Chinook Nation at the Liberty Theater

ChinookA ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME, live performance of Chinookan songs and dances will be presented at the Liberty Theater, Friday, May 20, 7:30pm. Normally, these special songs and dances are only preformed for tribal members.

“This has never happened before and there will be no encore. This is the last time we will perform these things for a non-native audience for at least 100 years. In reality, we are doing this to help our people. You will never see it again,” says Dioniscio (Don) Y. Abing, Chinook Elder who is helping to organize this event.

Jerry Chapman’s band “Skawahlook,” (“Wind Never Stops”) will also perform that evening along with other Northwest Native American tribal dancers dressed in full regalia.

Also, from 4-7 p.m. the McTavish Room at the Liberty Theater will be hosting Chinook artisans. This event is free and open to the public. Contemporary clothing, pottery, jewelry, sweetgrass baskets and traditional carved cedar canoe paddles will be for sale along with drums built and signed by Jerry Chapman himself (who is also a master drum maker).

In addition, two sacred canoes, and one journey canoe will be on display at the theater.

“Tenas Leloo” (“Little Wolf”) is a dugout canoe representative of the type made and used by the Chinook Tribe during the time of Lewis and Clark’s expedition.

“Lewis Hawks” is a 106 year old canoe that participated in the 1911 Centennial Celebration when the Chinook Nation greeted the Tall Ships as they entered the Columbia River. “This canoe was given to the youngest son of one of the signers of the 1851 Tansy Point treaty…and it’s still seaworthy,” says Abing. The Tansy Point treaty was a land agreement which was never ratified by the U.S. government. To this day, even with over 2,000 tribal members the Chinook are not federally recognized.

Indians in Astoria

In Chinook culture, canoes are sacred beings and they have names. They are “a living, breathing, member of the family that created them. Because canoes require a substantial length of time to build and the family is reliant on them for food, journeying, war, everything…the canoe is treated with the same respect that you would treat another human being,” says Abing.

Sacred canoes may not be touched, but the “journey” canoe will be available to ticket-holders for a rare photo opportunity for a small fee which will benefit the Chinook Nation.

“It took the sacrifice and willingness of our ancestors to be cordial to newcomers, and we know what happened later, it was not pretty,” says Abing. Imported illnesses swept through the tribes and it seemed as if the government was simply waiting for the Chinook to become extinct. Help was not offered to them, their fishing rights were not retained and the Chinook saw their plank houses disassembled by local farmers who used them to build cattle posts. Canoes were burned. “Yet when Astoria was founded, it was the Chinook who brought aid and comfort to the Corps,” said Abing.

100 years ago, at the Centennial celebration, a large group of Chinook canoes took part in a canoe race. “We want to honor our ancestors who took part in this race before. What happened to our canoes after that race is a very sad story,” says Abing, who has the “great honor” of announcing and introducing the skippers and lead pullers for Saturday’s race. “The lead-puller is the heart-beat of the canoe. They do the strokes by which the others follow,” says Abing.

Ray Gardner, Chairman of the Chinook tribe will also be present for the official opening and welcoming ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

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