ANACORTES, WA – Swinomish Casino & Lodge welcomes the Snakelum Canoe display to the lobby of the lodge on July 30, 2014. The Snakelum Canoe is over 160 years old and one of the oldest examples in existence of a Coast Salish Family Canoe. The Swinomish Casino & Lodge welcomes the community to attend ceremonies beginning at 12:00 PM.
The Snakelum Canoe, on loan from the Island County Historical Society Museum in Coupeville, is a historic vessel whose useful life began as pioneers started claiming Native lands in Western Washington. It ended as the newly built Deception Pass Bridge linked Fidalgo and Whidbey islands for the countless automobiles that effectively ended traditional water travel.
Built in the style of coastal tribes, the Snakelum Canoe was carved from a red cedar tree between 600 and 800 years old. One of the first documented owners was Chief Snetlum of the Lower Skagit Tribe on Penn Cove. After Snetlum’s death in 1852 the canoe passed to his sons, Kwuss ka nam and Hel mits: both men signed the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott which created the Swinomish Reservation. Eventually, the canoe settled with Snetlum’s grandson, Charlie Snakelum who was born about 1846.
Charlie and his family used the canoe extensively in their travels on the Salish Sea as they gathered food stores and visited distant relatives. Swinomish elder Bertha Dan, born in 1910, remembered Charlie coming up to the reservation in his canoe when she was a child. She recalled him landing near the old Morris Street Bridge (it crossed from the Swinomish Village to La Conner) where he unloaded a hundred pounds of mussels. A traditional mussel bake followed on the beach and Bertha fondly recollected, “All the elders ate what they wanted and what they didn’t want was left for the kids. It was nice!”
Following Charlie Snakelum’s death in 1932 the canoe was displayed in downtown Coupeville near the Anacortes Blockhouse. Eventually it was perched atop a canoe shed in front of the museum. By the time it was finally moved under the shed’s protective roof the elements, and souvenir seekers, had taken their toll. In 2012 Museum Director Rick Castellano initiated a restoration project to stabilize and repair the badly damaged vessel, an effort partially funded by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and recently completed.
For Castellano, this important cultural artifact is a “living thing” that tells the story of the First People who occupied this region for almost ten thousand years. Accordingly, this fall it will become the centerpiece of the new Native American exhibit at the museum. But prior to being installed, Castellano wanted to share the canoe with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community as a way of thanking the Tribe for its assistance in its restoration. Swinomish Casino & Lodge will proudly display the Snakelum Canoe in the hotel lobby along with additional information about the Snakelum family and the canoe’s restoration.