The heavy squall ceased, and blue sky and a rainbow appeared just as people gathered on the plaza outside the Columbia River Maritime Museum for the Chinook National flag-gifting ceremony.
It was as if to say, Mother Nature approved.
These observances culminated the museum’s annual Community Day Sunday. Admission was free and visitors brought food for the Clatsop Community Action regional food bank. Special events were put on throughout the museum, including storytelling, rope making, net making and crafts.
Representatives of the Chinook Nation honored the museum by presenting a new flag to fly from the museum’s flagpole. Deputy Director Dave Pearson lowered the old, tattered flag. Then Don Abing lit sage, which had been specially harvested by a shaman, in an abalone shell and wafted the smoke with bundled eagle feathers up and down and around the flags and the participants in the ceremony.
Tribal Chairman Ray Gardner, as he presented the replacement flag to Pearson, spoke about the importance of the partnership between the tribe and the museum. He said it was always uplifting to him to observe the flag flying when he would paddle in a canoe up and down the river.
“Seeing the flag flying in our homeland is a wonderful thing,” he said.
Pearson said the partnership is important to the museum’s mission of preserving and interpreting the stories of the river and its people for future generations. The museum has flown the Chinook Nation flag since 2008.
The group then adjourned indoors for song and speeches next to Ktmin (reth-min, “moon”), the canoe built in fall 2011 to replace one stolen from the Chinook by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Gardner said the tribe is glad to see the canoe, which tribal members use during the summer, on display during the winter to be seen by museum visitors.
“I know the canoe is smiling,” he added.
The flag was designed in 1991 by Tony Johnson, one of the Chinook members present, and bears a representation of a king salmon and the face of the spirit power. He explained that if a person with the spirit power stood in a river, the salmon would come.
“The Chinook people cannot be separated from these fish or this land,” he said.
The Chinook Nation, which consists of the five westernmost tribes in the Lower 48 – the Lower Chinook, Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiakum and Kathlamet – continues its long struggle to obtain federal recognition that was promised in a never-ratified treaty in 1851.
Johnson asked those present for support for those efforts.
As tribal members performed a song about paddling on the river, a bald eagle soared in front of the window plucking a fish from the Columbia River. A very good omen.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.