A pair of orca whales swim in view of a state ferry crossing from Bainbridge Island toward Seattle in the Puget Sound on Oct. 29. The whales were among about 20 or more, believed to be from resident pods, seen traveling through the passage. (Photo: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press)

A pair of orca whales swim in view of a state ferry crossing from Bainbridge Island toward Seattle in the Puget Sound on Oct. 29. The whales were among about 20 or more, believed to be from resident pods, seen traveling through the passage. (Photo: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press)

This past November nearly three-dozen orcas orcas swam around a Washington state ferry that was carrying tribal artifacts to a new museum at the ancestral home of Chief Seattle, and some people think it was more than a coincidence.

On board were officials from The Burke Museum in Seattle who were moving ancient artifacts to the Suquamish Museum.

The artifacts were dug up nearly 60 years ago from the site of the Old Man House, the winter village for the Suquamish tribe and home of Chief Sealth, also known as Chief Seattle. The Burke, a natural history museum on the University of Washington campus, is known for Northwest Coast and Alaska Native art.

Also on board the state ferry was Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman who happened to be returning from an unrelated event. As the ferry slowed near the terminal, it was surrounded by the orcas, Forsman said Wednesday.

One of ca. 22 frame elements of Old Man House as seen in 1870. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

One of ca. 22 frame elements of Old Man House as seen in 1870. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

“They were pretty happily splashing around, flipping their tails in the water,” he said. “We believe they were welcoming the artifacts home as they made their way back from Seattle, back to the reservation.”

The killer whales have been in Puget Sound feeding on a large run of chum salmon, he said.

“We believe the orcas took a little break from their fishing to swim by the ferry, to basically put a blessing on what we were on that day,” he said.

Forsman believes there’s a spiritual tie between the tribe and the orcas. “They are fishermen like we are,” he said.

It was an auspicious arrival for about 500 artifacts that The Burke Museum had held for nearly 60 years, Suquamish Museum Director Janet Smoak said.

They include tools, decorative items and bits of bone and rock that date back 2,000 years.

Chief Sealth, for whom Seattle is named, is buried in Suquamish, Washington, on the Port Madison Indian Reservation. This photo by E.M. Sammis taken in 1864 is the Chief’s only sitting portrait.

Chief Sealth, for whom Seattle is named, is buried in Suquamish, Washington, on the Port Madison Indian Reservation. This photo by E.M. Sammis taken in 1864 is the Chief’s only sitting portrait.

The Old Man House–the largest known longhouse on the Salish Sea–was located at Suquamish on the shore of Agate Passage, about 13 miles northwest of Seattle. Chief Sealth, for whom Seattle is named, is buried there.

The longhouse was burned down by the U.S. government in the late 1800s. The artifacts were collected by a University of Washington archaeological investigation in the 1950s, according to the Burke museum.

In 2012, the tribe completed its new museum, which includes a climate controlled environment. The artifacts will be displayed to illustrate Suquamish culture in an exhibit called Ancient Shores Changing Tides.

The orcas, identified from their markings as members of the J and K pods, were seen this week along several routes between the Seattle area and the west side of Puget Sound, according to Howard Garrett of the Orca Network at Freeland.

He thought their intersection with the ferry carrying tribal artifacts was uncanny.

“I can’t rule out somehow they could pick up on the mental energy that there is something special there. Or it could be a coincidence,” he said. “I don’t know.” -–Doug Esser, Associated Press

 

The Suquamish Tribe has an informative, detailed poster on the history and archaeology of Old Man House available for download from the Tribe’s website. Clicking here will start a moderately sized JPG file.