Islands' Sounder


New exhibit celebrates life of Native American leader

July 4, 2013 · Updated 12:58 PM

A Coast Salish seamstresses at Rosario in 1901. / Contributed photo

A small room at the Orcas Historical Society Museum has been furnished with the look, smell and sounds of a Coast Salish home in Eastsound circa 1913.

But it’s not just any Native American home of that era, explains exhibit designer Russel Barsh, but specifically the home of Chechilem, or Boston Tom, the last leader of the Coast Salish neighborhood of Eastsound,  who owned the reef net site at Point Doughty. Boston Tom lived at a time when half of the residents of Orcas Island were of mixed ancestry, and Coast Salish entrepreneur Henry Cayou owned the cannery at Deer Harbor.

“A century ago,” Barsh says, “Native people were neighbors and co-workers on Orcas Island. Their children attended county schools along with white children, worked in canneries and sawmills, played baseball, then fought in the First World War.”

Boston Tom died and was buried in Eastsound in 1913.  No photograph survives, so he is symbolically represented in the new exhibit by a top hat, walking stick, and Coast Salish woven cape.

Barsh based his reconstruction on interviews of Boston Tom’s granddaughter in the Lkungenung language a decade ago, recorded by Barsh and linguist Wayne Suttles on Orcas Island when she last visited her childhood home.

“The thing to bear in mind,” Barsh says, “is that the leading Lkungenung men and women of Boston Tom’s generation were proper gentlemen and ladies with old-fashioned values that were not entirely unfamiliar to their white neighbors.”

They were practical people that wove cedar baskets, steamed split logs into canoes and smoked fish like their grandparents, but also surrounded themselves with conveniences, such as the phonograph and sewing machine seen in the exhibit.

Barsh was assisted with this exhibit by historical society board members Denise Wilk and Edrie Vinson, and by University of British Columbia graduate student Natalie Baloy.

This locally focused exhibit will complement the Burke Museum traveling exhibit “Coast Salish Bounty” that opens at the museum in July.  A friendship feast is planned for the afternoon of July 21. Read more pm page 9.

“Boston Tom’s Eastsound” will be open July 20 through Sept. 20. For more info, visit http://www.orcasmuseum.org/.


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