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Maya Lin and the Confluence Project

Pete Springer/OPB

Artist Maya Lin’s latest memorial is a multi-site installation along different points of the Columbia River. From Cape Disappointment where the Columbia River meets the Pacific to the inland intersection of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, the Confluence Project is a series of installations commemorating the landscape, the people and the cultures that greeted Lewis and Clark when they explored the area. Lin says the project is like “holding up a mirror to reflect back on Lewis and Clark’s journey.”

The Confluence Project got its start in 1999 as various plans were being made for the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial in 2005. Organizers were interested in how the event could be remembered from other perspectives — particularly from the view of Native American tribes who considered the Lewis & Clark expedition just one in a series of intrusions to their land.

Umatilla tribal elder, Antone Minthorn, began thinking about a project that would reflect his people’s role in the Lewis & Clark story. He thought of Maya Lin after viewing a documentary about Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. That memorial, designed in 1981 while Lin was still an undergraduate at Yale, has been called one of the most elegant and emotional monuments ever designed.

One of the installations still being designed is at Celilo Falls. That site holds great significance to the Native American tribes who came from all over the region to fish for salmon at the falls. In 1957, when The Dalles Dam went into operation downriver, the falls were covered by the pooled water. The planned memorial at Celilo Falls will tell the story of this lost place. (You can hear Celilo Falls as it once was in this piece that aired on OPB Radio. You can also see Celilo Falls here.)

How does the Confluence Project serve to remind us of the past and help us look to the future? What questions do you have about the Confluence Project? Have you visited one of the Project sites? What are your impressions? What other memorials ‘speak’ to you? What about them do you find compelling?


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