native northwest

Bird mask of the Tsimshian people, used in initiation ceremonies.  Artist unknown; 19th century.  Collected in Nisga’a territory at the mouth of the Nass River, British Columbia, Canada; now in the Louvre.

Naas shagi yeil s'aaxw (Raven at the Headwaters of Nass hat) from the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest.  Carved from maple; decorated with paint, shells, hair, and baleen.  Artist unknown; ca. 1810.  Now in the Seattle Art Museum.  Photo credit: Joe Mabel.

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Killer Whale Pod Of Many Nations by Doug 

From the photographer: This is a fantastically detailed sculpture found in the Seattle Aquarium. Created as a tribute to endangered killer whales and Coastal tribes from Puget Sound to Alaska, Odin Lonning’s Killer Whale Pod of Many Nations panel symbolizes the enduring bond between First Nations and killer whales, regarded as sacred by many Northwest Native peoples.

 From left to right, the whales exemplify Tlingit, Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka'wakw, and Coast Salish motifs.

Seattle | Washington | Seattle Aquarium

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Amelanchier alnifolia is in the family Rosaceae. Commonly known as serviceberry or saskatoon, it is native primarily to northwest Canada, with populations in the Rocky and Cascade mountains in the United States. Serviceberry is a medium sized shrub that produces loose racemes of up to 20 flowers with widely separated white petals. These flowers develop into edible pomes that are eaten by wild animals including squirrels, deer, and bears. Indigenous people also have a long history of eating serviceberry both raw and prepared in traditional meals. Today, serviceberry is used to prepare jams, jellies, and desserts such as pies.

It’s hard to find a society, a religion or a part of the world that does not find some way to make women feel dirty, guilty, unworthy or dangerous because of their monthly cycle. “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they’re almost a cultural universal,” says Beverly Strassmann, evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan who studies menstrual taboos.

Yet there are exceptions: societies that treat menstruating women with respect.

“Yurok, a native tribe from the northwest coast of the United States stratified by class, had a group of aristocratic women who saw their periods as a time for purifying themselves,” says Alma Gottlieb, professor of anthropology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois. 

In some parts of Ghana, West Africa, young girls sit under beautiful, ceremonial umbrellas when they begin menstruating. “The family would give her gifts and pay her homage,” says Gottlieb. “She is celebrated like a queen.”

Some Cultures Treat Menstruation With Respect

Illustration credit: Hanna Barczyk for NPR

Robb Gray is a Seattle metalsmith and leathersmith. His exclusive Filson knives are made with native Northwest wood for superior strength. #UnfailingGoods