Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Reflection on Celilo Falls

In The Oregonian on February 18, 2007, Kara Briggs wrote:

The place drew Native people from as far away as the Great Plains and Vancouver Island. Season after season they came to fish and trade for hard-to-get goods at the village, which spread out on both sides of the river. Young women helped haul the fresh catch. Older women cleaned the salmon to dry, sell or cook for the masses that gathered when the fish ran.

The whole village came alive and smelled of ocean. "I always heard the old people say 'this is our center of the earth right here.'" -- Olson Meanus, Jr.

At 10:00 a.m., March 10, 1957, the gates of The Dalles dam closed and by three in the afternoon, Celilo Falls were under water. Thousands listened to radio and watched TV. The ancient ones stood by in horror, as a place known for ten millenia disappeared.

I was not yet eight at the time. We sang Roll on Columbia in school. I later learned that my parents witnessed salmon fishing at Celilo Falls on their 1937 Honeymoon. Looking at it as an adult, I thought — it's only flooded, maybe it will return some day. But the Oregonian article shocked me. We had blasted the basalt land forms so barges can pass where Salmon once jumped.

We destroyed a way of life and fish, just 50 years ago this day.

More reading:
Umatilla recall the ending of a way of life at Celilo Falls