By Terri Webster Schrandt
The Spokane House Interpretive Center in Nine Mile Falls was alive with tribal drum music, fur traders dressed in authentic garb, and honored guests of the Spokane Tribe of Indians on June 10, as visitors celebrated the official dedication of the newly painted murals on its exterior walls.
Coinciding with the annual Fur Trade Encampment weekend event, visitors were invited to walk the grounds of the Spokane House, while volunteers and Friends of Spokane House (FOSH) re-enacted the historical fur trade encampment from the years 1810-1826.
Earlier on Saturday, the Fur Trade Symposium featured Warren Seyler, historian from the Spokane Tribe of Indians, DNR, along with other speakers.
At 1 p.m., leaders from Washington State Parks, visitors, and guests gathered for the dedication of the murals. Kara Frashefski, Interpretive Specialist, officiated the ceremony with various introductions.
Warren Seyler expressed his gratitude for the representation of tribal members and other guests in attendance.
“I can’t tell you the significance and importance of what is on the building now (referring to the newly painted murals). The paint had chipped and faded from the original murals and depicted some historical inaccuracies,” Seyler said.
“The murals were designed to show a glimpse into the everyday lives of the native people who lived here for hundreds of years, and how their successful partnership with the European Fur Traders forged a historical and cultural bond between 1810-1826 in this gathering place,” Seyler added.
Frashefski introduced the ceremonial drummers of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. Head Drummer Francis Carson, along with Bob Edwards and Jan Turley, dedicated the ceremony with a welcome drum song.
Next up was local mural artist and FOSH member, Shaun Deller, who also expressed his gratitude to everyone for the opportunity to repaint the murals. He explained the three-year process began in 2020 when Riverside State Park Lead Ranger, Paul Neddo, initially conveyed the need for the mural repainting, which was fading and chipping over time.
“Our goal was to not only re-paint the murals, but in the process make some revisions to the original paintings to portray a more historically accurate depiction of the people who inhabited this site at the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers,” Deller explained.
Historically, this area operated as a salmon and steelhead trout processing center, which is said to have processed over 1,500 salmon in a day. Weirs were dropped into areas of the river to trap the salmon. Massive drying racks were constructed and used. Rendering and prep areas were kept well away from the river, so that blood would not drip into the river. Native peoples believed that the rendering of fish next to the river was “disrespectful” to the salmon which could smell/taste the blood causing them to flee the area for days.
Deller loosely agreed to tackle this massive project after several attempts to woo tribal artists failed. “Once I agreed to take on this project—as a volunteer—I realized the immensity of the project; and the sheer square footage alone, was going to take months of work,” he admitted.
Before he began painting in June 2021, one of the hottest months on record, Deller and the committee spent hours researching to gain historical accuracy. “Very little is written about the early 1800s in this area,” Deller said. “Compared to other parts of the country, there are very few drawings or artwork that depict daily life here in the early 1800s.”
Some source imagery came from photographs and drawings from the early 20th Century. “I sketched preliminary drawings and emailed them to the committee for feedback and revision,” Deller said.
During the excessive heat wave in summer 2021, Deller painted very early in the morning, took a break then went back in the evenings to paint, sometimes until 9 p.m. “I did this for two summers,” he said. “The amazing thing was that time would fly while I was working. Except for occasional vehicle noise on nearby Highway 291, it was quiet. I could feel the spirit of this place.”
After each presentation, Jenna-adzalous Bowman, Tribal Relations Director for Washington State Parks, presented each speaker with a woven tribal blanket and draped it around their shoulders. “I was taught traditionally by my mother and grandmother that, as matriarchs, we wanted to show our appreciation by wrapping our arms around family members with love,” Bowman said.
The official dedication segment ended with a ceremonial tribal round-dance that included special guests and speakers, accompanied by the drummers. Deller led a walk-around tour of the murals explaining the process and details about each of the three panels.
He completed the final painting of the murals in late August 2022. His added touches of an American bald eagle in the South wall mural, as well as the native wildflowers, arrowleaf balsamroot (sunflowers) and purple lupine that grow abundantly here, remind locals and visitors why this area is such a special place.
The Spokane House Interpretive Center is open during the summer months Saturday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Appointments are available, and can be made by phone to (509) 465-5064. The Spokane House is located on Highway 291 (Nine Mile Road) one-half mile from Charles Road. A Discover Pass is required to park or you can pay for day parking on-site.
The Fur Trade Encampment and Mural Dedication Ceremony was sponsored by Friends of Spokane House (FOSH) and Riverside State Park Foundation. Membership is welcomed and encouraged. You can follow them on Facebook.