The Columbia River system is mighty, singular and precious — and a vital part of the Northwest’s past and future.
Long before Lewis and Clark set foot on its banks, before it became a shipping channel or a source of hydropower, native people lived on and near it, they fished it, they loved it.
But too often, their stories and voices go unheard.
A new series of public forums coordinated by the nonprofit Confluence aims to change that.
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The next Confluence Story Gathering is planned in the Tri-Cities on Sept. 17. The free community event starts at 2 p.m. at the Richland Library, 955 Northgate Drive.
Lewis and Clark didn’t discover the Columbia River system; they came and met people. ... The history of this place begins with indigenous voices.
Colin Fogarty, Confluence executive director
“We all have a connection to the Columbia River system. In policy decisions, in public discussions of the river, there are a lot of voices that we hear. We want to connect people to indigenous voices,” said Colin Fogarty, Confluence executive director.
Confluence’s role as a nontribal group isn’t to speak for them, “but to bring people together to hear those perspectives,” he said.
The Richland event will include a video featuring interviews with tribal elders and leaders. A live panel discussion will follow.
The Richland event’s panelists include: Roberta Conner, director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute and member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; Carol Craig, a member of the Yakama Nation with decades of outreach experience in tribal treaty rights, salmon recovery, tradition and culture; and Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission and part of the Nez Perce Tribe.
Confluence started its Story Gatherings series last fall, and several have been held around the Northwest.
Each one is different — some have been serious from top to bottom, others filled with humor, Fogarty said.
As moderator, he lets the discussion flow. “We start with the voices of the elders (through the video), and the panelists take it from there,” Fogarty said.
Washington Arts Commission is the sponsor.
Confluence is based in Vancouver, Wash., with a mission to “connect people to place through art and education.”
It’s known in particular for six public art installations that help tell stories of the river system. One of the installations — called Story Circles, by celebrated artist Maya Lin — is at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco.
Fogarty said those who come to the Richland story gathering won’t be disappointed — they can expect an enlightening, engaging and enriching time.
“It’s so important to have these kinds of discussions,” he said.
“Our mission is to connect people to place, and that means connecting people to the history of this place. The history of this place begins with native voices,” Fogarty said. “Lewis and Clark didn’t discover the Columbia River system; they came and met people (who already knew it well). And the descendants of those people are still here. The history of this place begins with indigenous voices.”
More on Confluence: confluenceproject.org.