Gallery Show Highlights Indigenous Counter-Narratives to the Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Confluence Project, a collaboration between tribal representatives and regional community activists, seeks to revisit the cultural memory of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s 19th-century journey from an Indigenous perspective. As part of the project, internationally known artist Maya Lin created a series of six earthworks at significant sites along the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. Lin sought to resituate the Lewis and Clark narrative in the context of more than 15,000 years of Indigenous land stewardship in the Northwest and draw attention to the ecological unfolding of the region until the present.
Lin’s earthworks are, collectively, one of the most ambitious public works nationwide. Despite being the renowned artist’s most extensive project to date, they are among her least known.
The exhibition Future Memories of This Land brings together the Confluence Project’s archival material–along with the voices of contemporary Indigenous artists–to consider how the project intersects with today’s conversations on monuments, decolonization, and social justice.
“I asked myself what this project means now in the wake of Black Lives Matter and how it intersects with Indigenous questions, past and present,” said independent curator and writer Lucy Cotter. “For the exhibition to have integrity, I felt it needed to be centered around Indigenous perspectives. So I extended the exhibition to include contemporary Indigenous artists and invited artist-curator Steph Littlebird to curate with me.”
Featured artists include, among others, Sky Hopinka, Lillian Pitt, Gail Tremblay, Lehuauakea, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Jason Clark, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, Joe Feddersen, Bobby Mercier, Shirod Younker, and Natalie Kirk Moody.
“Many of the artists are from the Pacific Northwest region and represent an amazing cross-section of artistic approaches,” said cocurator Littlebird. “The exhibition challenges what ‘Native’ art should look like and will surprise viewers.”
Artist Maya Lin describes her Confluence earthworks as “memory works” that invite people to think. Future Memories of This Land proposes them to be counter-monuments that offer possibilities for challenging dominant historical narratives. Acting as sites for the renegotiation of public memory, they hold open space for the past, present, and future generations of the Indigenous Tribes of the Columbia River system: Chinook Indian Nation, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Yakama Nation, The Wanapum, and Nez Perce Tribe.
“Many Natives are currently focused on reframing the way our histories are told, which includes the regional mythos of Lewis and Clark,” said Littlebird. “Through this exhibition, we attempt to show alternative perspectives on westward expansion and question how we celebrate these particular historical figures. We ask the viewer to examine the connections among historical myth, monuments, and the erasure of Indigenous voices throughout American history.”
A public program in late February, organized in collaboration with the college’s Native Student Union, will offer an opportunity for collective reflection and discussion through a series of public events with invited cultural producers, critical thinkers, and organizations.
“I feel that this exhibition supports a learning process, which is the only way to move past symbolic land acknowledgements toward a deeper recognition of the Indigenous peoples living among us and on whose land we live and work in the city of Portland,” said Cotter. “I hope that the Lewis & Clark College community will feel invited to more deeply consider the significance of the college’s name and how its associated narratives implicate people’s lives every day here in Oregon and beyond.”
Future Memories of this Land expands on the first-ever show of the Confluence Project’s archives, held at Whitman College’s Maxey Museum in 2021. The Lewis & Clark exhibition and public program take place with the support of the president’s office and the undergraduate dean’s office and are funded, in part, by the Mellon Foundation’s Northwest Five Consortium grant for community-engaged learning.