A contemporary misconception is that Native American people are relegated only to the past, existing mainly in school history books and exhibits in ancient villages in large museums. The truth is that Washington State is home to 29 federally recognized tribes — and a handful of tribes existing without federal recognition — who are very much alive and continuing their extraordinary, traditional cultures today.
Washington’s Native American Heritage Sites & Events
While the number of Washington tribes is bountiful, it can be challenging for non-Native visitors to find opportunities to interact with them. While not a complete representation, the following list offers a place to start. Expect unique, eye-opening, and potentially life-changing adventures when you delve into the tribal customs and cultures of Washington’s tribes.
A few tips to keep in mind when visiting:
- Visitors are generally welcome at museums, public areas of cultural centers, and tribal events held at outdoor venues. By contrast, spiritual ceremonies may not be accessible to visitors. When in doubt, ask if an event is open to the public.
- Please ask for permission before taking photographs or videos of individuals. Do not photograph or film prayers or ceremonies.
- All archaeological sites are protected by law, and artifacts may not be disturbed or removed from public or private lands.
Native American Museums & Cultural Centers
While many large-scale non-Native museums can present a one-dimensional view of Native Americans as a relic of ancient times, Native-led museums, exhibits, and programs share a different story. The museums on this list will give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in tribal living cultures, including Native art, music, and traditions that are still in practice to this day.
Six Native American artists from across the Pacific Northwest helped create the inaugural exhibit in the museum’s Northwest Native Art gallery, which includes basketry, carvings, multimedia art, and more. Located on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, visitors can enjoy frybread and other specialties at the on-site restaurant, Off the Rez Café.
With picture windows peering out onto the Columbia River, this museum, located in Stevenson, recounts the 40-million-year history of the Gorge region. Trace the first peoples’ influence, from the Cascade Chinook to the Clahclehlah village visited by Lewis and Clark.
Located in a stunning building in Coulee Dam, this museum includes a veteran’s exhibit and Native art for sale. (Note: The museum is currently closed but will reopen in December 2022.)
A collaboration between celebrated artist Maya Lin and Pacific Northwest tribes, this six-site art installation spans 438 miles of the Columbia River. Confluence incorporates art, educational programs, and public gatherings to connect people to the history, living cultures, and ecology of the Native people who live along the Columbia River.
Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center is a land base and community center for the Seattle urban Native American community, located on 20 acres atop a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound from Magnolia’s Discover Park. The center includes a permanent art collection and events, such as the Seafair Indian Days Powwow, and is home to the United Indians of All Nations and the Sacred Circle Gifts and Art shop.
Explore the lesser-known history of Seattle at the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center, which delves into the complex relationship between the Duwamish and the settlers who arrived in the 1850s. Visitors can enjoy group tours of the archeological materials in the Cultural Resource Center, a gift shop, and a traditional Puget Salish cedar post longhouse.
Find an exclusive, Native-made gift at Eighth Generation’s flagship store, located at Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, just above the Gum Wall. The store is owned by founder and artist Louie Gong and features Native-designed blankets, apparel, art, soaps, and jewelry.
Now under the management of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, what was once the Carnegie Museum is now used to display the tribe’s cultural and historical artifacts. Check out the exhibits on the Elwha River Dam Removal project—the largest in US history—and artifacts from the ancient tribal village č̕ixʷícən.
Northwest Film Forum, in partnership with Longhouse Media, presents this ongoing series that showcases emerging and groundbreaking work by Native filmmakers.
At this cultural center southwest of Mount St. Helens, the Lelooska Foundation highlights the diversity of Native Peoples in North America. The collection includes everything from baskets and dolls to moccasins, dresses, and even a 15-foot birch bark canoe. On select dates, visitors can attend evening performances. Currently open by appointment Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The “House of Welcome” Longhouse at Evergreen State College is the first longhouse on a public college campus. Built in 1995 through a massive collaborative community effort, the longhouse hosts potlatches, workshops, performances, events, and art. The longhouse hosts a holiday art fair every December. Check their Facebook page for more information on events.
The Makah Cultural and Research Center houses the museum, along with a gift shop and tribal programs. Visit the museum to view and interpret 300–500-year-old artifacts recovered from the Ozette archaeological site along with Makah masks, baskets, carvings, and jewelry.
