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The story continues at Sacajawea State Park
October 1, 2009
With her latest Confluence Project artwork, Maya Lin will tell the complex story of what is now Sacajawea State Park, at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers. Seven “story circles” and new landscaping at the site will recall its past, restore its native vegetation and reconnect it to the area’s Sahaptin-speaking people.
In October 1805, Lewis and Clark spent three days here, hunting, repairing their equipment, mapping the river landscape, and celebrating with more than 200 Native Yakama, Wanapum, Walla Walla, Umatilla, Palouse and other people of the Columbia Plateau. Native people from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast had already been gathering here for thousands of years, harvesting berries, root crops and medicinal plants; fishing and preserving the rivers’ abundant salmon; trading with one another; and celebrating together.
Today, the site would be unrecognizable to the Corps of Discovery explorers and the Native people they encountered here. Manicured lawn grass and introduced shade trees have replaced the dry, open plain and riparian ecosystem that once thrived here. Dams have slowed the rushing rivers and raised their water levels, submerging the historic shoreline under more than 20 feet of nearly still water. Shore birds and other native fauna have been displaced. All but one of the site’s six species of salmon have become threatened or endangered.
With text etched into seven story circles, some raised above the ground and some embedded within it, Maya Lin’s artwork will weave together the cultural, historical and environmental details that form the larger narrative of the area. The circles create voids in the landscape, representing the loss of habitat, wildlife and an important Native trading and fishing hub. As visitors walk from circle to circle, they’ll experience the present-day view of the river confluence as they reflect on its rich past. The story circles provide context for how the site has changed over time while re-establishing it as a spot to gather for generations to come.
In one circle, a list of trade items that Native people brought to the site will underscore its importance as a crossroads for western tribes. In another circle, text from a traditional Yakama and Klickitat story will remind visitors how the now-endangered salmon were once plentiful and life-sustaining for Native people in the area. Other circles will feature text from Lewis and Clark’s journals, names of the seasons in the Native Sahaptin language and the names of six species of salmon in Sahaptin, with translations from Virginia Beavert, a Yakama elder and Sahaptin speaker.
Plans from project partners Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects Inc. also call for restoring the native riparian habitat with sagebrush, indigenous shrubs, native grasses, and native trees such as black cottonwood and chokecherry. Construction will begin in spring 2009, and a dedication is planned for spring 2010.