 1970. Colfax, an artist whose wood carvings, sculpture and prints belong in private and public collections across the country, is a former member of the Makah Cultural & Research Center board of trustees whose role it is to protect the artifacts found at the site. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

NEAH BAY — An earthquake more than 300 years ago that triggered a mudslide that buried six cedar houses and their contents was not the end of the Makah village of Ozette.

Oral tradition preserved its history, the Pacific Ocean exposed its existence in 1970, an 11-year archeological excavation revealed its treasures, a research center established in 1979 preserved the 55,000 items that were found on the site and a museum was established to display many of them — from utilitarian items like harpoon blades to ceremonial items like a cedar carving of a whale fin inlaid with sea otter teeth.

The Makah Cultural & Research Center, which is home to the Makah Museum, celebrated its 43rd anniversary on Saturday. The event brought together many elements of the tribe’s heritage: food (a salmon bake); visual culture (a lecture by artist Bruce Colfax); oral tradition (storytelling by Steve Jimmicum); games (slahal, a kind of gambling game played with bones); and a vibrant trade economy (a popup sale featuring art produced by tribal members).

A lecture by artist and educator Alex McCarty explained the history of the Ozette excavation and the profound impact it has had on the Makah.

The event was both a celebration of the past as well an opportunity to look ahead, said Meredith Parker, president of the 12-member MCRC board of trustees.

“Right now we’re embarking on a strategic plan that is looking at educational projects, collections, raising funds, just about everything,” Parker said. “We want something in place for the next 50 years.”

For MCRC Executive Director Janine Ledford, the day was a kind of “welcome back” after the museum’s two-year closure that started on March 16, 2020, when the Makah Reservation was closed to all non-natives to limit the spread of COVID-19, and that ended March 15, when it re-opened to all visitors.

“We were around 13,000 visitors a year before COVID,” Ledford said. “I haven’t looked through the numbers yet, but since we opened up again, it feels like we’re back to normal.”

Even though the museum was closed, its work did not stop. The MCRC continued to work with the Neah Bay School supporting Makah language classes. It still had a collection to manage, researcher queries to answer, and facilities to maintain.

Ledford said the museum closure would have been an ideal time to undertake display upgrades and renovation projects, but it did not have the funds to do so. Admission and bookstore revenue that contribute to its general operations disappeared during the two years it was closed.

“I’d like to re-do the carpet and roof, and we have a great need for more research on the collection,” Ledford said. “We would also like to move the storage to higher ground due to the risk of flooding.”

Bruce Colfax worked at the Ozette dig and recently stepped down from the board of trustees. An artist whose work belongs in private and public collections around the country, Colfax said from the very beginning of the discovery of the village the tribe knew it needed to ensure it had control of and responsibility for the project.

“Our role is the protector of the artifacts, to make sure they are being taken care of,” Colfax said. “Indigenous people are very, very capable of managing our own affairs.”

Like Colfax, Parker also worked at the Ozette dig. Now, more than 50 years later, she said: “To be able to see those items last touched by our people and then see them in a place of honor in the museum is the most touching for me.”

Museum

Makah Cultural & Research Center, 1880 Bayview Ave. Neah Bay, 360-645-2711

Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

*Admission:

• Adults $10

• Students and seniors $8

• Military in uniform $8

• Children 5 and younger free

*Masks required for entry

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at [email protected]

Educator and artist Alex McCarty used a cedar treasure box found at the Ozette site as the inspiration for this mural near the entrance of the museum at the Makah Cultural & Research Center. “The museum is a treasure box for the Makah people and then you go inside the museum to try to find the box,” McCarty says. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

Educator and artist Alex McCarty used a cedar treasure box found at the Ozette site as the inspiration for this mural near the entrance of the museum at the Makah Cultural & Research Center. “The museum is a treasure box for the Makah people and then you go inside the museum to try to find the box,” McCarty says. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

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