CHINOOK - Ray Gardner, chairman of the Chinook Tribe, is heading to Washington, D.C., this week to ramp up the battle for federal recognition.
His trip follows the effort announced last week by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird to introduce legislation to bring the long-awaited recognition to a reality.
Gardner was among those honored this weekend at the unveiling of an alto relief bronze at Dismal Nitch commemorating the days the Lewis and Clark expedition was trapped by storms and rolling logs, near starving, and watching Chinook canoes traveling easily past them on the raging river.
Those attending the event had no illusions that without the Chinook, Lewis and Clark and their party would not have survived.
The bronze is by Olympia-based sculptor Gareth Curtiss and its unveiling attracted local, state and tribal dignitaries. They attended the sun-drenched event at the Dismal Nitch Safety Rest Area, and included a group of re-enactors who were camped on the site over the weekend.
Before the dedication, Gardner said he hoped people realize the effort that went into the bill by Baird and his staff. "It's a great day in Chinook country history. We're very confident it will go through," he said. "We've made every effort to answer public concerns. There have been lots of misperceptions. The tribal council has been good at addressing the issues. We've tried to alleviate people's fears. When the bill passes we'll have same rights and privileges of other tribes."
Gardner said he'll be in Washington, D.C., this week for an American Rivers board meeting. "I'll have a chance to speak with Congress members and answer their final questions before the bill goes to the Senate."
Assuming the bill passes, Gardner said the first thing the tribe will do is celebrate. Then comes the hard work.
"Our first priority is health care," he said. Then the tribe must write a new constitution and re-elect a new council, which he estimated would take about six months. "Then we'll make a plan for a reservation in Pacific or Wahkiakum counties," he said. That could take five to seven years.
"I can think of no better way to honor my ancestors, nor any better gift to give to future generations of Chinook than to pass this bill, and end this long quest for recognition," Gardner said. "The history of the Northwest cannot be told without the Chinook people, and thanks to the hard work of Congressman Baird, neither can the story of the region's future."
New L&C memorial dedicatedThe dedication of the artwork drew a crowd that appreciated the summer sunshine.
"We have no complaints about the weather today," said David Nicandri, director of the Washington State Historical Society. He thanked the Weyerhaeuser Foundation for funding the monument.
"After traveling across the continent, the men were pinned down here, catching salmon with their hands," said David Szymanski, superintendent of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. "The weather was raging and they saw the Chinook canoes and thought, 'no way.' The expedition had traveled the equivalent of across Africa, encountering many nations and peoples. The Chinooks had no idea what the men were doing on the Columbia River in November and the men eventually gave their grudging respect to the Chinooks. Now we're focusing on what remains of that time - the river, fish and the tribe. Even Thomas Jefferson couldn't imagine how we've worked together to arrive at this day."
Gardner described Baird's fresh campaign, which seeks to "right a wrong" dating back to at least 1851.
"The Chinook people gave comfort to Lewis and Clark when they arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River and first saw the Pacific Ocean," Gardner said, quoting Baird. "Historians contend that without the tribe's help, many in their group would not have survived the winter of 1805. It's never too late to right ancient wrongs."
Gardner said the history of the tribe was visible everywhere, with Saddle Mountain, the legendary birthplace of the tribe's people, in view. "We honor and speak on behalf of our ancestors," he said. "Lewis and Clark was the blink of an eye. What they 'discovered' has always been here. The other side of the story is being told."
Szymanski pointed out that the Dismal Nitch portion of the national park includes 127 acres across the highway from the rest area where the National Park Service hopes develop salmon passage and habitat in a nearby creek. He said NPS is working with the Garvin family, the tribe and the state to develop a connecting trail between Dismal Nitch and the Station Camp site to eventually connect the sites from Chinook to Knappton Cove.
No matter what is created over the next years to immortalize the Chinook Nation and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the area will certainly be more pleasant than the conditions experienced by expedition members.
"It is wet and cold and such," Tom Wilson, who portrays Capt. Clark for the Pacific Northwest Living Historians, said, quoting from the expedition journals. "I am so excited to see this monument. I hope people see the perseverance of the many individuals involved in its creation and trust even today, we can proceed on, through thick and thin and hardships." He said the living history group will be at Waikiki Beach at Cape Disappointment the third weekend in July for its third annual Clark's Camp event.