Native American Art
Bernie Whitebear Way in Discovery Park
The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center is located on twenty acres at the northwest point of Discovery Park in Seattle.
The Center is an urban base for Native Americans in Seattle. It serves as a conference and event center, and also houses an art gallery, a preschool, and several other programs. The Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow is hosted by Daybreak Star every year in July.
This part of Magnolia used to be the Fort Lawton military base. It was a minor base without much of a focus, used for greatly varied purposes over its lifespan. In the 1960s the U.S. Government started making moves to close down parts of Fort Lawton.
The City of Seattle wanted the land for a large natural open space park. But at the same time, a group that evolved into United Indians of All Tribes, led by Bernie Whitebear, decided to try to stake claim to the land.
UIAT based their claim on 1865 treaties which promised that surplus military land would be returned to the original owners. The group saw a pressing need for self-directed services for Native Americans living in Seattle. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services only recognized Native Americans living on reservations and provided no services or support for those living in cities, despite critical needs in education, health, housing, and employment.
The group’s first attempts to claim the land were rebuffed. They were told by the BIA and IHS to seek services on the reservations, which is an unworkable solution for a poverty-stricken urban population.
So in 1970 Bernie Whitebear’s group took direct action, staging occupations of the fort and protests in several locations over a three-month span. Finally they gained enough media attention and public support that the government administration in charge of the surplus process ordered the City of Seattle to negotiate with UIAT.
After five months of negotiations an agreement was reached in 1971. Twenty acres were leased to UIAT for 99 years, with the option to renew without renegotiation. Daybreak Star was built on the acquired land and opened in 1977.
When you arrive at Daybreak Star the building is on your left and the viewpoint is on your right. Just past the viewpoint entrance are some parking spaces on the road on your left. These are the closest to the outdoor attractions.
Even if you have no interest in the Center itself, this is a nice, little known Seattle viewpoint to visit. A large open lawn leads down to a view platform at the edge of the bluff.
The view is to the north and includes boats exiting the mouth of Salmon Bay, part of Shilshole Marina, the beach at Golden Gardens, and a bit of the Olympics. You can see the Edmonds Ferry crossing the sound in the distance and on clear days you get a nice view of Mt. Baker.
To get from the park road to the view platform there are three paved paths, one on each side of the lawn and one down the middle. There is a bit of a downhill slope, but it’s not steep and most people won’t have any trouble with it.
If you take the west side path close to parking there are two benches on the way down. If you take the east side path there are three picnic tables. The middle path has two benches by the road, and then steps down, since the bank is steeper in the middle.
The view platform has two benches, and it’s a lovely spot to sit for a while on a sunny day, especially if there’s a breeze blowing when the weather is warm. On my second visit some large rollers started coming in and I could hear them crashing ashore below, which added to the ambience.
There are no steps or paths leading down to the water from here. The high bluff is fenced off to prevent accidents.
For those who like to search out obscure and picturesque picnic spots, this one is pretty nice. On most days you’ll have it to yourself, aside from an occasional visitor going out to the view deck.
To the west of the viewpoint area, at the edge of the parking lot, is the start of two trails. I haven’t been on them so have no idea of their condition or where they go.
Across the road from the viewpoint is the lower level of the Daybreak Star building. There you’ll find two totem carvings and an old dugout canoe. Feel free to take a close look or snap some photos, but don’t touch the objects on display.
As far as I know, these lower level back doors are usually locked (even though it looks like the main entrance). You should use one of the other two entrances into the building on the upper level.
If you walk along the east side of the building through a patio area you will see large steps leading up to one of the entrances you can use. A giant mural is painted on the walls of both sides of the steps. So even if you don’t plan to use that entrance it’s worth walking back there to see.
Across from the steps is a bench circle facing Guardian of the Spirit. It’s one of sixteen terra cotta sculptures that used to adorn the facade of the White-Henry-Stuart building in downtown Seattle, built in 1909. The sculpture was rescued when the building was renovated in 1976 to make way for Rainier Square, and donated to Daybreak Star in 1985.
