Nez Perce hold blessing ceremony

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CLARKSTON, Wash. - A crowd of nearly 150 gathered at Chief Timothy Park on
an island seven miles west of Clarkston to attend a blessing conducted by
elders of the Nez Perce Tribe. Principal among the crowd, and the person
behind this particular location, was Maya Lin. Her sculptures and monuments
are internationally renowned and include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
Washington, D.C.

This island site is the easternmost of seven locations that comprise the
Confluence Project along the Columbia River Basin stretching westward to
the Pacific Ocean. The selected sites, which are along the route taken by
Lewis and Clark, mark the confluences of rivers, ecosystems and time in
addition to American Indian cultures.

The Confluence Project is a collaboration of tribes including the
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla and the Nez Perce. It has raised nearly
two-thirds of the $22 million necessary to complete the project.

Prior to the blessing, Lin shared her thoughts about the project and this
site in particular. She explained why she and members of the Nez Perce
Tribal Council selected this site, a circular depression on an island
adjoining the Snake River with basalt cliffs rising skyward all around,
rather than a site proposed in the town of Clarkston.

"We came out here and I walked into this natural depression, like an
amphitheater. The connection with the basalt and the sky was something I
thought was really special and I thought I could make art work around it."

She hasn't yet firmed thoughts on what this site will eventually contain.
"I didn't want to have too many ideas before the blessing ceremony. This is
a natural sky bowl. How much do you want to work with it? Very little. The
landscape is the art.

"I think what I will be doing is connecting you back to the fundamental
elements: the cliffs, the sky and how we relate to landscape." She added,
"I am so honored that this ceremony is going to take place here."

Wilford "Scotty" Scott, Nez Perce elder, voiced similar comments. He had
toured this location with Lin before. "When we got to this spot, I think it
just struck everybody. You could look across and see both sides of the
hills and you could look up and down the river. We could visualize where
our people lived and camped. This young lady asked the question of where to
construct a memorial and she voiced an answer that most of us had in our
hearts.

"We wanted someplace out where you could come and hear the people. When we
go to the battle sites we hear the voices, the crying and the gunshots.
These are things we experience when our people come to these places. I
admire this young lady very much. Both meetings we've had with her have
been inspirational to me."

Scotty and Horace Axtell led the crowd to the blessing site. Axtell, widely
known as "Uncle" throughout the region, is a spiritual leader.

Axtell began by thanking the Creator for the beautiful day, saying every
day is a blessing. The crowd was largely non-Indian, and Axtell explained
how "the sound of the drum, in a spiritual way, is the heartbeat of all of
us who believe this way. This is our way of life. Each one of these songs
is a prayer.

"When other religions came, they took away a lot of our people from these
old ways. Some of us still hang onto these important parts of the Nimipuu
[Nez Perce]. That's why we're here today. We're blessing this ground."

With Scotty serving as master of ceremonies, several people spoke about the
project.

Antone Minthorn, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Umatillas,
described the early history of the area: how these travel routes were
important to the cultures 200 years ago and for Indian people for thousands
of years before that. Today they are important ports and cities of the
region.

He said, "It is now appropriate to preserve and honor these sites for
future generations so they will know their history and tremendous cultural
and environmental values. After 200 years, we thought it was time to view
the Native American perspective on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Our
thinking converged on Maya Lin doing a project, so we went to New York City
to meet with Maya Lin. She's here with us today."

Royce Pollard, mayor of Vancouver, spoke about the significance of this
site and this project "not only to our region but to the nation and to the
world. This is good stuff, folks. This is what we ought to be doing for our
country."

He also spoke with pride of the relationship Vancouver has with the Nez
Perce and other tribes, saying it was an honor for the city, which he
considered to be the second home of the Nez Perce, and that they are
welcome there any time.

With the women seated on the south and the men on the north, the blessing
began. Five prayers were sung to the sound of the drums and a bell. The
blessing of the site was complete.