Mary Lou Salter is a member of the Suquamish Tribe, whose traditional gathering grounds include Seattle. Because she does not live on a reservation, Salter feels...
Name: Mary Lou Salter.
Affiliation: Volunteer T-shirt vendor at the Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow.
How long she has been involved: About 3 years.
Good to know: Because costumes are considered sacred, never pick up an eagle feather or any other piece of a dancer’s costume that has fallen on the ground during the powwow. Instead, call it to someone’s attention. They will have a special ceremony to pick up the item, according to Salter.
Her story: Mary Lou Salter is a member of the Suquamish Tribe, whose traditional gathering grounds include Seattle. Because she does not live on a reservation, Salter feels she must work a little harder to preserve her culture. So, she volunteers and makes Native-American arts that meld the techniques used by past generations with some modern twists.
“I don’t want to just keep reproducing artifacts as though they were dead,” said Salter.
She weaves, carves, paints, sews, sings, drums and hawks the occasional T-shirt for the United Indians Of All Tribes Foundation, which hosts the Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow.
One of her newest creations, a deerskin wrap skirt, combines the traditional technique of sewing deerskin in a wrap design rather than a traditional shift dress.
“I look at those examples as a liberation of the art forms,” said Salter. “It’s OK that they continue evolving.”
Her crafts and clothing are strongly tied to her native religion. She prays before, during and after creating each piece.
She is in the process of making a dress from the hide and hair of mountain goats, an animal that holds spiritual associations for her. She spent six weeks cutting the mountain-goat hair off one hide and three weeks teasing the hair apart. She still needs another hide to complete the project.
While Salter speaks openly about her crafts, she is reluctant to speak of her religion. Salter began to realize that she needed to keep her spirituality private when she exposed some of her visions to others.
“I had painted my visions on my drum, and I didn’t know that was the wrong thing to do until I had done it,” said Salter. “When I was singing, I felt scared, so I would hold the drum so that the visions were facing me so others wouldn’t see them.”
While she does not disclose her visions, she suggests others view the powwow as a way to get an idea of the spirituality of different Western tribes.
“Our religion lives in this work, in the singing, in the dancing, in sharing the traditional foods.”
Her summer event: Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow is July 16-18. More than 300 dancers in traditional regalia and about 30 drumming groups celebrate Native American culture. Don’t miss the Grand Entry of the dancers, according to Salter. “When they’re dancing they’re praying, and the garments are part of that whole experience. It’s not simply a costume. When wearing it, it is a connection to our ancestors.”
Salmon Bake, $10. Grand Entry: Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at noon, Sunday at noon. Great Circle Area behind Daybreak Star Cultural Center, Discovery Park, Seattle. $5. More information: 206-285-4425 or www.unitedindians.com/powwow.html
Jennifer Lloyd, staff reporter