By Kate Manzanares, Puyallup Tribal member


Inside the nearly 300,000-square-foot Emerald Queen Casino, which is set to open soon, you will have a chance to see and feel the Puyallup culture in a variety of ways, including traditional and contemporary designs on etched windows, wall murals, lighting fixtures and drink coasters.


The Puyallup Tribal Council and Emerald Queen Casino management wanted patrons to experience the tribe’s rich heritage and pay tribute to its ancestors, so there was a call to artists through the Puyallup Tribe’s Historic Preservation Department.


About five tribal members were selected to adorn the casino with both traditional and contemporary Coast Salish artwork throughout. Most of the artists are working on numerous pieces. This is the first in a series to showcase the new casino’s art installations.


Shaun Peterson brings culture to life

Puyallup Tribal member Shaun Peterson’s native name is Qwalsius. He received that name, which belonged to his great-grandfather, in 2005. He was raised in Tacoma, and has been a practicing professional artist since 1996.


Peterson works with many mediums such as glass, digital media, metal and wood.


He has several commissions for the new casino.


“I really never dreamed this would be possible in my lifetime, to be honest,” he said.


Peterson has been instrumental in the revitalization of Coast Salish artwork. His artwork has a huge presence in his ancestral lands. One of his most iconic pieces is a welcome figure he designed in 2010 at Tollefson Plaza in downtown Tacoma. It’s where a Puyallup Tribal village once stood.


“I am happy to see the culture have some visibility because without culture and language we don’t have much to set ourselves apart as a people,” he said.


Peterson’s commissions include two large welcome figures and a Thunderbird carving. He also created a frog design on the cafe walls, and metal moon pieces in the 24-hour cafe. Peterson also had a chance to design two story poles that will be in the casino atrium titled River Story and Sky World.


Both of Peterson’s welcome figures are in a sculpture format that distinguished the regional tribes of Western Washington and southern British Columbia.


A welcoming with open arms

The welcome figures are mixture of adze and hand finished chisel and knife work. Adze is a traditional tool that isn’t common with most woodwork and is a way to express the traditional art.


Both figures are standing. The female figure wears a contemporary long black dress. The male figure is dressed in a loincloth, and has a blanket wrapped diagonally across his shoulder. Both figures wear woven cedar hats, which are customary to the Coast Salish culture and offer protection from the rain. Their arms are extended, and they are holding their palms up, signifying welcome and acceptance.


Story Poles

Living in the urban area of Tacoma/Seattle, you might have been exposed to totem poles which are not part of the Coast Salish culture. Totem poles are traditional to Alaska Native and First Nations cultures. The motivation behind story poles were to preserve stories that were told within the tribal communities. Unlike the northern tribes, the Coast Salish peoples were not organized by clan on the totem poles but they were organized by family systems. Peterson, worked with fellow tribal members Judy Wright, Karen Reed, Carol Anne and Jack Moses to learn about the representation of the Coast Salish culture so not have other tribe’s traditions become their own.


Story pole “River,” which will be located in the casino atrium, depicts the formation of the Puyallup River that was created by two killer whales who were trapped in the mountain after the great flood. Due to all the work that Peterson had been commissioned to do throughout the casino, time was in essence so he enlisted help from carvers in his field, including Joe Gobin (Tulalip) and Adam McIssac.


“I am familiar with their work and designed the poles with their strengths in mind,” Peterson said.

The “Sky World” story pole will also be located in the casino atrium. Its story came from several sources including Judy Wright, Jack Moses and Ron Simchen. The story of the sky and its creatures have deep cultural roots to the Puyallup people on their ancestral lands.


Frog Woman and the moon

For the casino’s cafe, Peterson created a mural that depicts a frog and moon design. It is based on the story of dakwibalth (the moon). You can also see the design on the light poles next to the nearby Tribal Administration Building, and along Portland Avenue in Tacoma.


“I learned this story from Judy Wright. It tells of Moon being born half human and half star being,” Peterson said. “He lived amongst the people in his youth and when it came time for him to venture the sky world he married Frog Woman. In this rendition I decided to make Frog Woman the focus as if carrying him on the journey there, and he is transformed into the moon as we know it today.”

Peterson said he’s excited to join other tribal members in creating artwork for the new casino.


“I am moved to see the work of the other artists who are tribal members helping to revitalize the art tradition and make innovations because the art itself is not static and it like anything in time changes,” he said.


Photos courtesy of Puyallup Tribal member Shaun Peterson.