Shoreline improvements bring artwork, history to Clover Island

Six Native American men stood, one swinging a small brass bell, as they sang a prayer in an ancient language only a handful in the audience could understand.

“This land, it doesn’t know color,” said Armand Minthorn, Board of Trustees of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation before he and the other five men began their prayerful song. “Our god doesn’t know color. All of us, one heart, one mind. Your ancestors and mine want us to be that way. So today, a big thank you that we can gather here to strengthen the direction that we’re all going with one another. And we can do that with prayer. So today, I’m asking you to pray how you’ve been taught. We will pray how we’ve been taught. One heart, one mind for a while you and I.”

As the men sing, an audience of about 100 bows their heads, listening to the ringing of the bell and the deep voices, calling out to them. The sounds might be unfamiliar to many of those who were on hand to dedicate a new display along the north shore of Clover Island on Friday morning, but it was a scene that likely played out regularly hundreds of years ago when the Umatilla, Cayuse, and other tribes lived on the land.

The area we know today as Clover Island had been know as the Gathering Place. It was an area lush with Tule reeds that would be gathered and used to build shelters.

Since 2010, the Port of Kennewick has worked with the Confederated Tribes to construct an artistic monument to honor the Tribal history of the region. The result, was a reflection pond featuring two bronze statues.

“It honors our ancestors through the elder lady, our future in the young man, the highly utilized plants that shelter and protect us, and of course water, the giver of life,” said Jeremy Wolf, Vice Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The statutes are the work of Joseph, Oregon artist Rodd Ambroson. The boy and the woman stand on the banks of a pond, each carrying some of the Tule reeds that have also been planted around the reflection area. The Gathering Place also features some interpretive signs to explain the historical significance of the area. Three story panels tell the Tribes’ history and culture, highlight current Tribal activities, and outline they way they are working to shape and secure the future of their people.

A fourth panel tells the story of the Tule reeds and the role the plants have played in culture of Native peoples and their daily lives.

The Gathering Place memorializes an important element of the Tribal history, along with sharing the history of the land. However, the artwork also serves a role in helping to make Clover Island and downtown Kennewick a destination for visitors.

The Port of Kennewick has been working to make improvements to the waterfront area in an effort to make it a destination for tourists. The plan is to connect the downtown Kennewick area to the waterfront between the Blue Bridge and Cable Bridge. Port of Kennewick Art Liaison, Barb Carter, says art can play a key role in that effort.

“Art can transform a nondescript place into a special one that attracts visitors and locals alike to share the experience and share the local artwork,” Carter told the audience during Friday’s ceremony. “The Port’s investment in the public art improvements have already shown a great financial dividend and exciting results. People of all ages and interests come here to walk the boardwalk, pose with the artwork, and some even get married at the lighthouse.” Carter says existing businesses have taken advantage of the increase in visitors and have made private investments, updating facilities and hiring more staff. “They realize that visitors coming to enjoy the artwork and ambiance of the riverfront actually stayed to eat and drink and hang out.”

The recent shoreline improvements made in conjunction with the development of the Gathering Place, which includes an extended public pathway along the shoreline, means the Port of Kennewick has more land available for commercial mixed-use development on the waterfront.