Interaction: Portal to the Past

A Coast Salish tradition renewed

Through the house posts of Interaction visitors are welcomed and reminded of Friday Harbor’s first inhabitants.

Interaction is a contemporary carving created by Musqueam Coast Salish artist Susan A. Point. Located at Friday Harbor’s Fairweather Park, this sculpture “represents a healing chapter in local history.” The sculpture is made from two cedar posts and a crossbeam. The cedar is adorned with painted carvings of a woman and animal figures. Interaction serves as a physical recognition of Native American heritage. It welcomes and reminds visitors entering Friday Harbor by the Washington State Ferry terminal who this land’s original inhabitants are.

Interaction tells the story of the relationship between humans and nature. Point intended it to remind us of the responsibility we have to care for the environment. Interaction reminds us that humans, animals, and the environment are all connected.

Although the art of totem carving became more prolific after European contact, Coast Salish tribes have a carving tradition that goes back to time immemorial. Before Europeans introduced iron tools, tribes of the northwest coast used tools made from hard stone, such as jade, elk horns, and beaver teeth. In fact, according to some scholars, some tribes may have fashioned tools from metal found on Japanese shipwrecks that washed up on the coast long before Europeans ever arrived in the region. However, because of the sacred significance of Coast Salish carvings, they were rarely displayed publicly, so the tradition began to decline.

In the 1980s, Susan Point decided to teach herself the methods of traditional Coast Salish art. Point is of Coast Salish descent and has lived her whole life on the Musqueam First Nation Reservation in Vancouver, B.C. There she grew up learning about her tribe’s culture from her mother and grandmother. Because her works are often monumental and public, they renewed interest and appreciation for Coast Salish art. Thanks to Point and works like Interaction, Coast Salish art will continue to honor the Coast Salish people and acknowledge their impact on the history of the Pacific Northwest.