An exhibit about the culture of Native peoples of the Northwest Coast, coinciding with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, will open on Saturday, January 23, at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, 3001 Central St., Evanston.

Organized by the Mitchell Museum, the exhibit, “Raising the Totem: Exploring Northwest Coast Indigenous Cultures,” will be on view through June 13.

A private preview for museum members is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, January 21.

The Vancouver Olympics in mid-February is being co-hosted by a consortium of four Canadian First Nations of the Northwest Coast, whose history and culture will be showcased during the games.

The independent, nonprofit Mitchell Museum, which has a significant collection of Northwest Coast artifacts, felt that an exhibit about the region would afford museum visitors an insight into —and a closer connection with — the Native peoples who will have a high profile during Olympic telecasts.

The exhibit will comprise approximately 50 objects, mostly from the museum’s permanent collection, along with historical photos. On view will be ceremonial cedar masks, totem pole models, flat art, baskets, rattles, and other items that help illustrate Northwest Coast spirituality, history, customs, and contemporary concerns. The displays “represent the best of the Mitchell Museum’s Northwest Coast collection,” according to the curators.

The Northwest Coast cultural area is a narrow crescent of land extending approximately 1,500 miles from southern Alaska to the Oregon–California border, flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the west and inland mountain ranges to the east. Archaeologists believe Native peoples have populated this region for more than 10,000 years. Salmon, whales, sea mammals, and cedar forests figure prominently in traditional Native life ways. Elaborate feasts known as potlatches and carved cedar totem or crest poles depicting family history and social status are cultural touchstones. Among the area’s distinctive, iconic symbols are the raven and the thunderbird.

According to the authors of “Native North American Art,” published by Oxford University Press, “The region’s geography has largely isolated it, especially in the north, undoubtedly contributing to the coherence of Northwest Coast artistic traditions.”

The Mitchell Museum will be hosting exhibit-related programs, including documentary film screenings and children’s activities. Details will be announced shortly.

Admission to the exhibit is included with museum admission, which is $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors, students, teachers (with valid school ID), and children. Maximum admission per family is $10. For information, phone (847) 475-1030. On the Net: