Tribal artist’s 14-foot-tall carving recognizes ‘our ancient fishermen’

Tribal artist’s 14-foot-tall carving recognizes ‘our ancient fishermen’

A years-in-the-making wood carving honoring Gig Harbor’s first inhabitants has been unveiled at a waterfront park.

City and tribal officials unveiled “Our Fisherman, Our Guardian” on the downtown Gig Harbor shoreline at Austin Park on Sept. 15. The public ceremony was led by Puyallup Tribal Council member Anna Bean, Quinault Nation President and artist Guy Capoeman, and Gig Harbor Mayor Tracie Markley.

Dancers, drummers, a tribal blessing, and an appearance by a traditional cedar canoe were also featured.

The scultpure, 14 feet tall, depicts a Salish fisherman embracing a salmon — the One with All, or the ancient ancestor. The fisherman wears a cedar woven hat typical of those worn by the Puyallups, framed by traditional southern Salish-design canoes, all carved from cedar. The salmon is fabricated from copper with glass inlays.

The carving stands at the mouth of the harbor, as if to welcome visitors to the shore. It honors the history of Gig Harbor’s first people, the Swiftwater band of the Puyallup Tribe, on the location of the original village site where they hunted, fished, and lived.

Capoeman, who lives in Tahola, has ancestral ties to the Gig Harbor area. As an artist, he has done extensive research into Quinault/Salish culture, design, architecture and ceremony. He is known for his carvings of canoes, house posts, welcome figures, panels, and paintings.

Of his Gig Harbor carving, Capoeman said, “This is symbolic of our ancient fisherman embracing this catch, his relative. The fisherman is the first way our people knew all about our waterways and what was in them. Surrounded by canoes in every aspect of our lives from birth to death, from social events to work to warfare, the Salish and the canoe are one.”

Capoeman’s work was supported by a collaboration between the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the city and its Arts Commission, with additional funding provided by the Kiwanis Club of Gig Harbor.

Previously, city officials restored the original Twulshootseed name to acknowledge the traditional tribal language for the estuary, changing the official name to Austin Park at txwaalqal Estuary. Posted information and voice boxes explain tribal history and the pronunciations of Twulshootseed words.

The park site, which the city acquired in 2006 by using Pierce County Conservation Funds, is located at 4009 Harborview Dr. It spans 1.3 acres of developed upland and 7 acres of open-space tideland. The natural area provides shoreline access to the estuary, and a gravel trail extends under the bridge next to the Harbor History Museum and connects with Donkey Creek Park.

“Our Fisherman, Our Guardian” is the work of a Quinault Nation artist.