Under construction since 2019, The Gathering Place at Washuxwal, nestled on the southern side of Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal, is nearing completion thanks to generous support by Camas-Washougal Historical Society members, community friends, volunteers, local businesses and grant donations.

Washougal Museum Gathering Place carving
The origin of Native American carving was representative of the strong ties between nature and Native American culture. Great meaningful intent and spirituality is found in Indigenous carvings. Photo credit: Richard Johnson

The outdoor longhouse champions a 10,000-square-foot space and is inspired by traditional cedar plankhouses used by Native American tribes living in East Clark County during the early 19th Century. The spelling of Washuxwal, coined by the Cascade Chinooks for Washougal, means rushing water.

“The possibilities of what we can do out there are unlimited,” shares Jim Cobb, president of the Camas-Washougal Historical Society. “The hard work is nearly done,” he adds spiritedly. “Now it’s time to have fun with exhibits and displays.”

The purpose of the beautiful pavilion is to celebrate the Camas-Washougal Indigenous Indians and will bring Native American history to life through storytelling while serving as a unique backdrop to host educational and community programs. Cobb explains that it is important to tell stories of the earliest inhabitants of the area. The historical society also wants to promote unison within the Camas-Washougal area.

This means once the pavilion is up and running, it could also serve as a Washougal destination spot for tourists and visitors arriving on tour boats. “This is the only facility of this type in Camas-Washougal,” shares Cobb. “And when we get through with this project, we will have something people can feel impressed with.”

The longhouse will also be available for residents to use. Possible options could include renting the space for community and cultural events, outdoor meetings, small weddings and catered luncheons. The educational programming, community programs, options for public use, art, exhibits and displays are still evolving. There is plenty of parking for special occasions.

“We have lots of plans and hope for the future,” says Lois Cobb, Camas-Washougal Historical Society board member and volunteer coordinator for the museum. “We are all volunteers doing the work, and we need more.”

Washougal Museum Gathering Place Native American
Native American tribes believed that carvings protected them from evil spirits and enemy tribes. Their sacred relationship with nature was important. This carving depicts a legend of shooting stars into the dark sky with a bow. Photo credit: Richard Johnson

Exhibits and carvings that will inhabit the plankhouse seem to leave no detail out. Renown northwest artist, Adam McIsaac, is the lead carver and advisor for the project. He is an expert in Columbia River art. McIsaac is not Native American, but his story learning his craft is remarkable. McIsaac’s carved art will adorn the ridgepoles telling stories of the rich history found along the Columbia River’s shores.

“We want to be consistent with the description of the meaningful intent of the carvings,” says Richard Johnson, Two Rivers Heritage Museum board member. “They are a spiritual thing for early first nation people. The Chinook had a unique relationship with their environment – it was so personal – they had sacred moments that they kept close and tried to protect.”

The carvings are placed at the entrance of the pavilion and inside. Visions of the chiefs or tribe leaders would often appear on the carvings. Storyboards will reflect Native American leadership and just how special our Indigenous tribes are.

“The river and the water provided the fish and everything for these early people,” says Johnson. “All the Native American work has some relationship to the river and area wildlife.”

Native American rock, native landscaping, artifacts, baskets, and artwork are among finishing touches to the project and hinge on generating continued funding through donations.

Washougal Museum Gathering Place Board Members
Camas-Washougal Historical Society’s board members stand proudly in front of The Gathering Place at Washuxwal as shown in August 2020. President Jim Cobb (second from right) is holding a grant check for $2,500 from the Honorable Frank L. and Arlene J. Price Foundation. Also pictured are Richard Johnson (left), Lois Cobb (second from left) and Ivar Godtlibsen (far right). The project, nearing completion, is the result of generous support, grant donations, and volunteers. Photo courtesy: CWHS President Jim Cobb

“We want to tie-in the whole museum and history of the Camas-Washougal area,” says Cobb. “We have a lot of things we want to do.”

Staying true to the museum’s mission and vision, the project is the result of an effort to expand the museum’s offerings and increase Native American displays to create a more balanced representation of history and historical perspectives.

Johnson, one of the early shepherds to planning the Gathering Place, is happy about the project’s near completion and ongoing evolution. “It turned out well, and I am excited about the programs, he says. “We have quite a package put together.”

To learn more about how to volunteer or to donate to the Gathering Place call Jim Cobb at 360.835.5449 or visit the Two Rivers Heritage Museum website.

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