Learn about the Native cultures influencing the northeast corner of the state, from the Indigenous northern Plateau Indians to Spokane’s 1925 National Indian Congress, a huge event to designed to market the city of Spokane. This museum houses one of the foremost collections in the country, with more than 5,000 items.
Learn about the Skokomish — one of the nine communities of Twana Indians, a Salishan people — through their carvings, baskets, and paintings.
This exquisitely designed center features a beautiful water display at its entrance, along with exhibits on Squaxin Island history and culture, a public library, and a gift shop.
Located in a church building of historical significance, this cultural center displays art and information on the Steilacoom people, as well as traveling exhibits.
Amid towering trees on the Kitsap Peninsula, this LEED Gold–certified museum traces the Suquamish history back to the last ice age. Admire baskets, carvings, artifacts, and a gift shop. Afterward, pay respects at Chief Seattle’s gravesite only a few blocks away. Chief Seattle (1786–1866) was a Suquamish and Duwamish chief who is best known for a speech he gave on Native rights and environmental values. The city of Seattle is named after him.
Located on a 50-acre natural history preserve, this Tulalip tribute features historic canoes, a recreated longhouse, and exhibits labeled in both English and Lushootseed, the Coast Salish language.
Explore baskets, carvings, and photographic archives from seven different coastal tribes. Pick up a small treasure at the gift shop to support Quinault artists before you leave.
From traditional garb to life-size dwellings of the Plateau People, the history of Yakama Nation’s various tribes is on display at this 12,000-square-foot museum in Toppenish. The campus is a unique facility that includes the Yakama Nation Museum, Cultural Center Gift Shop, Heritage Theater, Yakama Nation Library, and the Winter Lodge.
Native American Cultural Events
If you want to experience Native cultural dance, music, and art, and maybe even find a special treasure to take home to remind you of your adventure, check out these cultural events. Plan to experience vividly colorful dance regalia, deeply spiritual ceremonies, and drums that mimic the beat of one’s heart.
First Salmon Feasts, Spring
Tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest hold their own First Salmon Feasts at the start of fishing season with the first harvest. As the salmon move upriver, so do the feasts. Contact individual tribes for information about dates and locations (scroll down for a list of tribes).
This festival occurs in June and is part of the Seattle Center Festál series. Gather together with Native community members to enjoy a powwow, Native art market, music, dance performances, and a cultural celebration.
Every June, this celebration of Coast Salish culture includes war canoe races and a traditional salmon barbecue on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham.
Seafair Indian Days Powwow, July
Come enjoy hundreds of dancers in handcrafted regalia and several powerful drum groups in a celebration of Native American cultures at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in July.
Chief Seattle Days, August
Join this historic celebration held in August each year by the Suquamish on the Port Madison Reservation. This multi-day event includes traditional dancing, canoe races, Native art, and a ceremony honoring Chief Seattle.
Omak Stampede, August
Every August, this annual event stampedes into Omak with rodeo events — including the world-famous suicide race — and the Colville Confederated Tribes’ Indian Encampment and Pow Wow, featuring a teepee village and dancing.
Tribal Canoe Journeys, Summer
Each summer, tribal canoe families gather to journey the waters from the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers in Oregon to the Lummi Nation in Washington. There is a launching ceremony and a week-long culminating celebration.
United Indians Native Art Market, November and December
Just in time for the holidays, you can find something ultra-unique for friends and family at the United Indians Native Art Market. Held annually at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle, this event features authentic Native American jewelry, crafts, food, prints, artwork, and baskets so you can shop Native.
Start exploring Washington’s Native American heritage sites and museums, and learn more about the state’s tribal communities during your next visit.
You can find more information about each federally recognized tribe through these resources: Chehalis, Colville, Cowlitz, Hoh, Jamestown S’Klallam, Kalispel, Lower Elwha Klallam, Lummi, Makah, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Nooksack, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Puyallup, Quileute, Quinault, Samish, Sauk-Suiattle, Shoalwater Bay, Skokomish, Snoqualmie, Spokane, Squaxin Island, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tulalip, Upper Skagit, Yakama.
About the Author
Leah Altman is Oglala Lakota and was raised in the Portland area. She has written for several publications, including Portland Monthly, Oregon Humanities, Portland State University’s Metroscape magazine, Parents.com, and Indian Country Today. She has also worked for Native and BIPOC-led environmental and community organizations and is finishing her first book, a memoir-in-essays about finding her birth family.