A memorial to those lost. A reminder to those who remain.
N’Chi Wana. Big River. The mighty Columbia. This great river is the lifeblood of the region.
Over the millennia, untold numbers of fishers have lost their lives to N’Chi Wana. The loved ones who they left behind look to the waters not with hatred, but with renewed respect, for while the river offers many gifts, its awesome power makes it dangerous, as well.
For over 30 years, the four Columbia River treaty tribes have desired to build a memorial to honor lost fishers. Under tribal leadership, a group of Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce artists have designed a culturally significant monument to memorialize lost fishers, provide a place for families to express their grief, and to encourage safety for all who use the river.
The site for the memorial is a short walk from Tsagaglalal, the sacred “She Who Watches” petroglyph. Together, these two stone creations will overlook the Columbia. One reminds us that the river is the source of our identity and strength. The other will remind us of those who returned to the Creator in its watery depths.
- Stone Pillar: The pillar represents reverence, permanence, and rising up to the sky from the rippling waters. It will be made from a combination of large rounded river rocks and basalt stones. Built of seven stones, varying from five or six foot in size at the base to smaller at the top, the pillar will reach approximately 25 feet in height.
- Concentric Circles & Plaza: The circles or “ripples” represent the far-reaching effects of something falling into water, the circular nature of life, and the round tepee homes. Like ripples from a stone dropped into water, four stone-built circles will radiate out from the stone pillar and form a base or plaza around it. The circles will be constructed from 12” rocks set into the grade. A gravel or concrete walkway will be placed and shaped between the stone rings.
- Four Directions: The four direction stones represent not only north, south, east, and west, but also the four winds, the four seasons, and the four colors of the people of earth. The four five-foot tall basalt columns will be placed at the four cardinal directions. Several shorter sections of basalt stones will be set around the perimeter for seating.
- Walkway: The walkway is an outline of the Columbia River between Bonneville and McNary dams. This is a reminder of the river’s great length and the many different tribes who live along and depend on it. It connects the parking lot to the Memorial and varies from four to six feet in width. Several materials are being considered, including gravel, colored concrete, or a material made from recycled glass that is colorful and reflective.
- Stone Markers: Seven stone markers are to be set along the path between the parking lot and the main sculpture. These markers symbolize the numerous villages along the Big River that were drowned behind the dams.
In December 2010, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission formed the Fishers Memorial Task Force to create a design and proposal for a memorial. Consisting of CRITFC’s executive officers, two of the river chiefs, and artists appointed by each member tribe, the Task Force commenced work in April 2011. The Task Force reviewed fishers memorials from around the world for ideas and scouted for sites on the river for a location. They settled on Columbia Hills State Park, east of Dallesport, a secure site that contained ancient petroglyphs on its rock walls and pictographs that had been moved from their original sites prior to inundation by The Dalles Dam. The site presented a broad vista of the great river, and an enthusiastic Washington State Parks’ staff in charge of managing the site. The Commission approved the site and asked the artists to collaborate on a design. Through a design charrette, the artists produced a conceptual design and a proposal to initiate the process to create the Columbia River Fishers Memorial.
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The proposed site for the memorial is on a bluff overlooking the Columbia inside the Columbia Hills State Park. Once constructed, it will be visible from the park, from the river, and the motorists passing on the Oregon side of the river.