RESPONDING TO THE CITY’S REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS, a diverse group of professionals has assembled around an idea: A use of the Fun Forest site to best fulfill the mission of the Seattle Center and bring the greatest good to Seattle and its citizens. The proposal is to create a Northwest Native Cultural Center (NNCC) that would rejuvenate the existing Arcade Pavilion and open it onto the surrounding park.
The Seattle Center is situated on the ancestral land of the Coast Salish people, and its mission touts diversity and “programs, services and attractions for people of every age, background, heritage, culture and ability.” But the truth is, it offers nothing to acknowledge the city’s heritage and the Native people from whom its name comes. The NNCC initiative’s vision for the center is to broaden the city’s cultural awareness and enrich its identity – in effect, to make it whole.
“The Seattle Center sits on ground that was once an Indian gathering place,” says Roger Fernandes, Native Artist, Storyteller and Educator. “Our downtown was part of the ancestral land of the Duwamish and is named after their renowned chief Si’ alh. Yet Seattle’s identity – built on innovation and originality, on global businesses and extraordinary natural resources – remains strangely disconnected from its past. Seattle does not have a prominent place in the central city dedicated to the living culture of the region’s First People. The Northwest Native Cultural Center would correct this glaring oversight.”
The NNCC’s mission is to share the history and living culture of its people and enrich Seattle’s identity by honoring its heritage. The NNCC would be free and open to the public. It would not exist to benefit any one person, group, tribe or organization, but for the good of all. It would serve as a resource center – the hub of a wheel — directing visitors to other points of interest, including tribal museums and centers, Native American exhibits, events, and institutions. The Cultural Center will expand on the learning experience of the Olympic Sculpture Park, with its sliver of restored beach and plants labeled in the Lushootseed language, giving Seattle residents and visitors a window into the city’s origins. The Cultural Center could potentially become part of a cultural corridor, linked by trolley and monorail, with a proposed Canoe Center at South Lake Union and the University of Washington’s House of Knowledge longhouse, now in planning.
The group behind the NNCC initiative has approached their proposal from multiple perspectives, Native and non-Native; to benefit all who live and visit here.
Visitors to the Cultural Center would enter a multi-media introduction to the Northwest’s tribal history featuring thematic exhibitions of artifacts from regional museums and tribal collections. This is where visitors would be introduced to the life of Chief Si’ahl, a great orator who championed respect for the land and its Native people. They will also learn about the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington State, and the seven that aren’t recognized – and what that means. Just how many tribal members and urban Indians live in Washington today is hard to say. Currently the census figure is close to 100,000. But, as the Seattle Times reported recently, Native Americans are among the most under-counted groups in the U. S. census.
The largest part of the pavilion would be devoted not to the past, but the present. Programming for the space could include opportunities for visitors to observe and interact with artisans at work, as they demonstrate the technology, art, and world view of carving, canoe construction, weaving, basketry, Native languages, and storytelling. A space for performances and gatherings could also be available as a rental space to other groups using the Seattle Center.
The educational mission of the Northwest Native Cultural Center would carry on outdoors, with a grove of cedar and indigenous trees, and a native plant garden with wending pathways and benches. Guided walks by Native American experts (and downloadable recorded tours), would teach visitors about how local plants were used for food, canoes, clothing, baskets, medicine and tools. There will be an interactive play area for children and outdoor dining area catering planked salmon and picnic foods in the summer months.
As an entry point to discovering our Northwest Native heritage, the Cultural Center would be an essential educational resource for school groups, a place for local families to bring their children to learn about regional history, cultural diversity, and generations-old lessons of sustainability and good stewardship of the land. It would also quickly become a prime tourist destination
Any new initiative or program in Seattle Center, should showcase Seattle’s unique history and diversity. The NNCC will fill a longstanding gap in the city’s identity and help make the Seattle Center not only the heart of the city, but its soul.