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At Celilo, Still 'Power Under the Water'

by Tom Koenninger
The Columbian, March 21, 2007

CELILO PARK, Ore. -- Sunshine and sorrow, and a sadness of the heart. Despair, yet hope. Memories and a legacy.

These conditions, words and emotions were available for all to see, hear and experience at this place a few miles east of The Dalles where a Native American fishery drowned in the name of progress.

This was the location of the monolithic Celilo Falls of the Columbia River about 100 miles from Vancouver and a few miles east of The Dalles. Celilo Park was the site Sunday of a Native American blessing of the land and a time of healing -- if healing is possible. It is also regarded as a spiritual place.

It took only six hours on March 10, 1957, for the backed-up waters of The Dalles Dam to submerge the falls and end a Native American fishery that existed for 10,000 years.

"This was the center of our nation, the trading center of our world," said Ron Suppah, chairman of the Warm Springs Tribal Council.

Nationally recognized artist and architect Maya Lin, who was present in a crowd of some 250 people, will create an artistic work symbolizing Celilo Falls, and its meaning. Her work is part of the Confluence Project launched during the Lewis and Clark bicentennial. "I am here because you asked me to be here," she told members of the Indian tribes. "I sense a power under the water, and a loss that will never be recovered. I believe the power is still there, under the water."

Jane Jacobsen of Vancouver, executive director of the Confluence Project, spoke at the end of the ceremony. She observed, "Your words have been very powerful. -- If there is a person here who doesn't feel the power, they need to leave. I feel the presence of those who were here. -- We're all connected. The falls are missing, but they'll never be missing from here," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

It was a powerful afternoon under a sunny sky, with a gentle breeze ruffling the river and trees in the park. The audience -- women on the left and men on the right by Indian tradition -- sat on white chairs in a U-shaped configuration facing the speakers. Indian songs and prayers, led by Fred Wallulatum, Warm Springs, opened and closed the ceremony.

Perhaps Celilo will return

"This place is a beautiful place," said Lewis Malatare of the Yakama Nation. "We did not give away Celilo. We did not sell it. You only borrowed it. One day in the future, maybe it will return to us."

"My people were taken from here by various treaties," said Rebecca Miles, chairwoman of the Nez Perce Tribal Council. She wondered about restoration of salmon: "Will there be fish here 50 years from now?" She said her "grandfather lived on the river and fished here."

Antone Minthorn, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Nation, acted as master of ceremonies. He is chairman of the board of directors of the Confluence Project. He talked of the power of the Indian songs tugging on "your hearts and minds." He spoke of the time treaties with the government took away "vast areas of land" Indians had claimed for years, and losing the natural resources, namely fish.

"This is the story Americans need to hear," he said. Rebuilding the economy of Native Americans and taking care of children; the rundown condition of nearby Celilo Village and rebuilding there were other points he made.

The blessing will open the door to Lin's work interpreting changes Lewis and Clark brought, and supporting protection of natural and cultural resources.

She is following this same guideline at six other Confluence Project sites along 450 miles of the Columbia River. The Land Bridge in Vancouver, visible above the Lewis and Clark highway (state Highway 14), will be completed this fall. Another site, at Frenchman's Bar Park, will be finished in 2008. Additional locations are at the mouth of the Sandy River; Chief Timothy Park at Clarkston and Sacajawea State Park at Pasco. The first, at Cape Disappointment State Park at the mouth of the Columbia, was completed last fall. Each of the seven sites is where Lewis and Clark met Native Americans in 1805 and 1806.

If the decision to build The Dalles Dam were made today, there would be no dam, and Celilo Falls -- turbulent, testy and bursting with froth and fish -- would be a reality. Credit increased environmental awareness. Sadly, it took us 50 years to figure it out.

Tom Koenninger is editor emeritus of The Columbian.
At Celilo, Still 'Power Under the Water'
The Columbian, March 21, 2007

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