The Tulalip Tribes open Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve on August 19, 2011.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 2/02/2012
  • Essay 10024
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On Friday, August 19, 2011, the Hibulb Cultural Center, located on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Snohomish County west of Marysville, opens to tribal members and invited guests. It opens to the general public the following day. Decades in the planning, the $19 million center, designed by StastnyBrun Architects of Portland, is a 23,000-square-foot building with a 10,000-square-foot collections wing and a 42-acre natural history preserve.

Planning and Waiting

In the 1950s, Harriette Shelton Williams (1904-1991) -- daughter of early twentieth century Tulalip tribal leader William Shelton (1868-1938) -- began talking about the need for a tribal museum. She and her family had collected local artifacts and photographs and they hoped one day to see them shared with others and cared for archivally. But the Tulalips had no money for such a project.

The Tulalip Council advocated for a museum in the 1980s at a time when Tulalips were reviving their traditional ceremonies and rediscovering Lushootseed, their native language. Many oral histories of tribal members were done over the next decades. Yet there still was no place to store artifacts that families kept in their homes in boxes, on shelves, or in attics.

Hank Gobin was hired by the Tulalip Tribes in the 1990s to plan and build a museum. Born and raised on the Tulalip Reservation, Gobin pursued studies in the Southwest. He graduated from the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1965, received a B.A. in Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1970, and a Master's Degree from Sacramento State College in 1971. Gobin served as Arts Director at the Institute for American Indian Art from 1972 to 1983 and worked for Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians from 1986 to 1987. Then, as he has said, like a salmon he returned home.

Gobin and other tribal leaders assembled advisory groups, selected a site, and initiated plans. What Tulalips wanted was a cultural center where they could meet and exchange stories, rediscover their traditions together, and share these with their children who would carry the culture forward. Gobin insisted that the center be professionally staffed and fully accredited, and that Tulalips tell their story in their own words. The Tulalip Tribes' great success in gaming and real estate in the new century finally made these plans achievable. In 2005 tribal leaders told Gobin money was available to build a cultural center.

The Building and Grounds

StastnyBrun Architects of Portland was chosen to design the structure, based on the firm's previous work creating many Indian cultural centers throughout the West. The architects worked closely with Tulalip tribal elders and leaders and collected stories that would tell the Tulalip experience. As Gobin stated, "This is the story of our journey to becoming the Tulalip Tribes as told in our own words and voices. It did not come from a book or any dissertation" (Indian Country Today).

The Snohomish River has been central to Tulalip life for centuries. Architects worked with a river theme and created a walkway resembling a stream that guides visitors on a storied journey. Beginning outside the museum entrance, the path leads into Canoe Hall and then continues past two large cedar carvings into the main display area. Exhibits tell the stories of cedar and salmon, glacial retreat and the land bridge, archaeology, whaling, the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855 and resultant loss of a way of life, the tragedy of the Indian boarding school, and memories of wars and war heroes, along with stories of people and everyday life. There are interactive displays including a genealogy wall where tribal members can search for their ancestors and find their own place on the family tree. Lushootseed is present throughout, both in written text and in audio and video presentations.

The river pathway proceeds out of the main exhibit hall to re-enter Canoe Hall, where there are displays of traditional canoes and archaeology, and then continues to a full-size longhouse that visitors can enter. Finally, passing classrooms and a library and archival storage area, the path guides visitors outside to a 42-acre nature preserve that, on opening day, was only about 5 percent finished.


Hibulb Cultural Center is named for the principal winter village of the Snohomish Tribe which stood on what is now the northwestern tip of the Everett peninsula. The word "Hibulb" is said to mean "the place where the white doves live" (Sheets). The village was a fortified upper-class enclave made up of several large longhouses and a major potlatch house surrounded by a cedar palisade to protect the inhabitants from marauders. A preliminary archaeological dig, carried out from June 12 to 17, 1974, by John Mattson, yielded 930 artifacts, now housed at the Hibulb Cultural Center. Some of those artifacts are on exhibit in Canoe Hall.

The center has finally provided storage and care for treasures that tribal members have saved for generations. The Williams family's donations make up a large part of the museum collection. They include four story poles carved by William Shelton that are now incorporated into the center's new cedar longhouse. It is expected that many more artifacts will be donated, and museum staff hope that it eventually will be possible to repatriate Tulalip artifacts currently held by other institutions.

Realizing a Dream

The opening on August 19, 2011, was attended by tribal members and invited guests, and included a traditional ceremony, speeches by tribal leaders, recognition of those who made the museum a reality, a salmon dinner, and a walk through the new facility. Each attendee received a DVD copy of A Fishing People, an oral history of Tulalip's fishing tradition created by Everett filmmaker Lloyd Weller. The Center opened to the general public on August 20, 2011.

The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve states that its mission is:

"to revive, restore, protect, collect and enhance the history, traditional cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes who are the successors in interest to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie and Skykomish and other tribes and bands signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott" ("About Us").

The center is "a fully certified collections and archaeological repository" -- the only tribal facility certified by the State of Washington ("About Us").

The Center is located at 6410 23rd Avenue NE, Tulalip, Washington, just off the Marine Highway and close to Interstate 5.


"Hibulb Cultural Center Tells Tulalip Story in Their Own Words," Indian Country Today website accessed August 25, 2011 (; Lynda V. Mapes, "Tulalip Tribes' Cultural Center Describes Their Journey," The Seattle Times, August 18, 2011 (http:/; Bill Sheets, "Tulalips' Cultural Center Opens at Last," The Herald, August 20, 2011 (; "About Us," Hibulb Cultural Center website accessed January 24, 2011 (; "Hibulb Cultural Center Grand Opening Celebration," August 19, 2011, press release, Hibulb Cultural Center website accessed January 24, 2011 (

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