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Central Washington University

MCE Opens Voices of the River: Life Along the Yakima

January 10, 2013

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — “The environmental scientists tell us that if you restore the original water flow, everything will follow from that: the health of the fish, the bird life, the plant life. When I heard that I thought to myself, that is the lesson we learned as children from the elders. Each traditional meal begins with the respectful pouring out of water, then the men bring the salmon, the women bring the berries . . . Everything comes from the water.” 
—Emily Washines, Yakama Nation

The Museum of Culture & Environment at Central Washington University explores central Washington’s largest river in its newest exhibit, Voices of the River: Life along the Yakima, which will open January 9. The exhibit integrates stories about the river’s natural and cultural history, and shows how the Yakima River continues to inspire those who live along its banks.

The opening reception for MCE’s Voices of the River will be on January 10, at 5:30 p.m. The exhibit brings together the work of CWU museum studies students with original research from faculty from anthropology, geology, geography, and biology. Refreshments will be served.

Voices of the River showcases items from the MCE collection, including an ornately beaded Yakama buckskin dress and a variety of baskets used by Native Americans throughout the eastern Cascades. Also featured is an original sculptural installation incorporating flowing water, developed by Gregg Schlanger, chair of the Art Department and an abstract remaking of the Yakima River and its canyons, designed by Theatre Arts Department Assistant Professor Mark Haniuk. Haniuk was assisted by scene shop manager David Barnett, and students Felipe Avalos and Erika Hinze. 

A new video installation, developed through Kathy Whitcomb’s Senses of Place project, features poems by English department faculty Terry Martin and Joe Powell.

Also opening on January 9 is the traveling exhibit fashion STATEMENT: Native Artists Against Pebble Mine, curated by Native Alaskan fisherwoman and artist Anna Hoover. This exhibit of wearable art highlights a rural Alaskan community’s opposition to foreign mining investors attempting to build North America’s largest open-pit mine at the headwaters of fragile salmon spawning grounds.

“We are very pleased that there is so much interdisciplinary collaboration in the MCE exhibition involving College of the Sciences and College of Arts and Humanities faculty,” said Mark Auslander, professor of anthropology and director of the MCE. “This has been a tremendous experience working with colleagues from so many different areas.”

In concert with MCE’s exhibit, the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery is hosting a group exhibition that represents visual narratives, diary entries that reflect water stories, experiences, observations and/or events as they relate to the Yakima River and its tributaries. The exhibition will include works by artists John Clymer, Rachel Dorn, Bob Fisher, Justin Gibbons, Anna Hoover, Louis Kohlmeyer, Cindy Krieble, Nik Meisel, Greg Pierce, and Derek Young. The opening reception for the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery exhibit will be at 4 p.m. on January 10.

Image Caption: CWU Anthropology and Museum Studies student Heather Hansen, a senior, examines a basket to be used in the newest exhibit at the Museum of Culture & Environment, Voices of the River: Life along the Yakima.

An except from Voices of the River
The Wapato Returns
Since the 1990s, the Yakama Nation has gradually restored a 440-acre plot along Xapnish (Toppenish) Creek, which had once been a barley and wheat farm. They worked to restore the water quality, to slow down the current and to distribute the creek’s flow across a wider area. As the wetlands were restored, bird species became more plentiful, the diversity of fish increased, and many wetland plants began to flourish. Remarkably, in the early 2000s the indigenous potato known as ‘wapato’ began to reappear. The tubers had lain dormant in the ground for 70 to 80 years and were reactivated by the restoration of natural processes.  The lesson learned is that healthy water leads to a healthy ecosystem. The story of the wapato’s return is only one of several featured in the exhibition Voices of the River: Life Along the Yakima.

MCE Voices of the River Upcoming Events
January 24, 5:30 p.m.
The Story of Pebble Mine: A Talk with Anna Hoover, Native Alaskan Fisherwoman and Artist

March 7, 5:30 p.m.
Jim Huckabay—outdoor enthusiast, columnist, writer, and emeritus professor of geography at CWU—will discuss the Yakima River Canyon.

Media Contact: Hope Amason, MCE, 509-963-3489 or 479-879-5195
Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,

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