Long before the day of explorers like Lewis and Clark, the region now known as Washington state was home to a rich assortment of Native American tribes. Though the story’s ending wasn’t so happy elsewhere in the nation, here not only have a long list of tribes survived but they’ve also left a vibrant legacy of art and culture that provides a unique glimpse of the Pacific Northwest region. Which is why, when you go to plan your next Washington vacation, we recommend a bit of cultural enrichment in the form of side trips to important sites in Washington’s Indian Country.
Starting in Seattle (named for a local tribal chief in 1853), you can start with a brief introduction to Native American art at the Seattle Art Museum or a more in-depth approach at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum. But then you’ll definitely want to book yourself a trip to Tillicum Village on Blake Island. Sure, it’s geared towards tourists, but between the salmon bake, the traditional dancing and the cruise over it provides a fast-paced glimpse of Northwest Coast Indian life.
Still within relatively easy reach of Seattle are Native American sites on the Olympic Peninsula, like the Makah Museum in Neah Bay, not far from scenic lookout, Cape Flattery, that on clear days offers views of the forbidden Makah Island, Tatoosh. Head instead inland to the Yakima Valley and you can enjoy a well-rounded presentation on the people for which the region was named exploring the Yakima Nation Museum and Cultural Center just outside of Toppenish, Washington. There’s also a modest museum dedicated to Palus artifacts in Dayton, Washington, and historic attractions like St. Mary’s Mission and Fort Spokane to see should you make it to the northeastern corner of the state.
For ancient art in situ, your best bet is to plan a stop to see the Nez Perce petroglyphs in Clarkston (part of the Nez Perce National Historic Park). Optionally, you can head downriver to the mighty Columbia and pay a visit to Columbia Hills State Park, once an important Native American burial ground, where it’s possible to arrange tours of sacred sites and see some of the region’s oldest pictographs.
Couple your cultural side-trips with a few wine-tasting detours and you have yourself the makings of a very fine Washington vacation.