By Kristi Pihl
Members of area tribes performed a seven drums blessing as Story Circles was dedicated in Sacajawea State Park on Friday.
The $1.6 million artwork, designed by world-renowned artist Maya Lin, is part of the $30 million Confluence Project to commemorate the Lewis and Clark expedition and the region's tribal history.
The seven engraved basalt story circles, which range from 12 to 20 feet in diameter, mark where Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent three days in 1805.
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.