Whale People: Protectors of the Sea opening

July 10, 2021 @ 8:00 pm – 10:30 pm
Vashon Heritage Museum
10105 Bank Road NW
Vashon Island

Directions to the museum are here.

On Saturday, July 10, 8:00-10:30 pm, the Vashon Heritage Museum will host the opening of Whale People: Protectors of the Sea, an exhibit developed by The Natural History Museum–a Vashon-based traveling and pop-up museum led by artists, activists, and scholars.. The outdoor exhibit features a 3,000-pound killer whale (orca) totem carved by the House of Tears Carvers of Lummi Nation alongside an immersive IMAX-style film installation that tells the story of environmental emergency through the figure of the orca.

“We Pacific Northwesterners are known for our love of the outdoors and for our waters,” says The Natural History Museum’s Executive Director Beka Economopoulos. “There is no greater prism than the plight of the orcas through which we can grasp the extinction crisis we face. This exhibit centers Indigenous ways of relating to the natural world and invites visitors to take action to protect the Salish Sea, the orcas, the salmon, and our collective future.”

Whale People: Protectors of the Sea, which will run until August 28, is part of the Vashon Heritage Museum’s new exhibition Natural Wonder: An Island Shaped by Water. Created in partnership with the Vashon Nature Center and other community partners, Natural Wonder is an interactive and collaborative experience that explores how all life on the island is intricately connected and shaped by its relationship with the waters of the Puget Sound.

“Both Whale People and Natural Wonder explore our relationship with the natural world,” says Vashon Nature Center Executive Director Bianca Perla. “We are in a pivotal moment in history when we are being called to question our dominant way of operating, especially with the environment, and to seek other stories to guide us. These exhibits elevate stories of human connection to nature throughout human history and introduce us to the individual stories of different wondrous animals and plants that share this island with us.”

Whale People: Protectors of the Sea’s film component is an award-winning short film narrated by the late Chief Bill James (Lummi), Master Carver Jewell James (Lummi), and Amy Ta’ah George (Tsleil-Waututh). The impetus for the film and creating the exhibit was the display of grief by Tahlequah, an orca who famously carried her dead calf for 17 days in 2020. Economopoulos hopes the display allows people to reconcile with climate change and environmental issues, but do so in a hopeful manner.

“To see art is to move beyond facts, science, and statistics to a place that has more emotional resonance,” explains Beka. “Whale People also allows us to shine a spotlight on the role of Indigenous traditional knowledge, values, and ways of life not based on a logic of extraction, but rather on reciprocity and intergenerational care.”

The opening program will begin with a blessing and feature speakers from the Puyallup Tribe, who have ancestral ties to Vashon Island, and the Lummi Nation House of Tears Carvers. At dusk, visitors will be able to view the film and the totem.

In addition to the opening of the exhibit, the House of Tears Carvers is also bringing the “Red Road to DC” totem pole to Vashon for a special one-day visit on July 10th. This 24-foot totem pole is traveling from Washington State to Washington, D.C. this July, calling for the urgent protection of sacred Indigenous places along the way, including Snake River, Bear Ears, Chaco Canyon, and the Black Hills. Ultimately, the “Red Road to DC” totem pole will be delivered to the Biden-Harris Administration with an event on the National Mall and the opening of an exhibition about the Lummi’s totem pole journeys in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Says Vashon Heritage Museum Executive Director Elsa Croonquist: “We feel fortunate to have the Whale People exhibit opening, as the museum reopens to the public. This exhibit is so rich in telling the story of tribal culture and relevance to our island and the relationship we have with the Orca and the Salish Sea. It’s a gift to Vashon that we are very excited to present this summer.”

The Vashon Heritage Museum will be open to visitors on Wednesday-Sunday, from 1:00-4:00 pm, beginning the week of July 11. In addition, the Museum will be open from 6:00-10:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays so visitors can experience Whale People: Protectors of the Sea.

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