The Chinook Indians Visited and Lived at Parkersville

Sam Robinson, granddaughter Destany, give blessing and remarks, open the event 2022. Photo credit: Rene Carroll

Submitted by Rene Carroll

The second annual Parkersville Day will be held at Parker’s Landing Historical Park, located on the Columbia River at the Camas-Washougal Port. Mark your calendars for Saturday, June 3, 2023, from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Attend and learn about our rich local history in a fun, free, educational experience for all ages with free parking on site.

The event opens with a Chinook blessing given by Sam Robinson, Vice President of the Chinook Indian Nation. The Parkersville area was popular for Chinook-speaking Indigenous people. In the 1920s, many arrowheads were found at the Parkersville site beach area during low tide. To the southwest of the park, the excavation for homes in 1938-39 brought up mortars, pestles, hammer stones, fishing, net weights, and a stone effigy. In 1969, the Oregon Archeological Society collected stone and shell Indian beads, net sinkers, scrapers, drills, and a clay pipe at the south end of the historical park’s Section C.

The Chinook people visited and lived in the Parkersville, Camas and Washougal area before European contact. These friendly, peaceful, industrious people traveled and traded more than those in the plains, using canoes as their primary method of transportation. The Chinook women managed the commerce of trading. They prepared food, wove baskets, and skirts from cedar bark. Men hunted, even bringing back a whale or two from the Pacific Ocean every year.

Chinook families lived in large, sturdy cedar houses, called longhouses or plank houses, considered the most advanced housing of the U.S. Tribes. Their foundations were secured underground. Many families lived in apartment-like areas inside these longhouses. They located these homes near water and food sources with fishing as their main occupation. They used woven nets weighed by sinkers made from river rock. They bore holes in the baskets using wood, stone, and obsidian tools.

A Parkersville National Historic Site Dedication Ceremony for the Chinook Plaza took place on September 12, 2009. The five-year project involved studying and researching Chinook Indian culture, working with architectural drawings, and collaborating with Chinook tribal members. Chinook artist Greg Robinson created the Chinook concept and artwork at the plaza. Sam Robinson consulted with the Parker’s Landing Advisory Committee on the added Chinook elements. He carved and polished the 7½ foot tall Power Figure. He incorporated typical Chinook art forms, such as exposed ribs and prominent eyes. In 2009, the stone sculpture was the tallest known on the West Coast, north of Mexico. The Coyote is carved from granite. From his perch, he watches over the Plaza. The included salamander is an ancient symbol.

On the west side of the plaza a 4 ½ foot basalt stone holds the carved name of Tayi in honor of Chinook leaders and their people in the lower Columbia River Region. Nearby are three areas containing native plants which were important to the Chinook, described on interpretive signs. Greg Archuleta of the Grand Ronde Tribe created the interpretive aspects that commemorate the Chinook Culture. A pondless waterfall is surrounded by native plants, a fulfillment of the original intent of those planning the development of Parker’s Landing Historical Park which was dedicated on June 1, 1986.

At this year’s annual Parkersville Day, Washougal Arts & Cultural Alliance (WACA) will be displaying Washougal School student’s art based on Chinook imagery to include salmon, dugout canoes, longhouses, baskets, camas bulbs and flowers. Art contest winners will be introduced at 12:30 pm.

Learn more at the second annual Parkersville Day on Saturday, June 3, 2023, from noon to 3 pm. Follow Parker’s Landing Historic Park on Facebook.  

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