Long-awaited celebration for Gig Harbor shoreline sculpture

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A new redwood keeper faces the water in Gig Harbor to welcome those arriving by sea.

In conjunction with the Puyallup Indian Tribe, the Gig Harbor Arts Commission, Kiwanis Club and Honor Committee unveiled and blessed the art installation of the “Our Fisherman, Our Guardian” statue on Thursday, September 15 with the city of Gig Harbor.

The long-awaited installation and tribute ceremony took place in downtown Gig Harbor along the shore at Austin Park in the txʷaalqəł estuary.

“Recognition of this land to our First Peoples or the Puyallup Tribe is long overdue,” Mayor Tracie Markley said at the ceremony. “We are thrilled to not only partner with the tribe to symbolically honor carbon carving, but to expand the many ways we can work together in land conservation, habitat restoration, and protecting our natural resources and preserving history important infusions.

“In 1792, it was documented that there were six permanent villages located on the Gig Harbor Peninsula,” according to the Harbor History Museum website. “The village of Puyallup, called tuwawəϯqəϯ (pronounced twah-well-kax.) was located at the mouth of present-day Donkey Creek at Gig Harbor. The village was established centuries earlier by a band of Puyallup tribesmen from Commencement Bay.

Members of the tribe still live in the Gig Harbor area, Puyallup Tribal Council member Anna Bean told the public Thursday.

“Here on the waters and on this land, our ancestors lived here for thousands of years. We remember them today and recognize them,” Puyallup Tribe Cultural Director Connie McCloud said.

Bean, along with Mayor Markley, unveiled the symbol of honor, to applause from the community. Hundreds of people stayed for a celebration with dancers, drums, a tribal blessing and a traditional cedar canoe appearance.

“Our fisherman, our guardian” the 14-foot-tall sculpture depicts a fisherman wearing a traditional conical hat, clutching a newly caught salmon tightly to his chest. The fisherman wears a woven cedar hat typical of those worn by the Puyallups, framed by traditional dugout canoes of South Salish design, all carved from cedar. The salmon is made from copper with glass inlays, Guy Capoeman, the statue’s artist and President of the Quinault Nation, told The Gateway.

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Tribal artist Guy Capoeman – who carved the ‘Our Fisherman, Our Guardian’ statue – is thanked by Cowlitz Tribe member Bill Iyall ‘Our Fisherman, Our Guardian’ carved from cedar in Austin Park at the Estuary of txʷaalqəł on the waterfront in Gig Harbor, Wash., Thursday, September 15, 2022. Tony Overman [email protected]

Capoeman is a well-known Northwest artist who specializes in large carvings, particularly the 32-foot-long ocean-going canoes that are emblematic of the Coast Salish peoples. Its design was chosen from among seven finalists for the Gig Harbor Commission.

The sculpture sits just at the tide line on the estuary, facing the water to be visible throughout the harbour.

It was shaped for nearly two years with traditional tools from a redwood snag.

“Our ancestors pulled their canoes and fished in this water here,” Capoeman said during the ceremony. “I think it’s important for tribes to tell their own stories.”

Capoeman spent days experimenting with the sounds, sights and smells of txʷaalqəł before sculpting, he said.

“A lot of these things that I heard and experienced in those few days were the same things our ancestors experienced.” said Capeoman.

The statue is a visual representation of the city honoring the area’s original inhabitants, the sx̌ʷəbabš band of the Puyallup, or Swift Water, tribe of Indians, who lived on the Gig Harbor waterfront for centuries.

“It’s medicine for our people,” Bean said.

Although the statue was completed before the pandemic, it sat in storage at Gig Harbor awaiting installation and a proper honor ceremony once COVID-19 protocols permitted.

“There is no street named after a Native American; there are no major landmarks,” Lita-Dawn Stanton, former historical curator of Gig Harbor told The Gateway. “So sculpture is a wonderful way to honor Indigenous people.”

Gary Williamson, a former educator and elementary school principal, agreed.

Williamson formed a committee in 2016 to find a way to recognize people who first lived in the Gig Harbor area.

He pitched the idea for the project to former mayor Kit Kuhn, who backed the idea. In 2019, Williamson and his team raised the $150,000 needed to complete the project.

The city contributed $55,000, the Puyallup Indian Tribe contributed $75,000, and the Gig Harbor Kiwanis Foundation contributed $25,000.

“To see it all come together, today, I am overwhelmed with joy,” Williamson told The Gateway on Thursday.

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