Friday, May 24, 2013

A Wrong Never Righted - The Death of Celilo Falls

As I travel east on I-84 on my many journeys to the Deschutes I of course pass by the freeway sign for Celilo village. It's pretty easy to just speed on by and not really consider what was lost over fifty years ago and many people are oblivious to what took place there for perhaps tens of thousands of years prior. An important part of the heritage of the Columbia river tribes died that day over fifty years with the completion of The Dalles dam. Gone are the platforms from which native Americans dipped into the raging Columbia for salmon. Salmon played a huge part in the culture and daily life of the Columbia tribes and the still do today. A lot of their rituals and ancient religion revolve around the returning salmon runs although dwindling salmon runs have taken a huge piece of that away.
I cannot begin to fathom what the native Americans endured due to the white mans greed and ambition and I suppose it's easier to just act like it never happened.The fact remains that the ancient people throughout North America suffered greatly and it's a debt that can never be repaid. The bottom line for me is that I, unlike so many of my fishing brethren who begrudge these tribes their share of salmon. I do not! At the expense of lost friendships I support the native fisheries of the upper Columbia. Are native fish being harvested in the non-selective tribal gillnets of the Columbia? Yes they are BUT when it compares to what the commercial netters of the lower Columbia and what greedy so called sports anglers kill then I think what the native Americans take is far less. These bogus conservation groups with their fake lofty goals of "Saving the Fish" is a smokescreen and a ruse to get more fish for themselves. Native tribes of the northwest got screwed plain and simple...end of story!
So next time you speed eastward on I-84 take a minute to think about what is at stake if we continue to use up and plunder the natural resources that we take for granted.
Here is an article by Elizabeth Woody on the passing of Celilo Falls

Along the mid-Columbia River ninety miles east of Portland, Oregon, stand Celilo Indian Village and Celilo Park. Beside the eastbound lanes of Interstate 84 are a peaked-roof longhouse and a large metal building. The houses in the village are older, and easy to overlook. You can sometimes see nets and boats beside the homes, though some houses are empty. By comparison, the park is frequently filled with lively and colorful wind surfers. Submerged beneath the shimmering surface of the river lies Celilo Falls, or Wyam.

Wyam means "Echo of Falling Water" or "Sound of Water upon the Rocks." Located on the fourth-largest North American waterway, it was one of the most significant fisheries of the Columbia River system. In recent decades the greatest irreversible change occurred in the middle Columbia as the Celilo site was inundated by The Dalles Dam on March 10, 1957. The tribal people who gathered there did not believe it possible.

Historically, the Wyampum lived at Wyam for over twelve thousand years. Estimates vary, but Wyam is among the longest continuously inhabited communities in North America. The elders tell us we have been here from time immemorial.

Today we know Celilo Falls as more than a lost landmark. It was a place as revered as one's own mother. The story of Wyam's life is the story of the salmon, and of my own ancestry. I live with the forty-two year absence and silence of Celilo Falls, much as an orphan lives hearing of the kindness and greatness of his or her mother.

The original locations of my ancestral villages on the N'ch-iwana (Columbia River) are Celilo Village and the Wishram village that nestled below the petroglyph, She-Who-Watches or Tsagaglallal. My grandmother, Elizabeth Thompson Pitt (Mohalla), was a Wyampum descendent and a Tygh woman. My grandfather, Lewis Pitt (Wa Soox Site), was a Wasco, Wishram, and Watlala man. But my own connections to Celilo Falls are tenuous at best. I was born two years after Celilo drowned in the backwaters of The Dalles Dam.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Dirty Pool @ Montreux 1982