Evergreen Unveils Restored “Welcome Woman”

Bunni Peterson-Haitwas (Skokomish) works with Greg Colfax (Makah) on the restoration of Welcome Woman at the Evergreen State College.

The Evergreen State College will celebrate the recently restored “Welcome Woman” – a Native American carving — at the college on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 11a.m.-noon. 

The unveiling will take place in the carving’s original location at Red Square by the bus loop. 

The original carving, made in the entryway to the library building back in 1984, was never properly sealed and was starting to deteriorate. 

Originally carved by Greg Colfax (Makah) and Andy Wilbur-Peterson (Skokomish), the carving has been meticulously restored by Colfax with assistance from Evergreen graduate, Bunni Peterson-Haitwas (Skokomish).

“Hospitality is the basis of correct humanity,” Colfax said. “To be hospitable to one another -- what does that mean?  We need to learn that as a people and as a species.” 

Peterson-Haitwas was the driving force behind the restoration. When she began her education at Evergreen, she says she immediately noticed the carving, which was in dire need of repair after years of exposure to the elements. 

“She just looked so sad,” she recalled. 

So, Peterson-Haitwas asked what it would take to repair the carving and the college in turn asked Peterson-Haitwas to work with Colfax to complete the restoration. 

It took them 35 straight 12-13 hour days. 

Peterson-Haitwas is the daughter of Andy Wilbur Peterson, one of the original carvers. 

“I remember when they packed her from the library on logs. I was 6 years old,” said Peterson-Haitwas. 

“I was in love with her since they carved her. And when I came back I just felt bad for her because I was like -- she’s so weathered and she needs a new smile, she needs new eyebrows, she needs pupils -- I mean her eyes were almost gone.”

Peterson-Haitwas says it means a lot to her to carry on her father’s carving tradition and to set an example for her own children, both as a culture bearer and as a college graduate.

“It is a dream come true, to build the feet my dad built before and to carry on that legacy,” she said. 

“My daughter -- she’s 16 -- she already wears an Evergreen alumni sweatshirt because her goal is to become an Evergreen student.” 

Colfax added that Welcome Woman was originally created as a representation of the dream of the Evergreen Longhouse, which was envisioned in 1972 by faculty member Mary Ellen Hillaire of the Lummi Nation, and finally completed in 1995.

With the realization of the Longhouse campus which includes weaving and carving studios, he believes Evergreen is poised to become a center for indigenous education in the United States. 

The restored version of the carving keeps some of the original wood elements with additions which created outstretched arms. She now wears a brightly painted dress and has long black braids. 

The restoration of the iconic carving is a symbol of a new era at Evergreen, said Colfax -- where indigenous values will play a leading role. 

“This is a statement to the world of the importance of education to Native peoples’.”

Welcome Woman, he added “is a figure that welcomes all people, not just Native Americans.”