Gateway

Gig Harbor group wants public art to honor local native tribe

A dance troop from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians performs during the Donkey Creek ribbon cutting.  The city council voted unanimously Monday to approve $55,000 from the city’s art commission budget to support a project to place a new art piece of Native American art in Austin Estuary Park to honor the local tribe.
A dance troop from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians performs during the Donkey Creek ribbon cutting. The city council voted unanimously Monday to approve $55,000 from the city’s art commission budget to support a project to place a new art piece of Native American art in Austin Estuary Park to honor the local tribe. Courtesy

After years of work, planning and advocating, a local group of residents wishing to bring Native American art to the city of Gig Harbor was given a win during Monday’s city council meeting.

The Gig Harbor City Council voted unanimously to approve $55,000 from the city’s art commission budget to support a project to place a new art piece in Austin Estuary Park, behind the Harbor History Museum. The art project was presented to the Gig Harbor Art Commission by a committee of residents informally known as the “Honor Symbol Committee” according to committee member and Gig Harbor Art Commission Chair Charlee Glock.

The Honor Symbol Committee includes Glock; Gary Williamson, a Gig Harbor elementary school principal and local resident of 59 years; Linda Pitcher, a local anthropologist; Mark Anderson, a Cowlitz tribal member; and Lita Dawn Ancich-Stanton, a former Gig Harbor Historic Preservation officer and artist.

Glock presented the project to the city council during the March 26 meeting, proposing $25,000 for the project be approved from the art commission’s budget and an additional $30,000 be approved from the city’s general budget. After some discussion, the council asked the commission to come back to Monday’s meeting with a proposal for $55,000 from just the art commission’s budget.

“The commission met and decided we could allocate the money to support the project from our budget,” Glock said. “I want to emphasize this is not the commission’s project but a project we are supporting from a local committee.”

Glock said the idea to install art to honor the historic Native American tribes that lived on the Gig Harbor peninsula began almost two years ago by Gary Williamson.

“Gary noticed one day that none of the street names, art or anything really acknowledged the tribes that were here thousands of years ago,” Glock said. “And he just thought that wasn’t right.”

Soon a local committee formed and began working with the the Puyallup Tribe of Indians to find a way to honor the Sxwəbabš (pronounced sk-WHUH-babsh) tribe, a small branch of the Puyallup natives who lived, fished and built boats on the Gig Harbor peninsula.

No members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians were available for comment at press time.

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A historical photo shows the location of the Sxwəbabš Tribe's longhouse. The location is currently called Austin Estuary Park. Charlee Glock Courtesy

According to information presented to the city council by the art commission, Donkey Creek was the ancestral home of the Sxwəbabš Tribe who are cited as the “guardians of the Narrows passage.” The Austin Estuary in Gig Harbor is the historical location of the tribe’s longhouse where fishing boats were stored and the village people lived.

The Honor Symbol Committee has garnered support from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians who have offered to make a monetary donation along with guidance for the art installation. Glock said the committee is hoping to hire Native American artist Sean Peterson, whose art can be found in local parks in Seattle and the San Juan islands. Glock said other Native American artists are being considered as well.

The committee has estimated the cost of the project to be about $150,000.

“The council has approved using the location at the park,” Glock said. “We are still deciding the exact location in the park and what type of art will be placed.”

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The "Honor Symbol Committee" , a group of Gig Harbor residents working on a public art project to honor Gig Harbor's historical Native American tribes, highlight the location where the proposed artwork would be installed in Austin Estuary Park near Donkey Creek. Charlee Glock Courtesy

Glock said it’s about time the residents of Gig Harbor honor more than the European immigrants who founded the current city, and recognize the people who lived on the peninsula for “thousands of years before.”

“I think it’s an oversight of our community,” Glock said. “It’s a recognition that’s long overdue. (The Puyallup Tribe of Indians) are excited.”

Mayor Kit Kuhn said he was in full support of the project and is excited to see the local, historic Sxwəbabš honored through a piece of public art.

“I love the location,” Kuhn said. “It’s a step in the right direction. The way I look at it, personally, we can’t change the terrible things that happened when our original settlers came to this country. All we can do is try to honor our Native Americans and their existence here for thousands of years prior to us.”

Kuhn said having the art in Austin Estuary Park is the perfect location because the site is flat and “it kind of stands tall in a low area, so it’s a very dignified area.”

“It’s also right next to a creek,” Kuhn said. “And (the Sxwəbabš) inhabited that area.”

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A photo of art created by Native American Artist Sean Peterson is displayed in Occidental Park in Seattle. Charlee Glock Courtesy

During Monday's council meeting, Glock gave a quick summary about the project to the council before the amended proposal.

“I think it’ll make a great addition to the park,” council member Spencer Hutchins said at the meeting. “I look forward to voting in favor of this project.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the $55,000 expenditure. Glock said the group is hoping to receive monetary donations from local groups and organizations in support of the project. There is no confirmed time line on when the art installation will begin.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie
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