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Tribe Embraces New Gathering Place

May 5, 2015

The Makah Tribe takes great pride in their art, and rightfully so. It is magnificent. Until last month, though, the Tribe didn’t have a beautiful outdoor gathering place for artists to demonstrate their work, share their traditions with others, and hold community celebrations.

Now, sitting at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the Makah Tribe can proudly perform their dances, give basket-weaving and carving demonstrations, and gather however they please in their dramatic new gathering place. Visitors can also enjoy this art-filled shelter and perhaps learn something new about the Makah that they didn’t know before.

Called be?is (meaning “beach house”), dedicated members of the Makah Tribe, Pomegranate Center, VIA Architecture, Forterra, and remarkable volunteers worked together to construct the final components of this new community gathering place in Neah Bay over a wet and windy week in April, 2015. Teams assembled and carved stackable wooden benches, engraved and painted concrete artwork, dug recessed fire pits, and constructed stairs for beach access.

Modeled after a traditional longhouse, this remarkable structure is supported by ten massive cedar posts, beautifully carved and brightly painted with Makah designs by local artist Bill Martin and his apprentices. Pomegranate Center was involved throughout the design process, carefully balancing new and traditional methods to create a functional shelter that looks and feels like a sanctuary. Bill Martin also designed the Makah insignia that was etched then painted on the concrete pad, and forty benches were carefully crafted in order to display eight of his designs when stacked together in groups of five. The idea was to create a covered space that is multi-functional and bursting with art that is integrated in the structure.

The completion of be?is was a long time coming. Pomegranate Center typically finishes a community project in a matter of months while this stretched over 2 years due to its complexity. Along the way we learned how to balance traditional Makah ways with contemporary Pomegranate Center methods of community engagement. Together we created something that none of us could have done separately. Forterra’s recent newsletter eloquently stated “The resilience of this project is a testament to the people involved and the importance of authentic community engagement, which requires flexibility, long-term commitment and follow-through.”

The Makah community and their many guests showed up to embrace the new gathering place with a grand opening celebration. Tribal leaders graciously invited Pomegranate Center’s Milenko Matanovic to participate in the official ribbon cutting, actually a ceremonial cedar ribbon woven in a traditional Makah way. The event closed with a drum circle and song.

You’ll find be?is on Makah Bay, the west side of the Makah Reservation, near Hobuck Beach.