Art & Heritage Partnerships

Spirit of the First People - coverSpirit of the First People, edited by Willie Smyth & Esmé Ryan, offers a rare glimpse into Native American sacred traditions of song and dance. Arising from a unique exhibit and live performance at the Northwest Folklife Festival, Spirit of the First People is a collection of personal narratives, stories, and essays on the music of the First People in the region that now encompasses Washington State. From tribe to tribe and reservation to reservation across the state, a wide range of musical genres and individual styles have developed, including social dance songs, game songs, and hymns.

Skagit elder Vi Hilbert, a principal adviser to the project and the one who gave the book its name, introduces the collection. Contributors include Roberta Haines (Wenatchee); Bruce-subiyay Miller (Skokomish); Cliff Sijohn (Spokane, Coeur d-Alene); Jeanette Timentwa (Okanogan) and Rebecca Chamberlain; Virginia R. Beavert-Martin (Yakama); Brycene Neaman (Yakama); Linda J. Goodman and Helma Swan (Makah); Loran Olsen; James Everett Cunningham and Pamela Amoss; and Willie Smyth. Their narratives provide rich detail about tribal music and its significance, past and present. Roberta Haines (Wenatchee) establishes the historical and political background, noting how spiritual traditions were nurtured by dance and song under conditions of government suppression. Song traditions in the Indian Shaker Church are explored by Pamela Amoss and James Everett Cunningham. Appendixes by Laurel Sercombe, Judith Gray, and William Seaburg outline the work of past ethnographers and describe current efforts to preserve and disseminate the music.

Listen below to some selections from the CD. Note: these songs belong to the individuals and families who shared them. To use them without the permission of these individuals and families is a violation of indigenous cultural protocols, as well as copyright law.

Purchase Spirit of the First People Book and CD

This multi-year collaboration among the members of Washington State’s tribes was documented by Jack Straw Cultural Center in collaboration with Northwest Folklife, and the Washington State Arts Commission’s Folk Arts Program.

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