Land Bridge, five years old, draws people to crossroads, meeting place

Ties to the river, Ties to the past

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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photoLillian Pitt's artwork on the Vancouver Land Bridge includes the welcome gate topped with canoe paddles and a silver mask of a Chinook woman. "I made the mask to honor Chinookan women," Pitt told the crowd. "They were the businesswomen who did the trading."

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Vancouver Land Bridge

• Length: 1,500 feet

• Completed: 2008

• Inspiration: Maya Lin

• Architect: Johnpaul Jones

• Firm: Jones and Jones Architects, Seattle

• Native American artwork: Lillian Pitt


Related story:

Trail of art that is Confluence Project continues to fill in.


Elsewhere online

• Confluence Project:http://confluenceproject.org

• Fort Vancouver National Historic Site:http://nps.gov/fova

• Artist Lillian Pitt:http://lillianpitt.com/public_art/confluence.html

• Storyteller Ed Edmo:http://ededmo.tripod.com/id15.html

photoPhotos by Steven Lane/The Columbian Tyese Arthur, a "fancy dancer" of the N'chi Wanapum Canoe Family from Warm Springs, Ore., dances to American Indian songs during the Vancouver Land Bridge's fifth anniversary celebration Saturday.

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photoThe Northwest Indian Veterans Association Color Guard leads a procession Saturday over the 5-year-old Vancouver Land Bridge to the village at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

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photoWith help from his Grandmother Bear puppet, traditional storyteller Ed Edmo entertains and educates the crowd with American Indian legends at the Vancouver Land Bridge fifth anniversary celebration on Saturday morning.

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Her long braids bouncing with each step, Tyese Arthur danced an American Indian "circle dance" Saturday morning with about a dozen other members of the N'chi Wanapum Canoe Family. In beaded moccasins, her feet hopped and stepped to the beating drums.

As they moved in a circle, Arthur and the other fancy dancers from Warm Springs, Ore., also chanted traditional American Indian songs at the base of the Vancouver Land Bridge to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the project's completion.

Part of the Confluence Project, the Vancouver Land Bridge was inspired by Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam War Memorial. Its purpose is to reconnect the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to the Columbia River.

The site's history as a crossroads continued without a beat, even Saturday. Just as the ceremony began, a BNSF train stopped on the railroad berm overpass, providing a noisy background throughout the event. On the other side of the crowd, vehicles zipped by on Highway 14. And overhead, small planes from Pearson Field and fighter jets from Portland International Airport added to the cacophony.

"We have a confluence of sounds this morning," said Jane Jacobsen, executive director of the Confluence Project.

Storyteller Ed Edmo engaged visitors with several American Indian stories, including the Colville tribe's legend of how the Columbia River was created.

"Coyote took a big stick and dug up at the top of the mountains and dug and sang a powerful song," Edmo chanted and encouraged others to join him.

They did. And they followed his hand motions. A child moved closer to see Edmo's animal puppets, including Grandmother Bear, who wore a headscarf. Edmo was joined by his granddaughter, Siale Edmo, 10, to help him tell one story.

It was an appropriate story to commemorate the Land Bridge, which tells the story of river, land and people along the Columbia River.

"The Land Bridge respects the idea of respecting Mother Earth and each other, and reconnecting the people and the river again," said Antone Minthorn, Confluence Project chairman and former chairman of Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

More than a half-million people have used the Land Bridge to cross from Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to the Columbia River in the past five years, said Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of Fort Vancouver.

The Land Bridge also reconnects the fort's village to the river.

People from more than 35 Indian tribes worked at Fort Vancouver and lived in the village outside the fort's stockade during the Hudson's Bay Company era, said Fortmann. They arrived at the village via boats on the river.

Warm Springs artist Lillian Pitt created several pieces of artwork for the bridge, including the welcome gate, topped with two canoe paddles and a silver mask of a Chinook woman.

"I made the mask to honor Chinookan women," Pitt told the crowd. "They were the businesswomen who did the trading."

"Let's go forward with reverence for each other," Pitt said. "Let the welcome gate take you through to the village. You can go through with an open heart."

As the fancy dancers and observers walked over the Land Bridge toward the village, they were greeted with a musket shot and a greeting in Chinook jargon, the trade language commonly used at Fort Vancouver almost 200 years ago.

"Thla-hi-em! Welcome to Fort Vancouver," said Aaron Ochoa, a National Park Service ranger dressed as a fur trapper who lived in the village.

The visitors -- representing many tribes -- walked toward the village to begin a traditional circle ceremony.

"It's the kind of gathering that makes your heart grow big," Fortmann said as she joined the circle.


Susan Parrish: 360-735-4530; http://twitter.com/col_schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com.