PORTLAND, Ore. - The year was 1805. The scene was the mouth of the
Columbia. The people were the Chinooks, fishers and traders with
distinctive flattened foreheads who built 36 plank houses that Chinook
Nation tribal councilman Sam Robinson thinks was a seasonal village on the
north side of the river in what is known today as Washington. The Chinooks
weren't around; they'd done the sensible thing - moved to inland camps
protected from the winter weather.
But Lewis and Clark were there. Standing at Station Camp 200 years ago,
expedition member Joseph Whitehouse wrote on Nov. 16, 1805; "We are now in
plain view of the Pacific Ocean ... We are now of the opinion that we
cannot go further with out Canoes, and think that we are at the end of our
voyage to the Pacific Ocean."
Overall, the Chinook people - who were known for their prowess in the big
canoes that plied the Columbia and whose trade jargon once spread far and
wide - have had a rough go of it. Smallpox took an early heavy toll on the
Chinooks, what interaction the tribe had with Lewis and Clark wasn't
particularly pleasant, and today's tribal members are frustrated in their
efforts to gain federal recognition.
To compound matters, objecting to what the tribe considers interloping by
the newly organized Clatsop-Nehalems, the Chinooks have opted out of formal
Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Signature Events. Thus, the recent
archaeological find of a series of ordered plank impressions protected
under the foundation of an old barn is promising news in Chinook country.
Archaeologists working in advance of Washington State Department of
Transportation (WSDOT) construction crews found a variety of artifacts
during their three-year investigation of what Lewis and Clark called
Station Camp. However, with the unearthing of the plank features in late
January, construction that was scheduled to be underway by early February
The project, led by the Washington State Historical Society in cooperation
with several partners, was designed to refashion the section of state
highway running through the Station Camp site and create a park in time for
bicentennial events scheduled to fall around the same date in November
2005. Now that the project is on hold, however, completion dates are
uncertain. Rather than a tidy paved park, tourists venturing out for the
commemoration will most likely find a project in the works.
The $1.1 million project includes funding for archaeological work, so once
consultations with the Chinook Nation are completed, archaeological studies
followed by the construction of Station Park will most likely take place.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve archaeologist Doug Wilson called
the find "a wonderful meeting of two cultures" in that the artifacts found
thus far provide evidence of the tribe's early fur trade. Chip Jenkins,
superintendent of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park on the Oregon
side at Fort Clatsop, concurred: "What the archaeologists are now finding
means the national significance of Station Camp is even higher." Moreover,
Jenkins said, "It will allow the Chinook people and the state of Washington
to tell a much more accurate and broader story than just the account of the
18 days Lewis and Clark were in Pacific country. The site is representative
of the first global economy. Trade goods from Czechoslovakia and England
were exchanged for Chinook pelts which were then taken to China. There was
a mix of cultures right there - it represents an amazing sweep of history."
Chinook Nation chairman Gary Johnson wants to proceed slowly. "That's our
home territory and our largest village. We certainly can't have bulldozers
and heavy equipment in there now. That's just not acceptable. We need to
take time to see what they have found."
All partners agree that a find of this unprecedented magnitude on the Lower
Columbia River is worth careful archeological evaluation; and delaying the
Station Park project - something the Washington Historical Society had
initially anticipated would be ready in time for fall 2005 Bicentennial
commemorations - is the appropriate, respectful thing to do.