Drummers and singers gather around a firepit, at the opening of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse on the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge in 2005 | Joel Davis

Our annual Chinook Winter Gathering was held January 17th at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse in Ridgefield, WA. This year’s gathering was a great success and included representatives from Stolo Nation, Makah (Wayatch Village), Snohomish, Duwamish, Skokomish, Grand Ronde and Cowlitz. Many hundreds of people were in attendance and we clearly know that we have outgrown the space. However, this event is inseparable from the plankhouse, so, will continue there indefinitely.

— Chinook Tilixam Newsletter, June 2010


The contemporary Cathlapotle Plankhouse, completed in 2005 | courtesy Dr. Kenneth Ames
The plankhouse fire is lit only for Chinook gatherings | courtesy Dr. Kenneth  Ames

The contemporary plankhouse stands as a reminder of the thousands of people who lived at the Cathlapotle Village for hundreds of years. Built as part of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration, the structure was modeled on plankhouses excavated by archaeologists at the village site.

Bear Dance | courtesy Donna Sinclair

The new plankhouse is smaller than the original houses at Cathlapotle and includes contemporary elements in its design. A visitor can enter through a modern door rather than the traditional small, circular opening that would require a person to duck into the house and perhaps leave his weapons outside. A green exit sign glows in the dim light of the interior and the roar of railroad cars passing by frequently interrupt the quiet contemplation the site inspires.

The contemporary plankhouse is a gathering place for Chinook people who use it for ceremonies and to teach visitors to the wildlife refuge about their history. It is a place that evokes the past but also asks each of us to consider the legacies of contact and survival in this place.

The Cathlapotle Plankhouse continues to serve social and spiritual purposes, as evidenced by this image portraying the “Bear Dance” performed during Winter Gathering 2014. The intermittent fires provide ceremonial warmth and preserve the structure’s wood.

Video: Vice Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation talking about winter gatherings at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse and the role of canoe journeys for Chinook Tilixam-Chinook People.