Special exhibit at Fort Nisqually highlights native presence
December 1, 2017
“Tolmie the Ethnographer,” this fall’s special exhibit at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, is the third in a series examining different aspects of Fort manager William Fraser Tolmie’s work and interests.
Using Tolmie’s experiences of collecting baskets and languages, the exhibit explores the 19th century ethnographer’s understanding of Native American cultures and puts that perspective in conversation with the efforts of modern indigenous peoples to reclaim their heritage.
“The Native American people Tolmie met at Nisqually definitely raised his interest in native traditions and material culture,” said Curator Claire Keller-Scholz. “Along with woven baskets from the tribes Tolmie studied, this exhibit displays an 1884 book he helped write, with an extensive list of vocabulary gathered from native speakers he met in British Columbia.”
That book, Comparative Vocabularies of the Indian Tribes of British Columbia, is displayed alongside images of the baskets Tolmie actually collected, now held by the Royal BC Museum in Canada. The exhibit features baskets on loan from the Harbor History Museum and Native American weavers descended from Hudson’s Bay Company and Fort Nisqually employees.
The second half of the exhibit focuses on the Native American presence in the 21st century, highlighting tribal programs to revitalize languages such as Lushootseed and the Pacific Northwest canoe culture that once flourished along the waterways. An audio-visual presentation includes clips from Tribal Canoe Journeys and Lushootseed language programs to provide visitors with a chance to hear some phrases and traditional songs.
“We are very thankful to the Lushootseed Language Institute, the Puyallup Tribe, the Nisqually Tribe, and Wildwood Institute for the use of their images and video,” said Keller-Scholz. Together with brief footage from Tribal Journeys of the Pacific Northwest, a short documentary shot in 2008, “the film clips really helps visitors appreciate the vibrant tribal communities who still practice their cultural traditions,” she added.
Tolmie the Ethnographer runs September 23 – January 7.
About the museum
Located in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is a restoration of the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on Puget Sound. Visitors experience daily life during the 1850s with the help of costumed interpreters. Seven restored and reconstructed 1850s buildings are open to the public, including two National Historic Landmarks. There is also a Visitor Center with Museum Store. The Fort is a facility of Metro Parks Tacoma.