December 03, 2013

Connecting Philippine and Puget Sound Communities

A week before Typhoon Haiyan battered the central Philippines, seven heritage enthusiasts from Palawan Island came to Seattle to learn about archaeology, community-based museums and heritage tourism, and to visit firsthand with people of another culture, the Suquamish Tribe.

Suquamish Tribal Elder Betty Pasco and Robert Arevalo share
a laugh at the end of their hike on the Cape Flattery Trail.
Photo by Wade Trenbeath.

The exchange was facilitated by the Burke as part of “Museums Connect,” a program administered by the American Alliance of Museums and funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with an overall aim of enhancing cross-cultural understanding.

As part of this program, the Filipino and Suquamish groups are comparing their fisheries management practices. Suquamish participant Lydia Sigo arranged for the group to take part in a geoduck harvesting trip.

Arvin Acosta, Robert Arevalo, and Mariel Francisco on board the
Suquamish geoduck dive boat. Photo by Wade Trenbeath.

We arrived at the Suquamish fishing pier just as the sun rose over Puget Sound. After putting life jackets on top of our hats, vests, mittens, and jackets, we boarded a catamaran and headed out to the geoduck bed that hadn't been harvested for a decade; consequently, the haul was a generous pile of plump geoducks.

Lydia Sigo holding a large geoduck, while the heritage
delegates from Palawan look on.

As Filipino delegate Mariel Francisco shared later, “I wish we could apply what [the Suquamish] have when it comes to protecting their fishing ground. We have beautiful sights in our place, but they are in preserved areas, which are mainly tourist spots and not fishing grounds for the fisherman to draw a source of living,” adding, “I was so impressed when I saw that you could get the fish and clams just near the land where their village is.”

Feast, artifacts, and orcas!
Later that night, we attended a traditional foods feast at the new Suquamish Museum with more than 200 people. It featured some of the geoducks harvested earlier that day, as well as salmon, Manila clams, and elk.

Salmon roasting in preparation for the native foods feast held in celebration
of the return of artifacts excavated from Old Man House
to the Suquamish Tribe. Photo by Wade Trenbeath.

The next day, as the delegates rode the Bainbridge Island ferry back to Seattle from Suquamish, they witnessed something few Seattleites have been lucky enough to see: orcas in south Puget Sound! These majestic animals had also accompanied the ferry that was carrying Suquamish artifacts from the Burke Museum to the new Suquamish Museum the day before.

Why museums collect
Another key goal of this project is to learn about the museum curation and collection practices. We visited several museums in the region, including the Wing Luke Museum, Suquamish Museum, and Makah Museum.

Ancient Shores Changing Tides participants in the Suquamish Museum.
L to R: Janet Everts Smoak, Barbara Lawrence-Piecuch, Arvin Acosta,
Carmelita Acosta, Robert Arevalo, Mariel Francisco, Enrico Cabiguen
(2nd row), Mimi Cabral, Jun Cayron (2nd row), Mary Barnes, Lace Thornberg

On their last full day in the United States, the Filipino delegation was able to go into the Burke Museum’s ethnology collection, where they saw hundreds of Filipino objects, including baskets from their home island of Palawan.

The highlight of this tour was seeing an original 1898 Filipino flag. As Mariel Francisco reflected, seeing this flag was special “because of its age , because it’s a source of pride and it’s so symbolic to us that they have it… and they really take care of it, and not only this one but also others in their collection.”

In the Burke Museum Ethnology collections. Photo by Sven Haakanson, Jr.

A typhoon brings us closer together
As the delegates flew home, Typhoon Haiyan was building strength. Within a week, Haiyan crashed into Leyte and Samar, before hitting Palawan Island, which was also damaged, but not nearly as severely as other parts of the Philippines. Thankfully our recent visitors are okay. 

While we are currently sharing in the sorrow with our Philippine friends, we look forward to the future when we can also share in each other’s joyous occasions and successes.


If you would like to help families affected by Typhoon Haiyan, please consider making a donation to the Philippine Red CrossHelp Leyte PHWorld Vision, or other relief efforts of your choice.

Lace Thornberg is coordinating the Burke’s “Ancient Shores, Changing Tides” project, which connects people from Palawan Island, Philippines with members of the Suquamish Tribe in Washington in a year-long exploration of archaeology and sustainable heritage tourism. This exchange is part of the Museums ConnectSM program run by the American Alliance of Museums.

Follow the project on the blog, Facebook page, or on Twitter.