Near the bench circle are some stairs leading down to a paved walkway. I believe this is the route to a round meadow south of the building where the annual Pow Wow is held. The meadow and Center can also be reached by using Discovery Park’s north parking lot and taking the path a ways west and then north from the lot.
If you plan to use the Center’s main entrance you can walk or drive around to the front of the building. There is a small parking lot, including a few handicap spaces near the front door.
On the south side of the lot is a small fenced play area for young children. On weekdays from 8 am – 5 pm it is reserved for the private use of the Center’s preschool. Outside those hours and on weekends it is open to the public.
Just inside the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center’s front door is a donation box. You are welcome to visit the center for free. The suggested donation is $5. (If you want to donate something but don’t have any cash with you, there are envelopes on the side of the box that you can use to mail a check once you get home.) The money goes towards maintenance of the physical facility, art gallery, and running their programs.
Beyond the donation box are a couple tables with literature for the many programs that operate out of the Center. There are also some glossy booklets with information on Northwest museums and galleries that display Native American art. (The suggested donation for the booklets is also $5.)
Several large artworks are displayed on the Center’s lobby walls. These pieces are in the Daybreak Star permanent collection. Sometimes other pieces are displayed in the open areas also. On my second visit a carved headpiece was on display in a glass case and a tall wood sculpture was at the other end of the lobby.
A short way into the Center on your right is the door into the Sacred Circle Art Gallery. The gallery displays curated exhibits of contemporary and traditional work by Native American artists. The gallery is very small (one room), but makes good use of its space.
When I was there in March the featured artist was Frank Peterson, a member of the Makah Tribe. (Sidenote: if you ever have a chance to visit the Makah museum at Neah Bay, do it.) In September Molly Kubista, a Samish artist, was being displayed. The gallery exhibits are changed every three or four months.
Just past the gallery is the door into the giftshop. This isn’t a souvenir type giftshop, so don’t expect baseball caps and cheap trinkets. The store carries a few books, original artwork, and handmade crafts like baby moccasins and earings. On my second visit the shop was closed, so my guess is that whether or not it’s open at any given time depends on available staffing.
The Center also has restrooms on this floor. You can find them down the hallway that is between the gallery and giftshop. They are open to anyone visiting the Center or enjoying the viewpoint. (Though they are only available during Center hours, obviously.)
Things to Know
9 am – 5 pm weekdays, closed on weekends
4 am – 11:30 pm
Benches and picnic tables at the scenic point.
Benches on the east side of the Daybreak Star building.
Chairs in the Center’s main floor lobby.
Inside the Center building on the main floor. Only open 9 – 5 on weekdays.
At other times you will need to use a bathroom somewhere else in Discovery Park or the public bathrooms at Fishermen’s Terminal. The Discovery Park Environmental Learning Center bathrooms are the easiest to get to and are open 8:30 am to 5 pm every day except Monday.
Parking starts along the left side of the road near the viewpoint and continues around the building to a small lot in the front.
Several handicap spaces near the front door.
On most days you won’t have any trouble finding a spot.
I’ve only been to Daybreak Star twice, both times on weekdays so I could be there when the Center was open. Usage was very light.
Both times I had the lobby and gallery to myself. I believe that on some days schools and sightseeing tours visit the Center, so it’s possible to run into a crowd, but not very likely.
The viewpoint gets a few people wandering through, but most don’t stay long.
Quite a few people appear to use the Center’s parking lot as their base for heading out on the park trails.
Seafair Indian Days Pow Pow in July
Please Note: Photos of the exterior and lobby art are allowed. Photography is prohibited in the Sacred Circle Art Gallery. (I got permission to take the informational photo from outside the gallery doorway for this preview since it doesn’t show individual pieces.)
From 15th Ave W take the Nickerson/Emerson exit to Magnolia and head west on Emerson.
Follow the road to an intersection with a stop sign just after crossing over railroad tracks.
Take a right at the stop sign onto Gilman Ave. Keep following the main road as it curves around.
Eventually you will come to a four-way stop with the Discovery Park entrance straight ahead.
Enter the park and take an immediate right onto Texas St.
Follow the road as it curves around. Eventually you will see Bernie Whitebear Way on your right.
Take Bernie Whitebear Way to Daybreak Star.