Submitted by Rene Carroll
The sound of a steady drum beat and the singing of a blessing in Chinookan language filled the afternoon air at the dedication of the Gathering Place at Washuxwal pavilion held at its site at the Two Rivers Heritage Museum on Saturday, September 18.
A small group of supporters and honored guests gathered to celebrate the project’s completion. Four years ago, the Camas Washougal Historical Society (CWHS) Board of Directors decided to start an effort to recognize the contributions and tell the stories of the Native Americans who lived in this area of rushing waters. The Gathering Place at Washuxwal project was born. True to its name and intent, the Gathering Place will play host to a variety of interesting educational programs, as well as CWHS meetings and events.
The open pavilion design is inspired by traditional cedar plank houses used by local tribes living along the shores of the Columbia River. It features Native-inspired wood carvings created by Adam McIsaac, project lead carver and advisor for the pavilion artwork, a respected expert in Native American art.
CWHS president, Jim Cobb, thanked supporters of the project at the event calling out three individuals for their significant roles. Michael Lewallen and Jason Ferrier of Lewallen Architects in Camas and Mark Albin of Able Hands Construction. “Without Michael’s help we could not have finished the project, or even got it started,” said Cobb. “And Jason was our designer and architect and so much more. Mark was the one who set all of this up. He cut the inserts, put in the posts, put on the roof, he is the one who literally screwed the place together. Mark worked hard and I can honestly say I don’t know of anyone else who could have done it.”
The dedication highlight was the two blessings performed by Sam and Mildred Robinson. Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Nation, told the group that long houses provided a lot for the people of this land. “You look around and notice one entrance,” he pointed out. “The step in would drop as much as three feet. People would ask how the elders got inside. Well, we would pack them. Our elders were very important to us. They carried our knowledge; they were like our libraries, so we took care of them at all times.”
Robinson went on to say that he refers to Chinook longhouses as the first colleges in the Pacific Northwest. “In these buildings is where people would sit in the winter by the fire and learn from their grandparents, their aunts and uncles. They would learn what it was like to be Chinook and how it was to be Chinook for tens of thousands of years on this Columbia River.”
As is the Chinook custom to give a gift to visitors, Cobb presented the Robinsons with Pendleton blankets from the CWHS. “We hope our relationship with the tribe can get solid and we can work together with educational programs and use this place to help bring back the local history and stories of the past,” Cobb said.
The Two Rivers Heritage Museum is located at 1 Durgan Street in Washougal and open March through end of October on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission costs are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $2 for students and free for children under 5 and all CWHS members. Group tours are available any day of the week (by appointment only). Call Lois Cobb at 360-835-5449 for scheduling.
“We hope everyone will be interested in seeing this completed project and visit the museum before we are closed for winter maintenance starting in November,” said Cobb. “Just because we have finished the plank house, doesn’t mean that we are done improving the Two Rivers Heritage Museum experience for the public and especially our local community.”