At the Nichaqwli (pronounced nee CHAHK lee) Monument at Blue Lake Regional Park, carved cedar house posts, canoe-shaped benches and a large-scale basalt net sinker remind us that a Chinook village once thrived there. Today Metro installed a 3-by-5 foot interpretive sign to tell the story of the Nichaqwli villagers’ assistance in April 1806 to the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
"We have here a very, very important site," said Roger Wendlick, historian with the Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail Foundation. "The explorers missed the Willamette River in both directions because islands were in the way. Clark met a Nichaqwli villager who he hired as a pilot to guide him and seven men in a canoe to the river.
"Also at this village, Clark asked an elder to draw him a map of the rivers and the tribes and numbers of people in the area, which Clark copied into his journal. That information supported Lewis’ prediction of March 30 that what is now the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area would be a desirable place for settlement and ports."
An estimated 30,000-40,000 Chinook lived in the lower Columbia in a complex of villages and trade routes. Nichaqwli was likely a seasonal fishing village. When Lewis and Clark arrived, they saw one lodge and the remains of five others. Few villagers remained, and included a woman who had the marks of smallpox. By 1830, more than 90 percent of the population had died.
"This site is representative of how Lewis and Clark were getting good, accurate information from the tribal people," said David Lewis, tribal historian for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. "They met a plethora of Chinook people on both side of the Columbia, up and down the river and tributaries. After disease struck, the living culture was severely damaged. The Chinook eventually signed treaties with the U.S. government and were removed to the Grande Ronde Indian reservation."
To reach the site, which is at the western end of the lake past the Wetlands, Blue Lake Park visitors can park near the Splash Pool area and follow the “Nicháqwli Monument” signs and arrows along the trail.
The sign was funded in part by the Lewis & Clark Trail Stewardship Endowment: A National Council of the Lewis & Clark Expedition Bicentennial Legacy Project.