Restore Celilo Falls!
It’s 1942. I stand above Celilo Falls, holding tight to my father’s hand. Spray stings my face. Water thunders in my ears and pounds a drumbeat in the black basalt beneath my feet. Native fishermen lean from flimsy scaffolds, thrusting nets on long poles into the turbulence below.
It was a magical place before The Dalles Dam reservoir swallowed the falls, drowning 10,000-plus years of tradition, and stabbing the river in its heart — literally, because the stretch between Celilo and Long Narrows served as pump, heat regulator and filter for the lower river, just as Kettle Falls did for the upper river, before Grand Coulee Dam erased the fishery there.
My father understood what Celilo Falls meant, not only to Native Americans but to the health and wellbeing of the Columbia River, and the planet. But like most people of that era, he accepted the havoc wrought by dams as the price society had to pay for progress.
Times have changed. To a growing number of people, so has the definition of progress.
Today, the once mighty Columbia is a string of sluggish, oxygen-depleted, radioactive, fish-unfriendly, heavy-metal holding ponds. The Dalles Dam is an anachronism waiting for its power-generating replacement to render it obsolete.
As Portland poet Walt Curtis states the case, “To bring back Celilo Falls is to inspire the will to heal the natural world. Let’s make the first bold move.”
Envision The Dalles Dam as a museum of natural and cultural history. Envision a free-flowing Columbia River. Envision Celilo Falls restored to its former glory. Envision a fishery drawing tribes from as far away as British Columbia and the Great Plains.
Obviously, this won’t happen overnight. But given time, there isn’t an obstacle that can’t be overcome, an issue that can’t be resolved.
Join us in taking “the first bold step.”
Restore Celilo Falls!
(Photos copyrighted by David Hedges)
Lead canoe of Puyallup Canoe Family approaches Celilo Park from the West.
The Canoe Armada approaches shore: Puyallup Canoe Family, Chinook Canoe Family, Squaxin Island Canoe Family, Suquamish Canoe Family, and Wanapum Canoe Family.
Celilo Chief Olsen Meanus, Jr. invites canoes to land at Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum Village.
Puyallup Canoe Family prepares to enter Celilo Longhouse for canoe ceremony.
Geraldine Jim demonstrates stick-roasting of salmon at Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum Village, an educational area set up to show tribal salmon culture. Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum means salmon people.
Tsagaglalal: She Who Watches
She sits above the River of the West,
An owl-eyed effigy in living rock
Where sly Coyote, possibly in jest,
Transformed a woman chief who liked to talk
From matriarch to stark facsimile.
The Trickster missed his bet: the People gave
Her more respect once she clammed up. Thus free
To be her busybody self, a slave
To bringing Spring Chinook upstream on time,
She found the People kneeling at her feet.
The dam that drowned Celilo Falls, a crime
Beyond all fathoming, caused her retreat.
To say the dam's an eggshell understates
The force that lurks where She Who Watches waits.
[Published in The Oregonian. Reprinted in Selected Sonnets, 2004]
Celilo Stories: New conversations about an ancient place
Conference at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, March 17-18, 2007
Keynote Speaker Charles Wilkinson, Moses Lasky Professor of Law, University of Colorado at Boulder:
Listening to stories of Indian life before Lewis and Clark has provided “the purest joy of my professional life.” . . . “We are commemorating the loss of Celilo Falls. We are celebrating the 10,000 years of culture.” . . . Celilo Falls is “forever at the center.” . . . “No one in charge seemed to hear or care .... Only Indian people asked questions that needed to be asked.” . . . “America was in a hurry and wanted results now.” . . . Dam supporters claimed “The Dalles Dam would improve fish runs by destroying the fishery at Celilo Falls.” . . . A passive society “left it up to the experts.” . . . The Dalles Dam is the “biggest fish killer on the Columbia River.” . . . “A wrong against nature and people was committed.” . . . Support “the movement to decommission The Dalles Dam.” . . . We are “in an era of dam removal” — the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, the Snake River of Oregon and Idaho, the Klamath River of Oregon and California.
Elizabeth Woody, poet, artist, director of the Indigenous Leadership Program at Ecotrust:
“Plants and animals live by natural laws. Only man breaks them.”
Chief Wilbur Slockish, Jr. of the Klickitat:
“When we ran this country, there was an abundance of everything.” . . . “You drink water, you breathe air, you eat from the land. We’re all in this together.”
Chief Johnny Jackson of the Cascade Band of the Yakama:
“River People didn’t have (tribal) names. They were all one people.” . . . “You treat the old man (the river) right, and he’ll feed you and take care of you.”
William Robbins, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History, Oregon State University:
“The river wants to run free again.”
Christopher Swain’s Swim for Clean Water™
In July 2003, Christopher Swain finished swimming the length of the Columbia River, from its headwaters to its mouth, in an effort to draw attention to the declining health of the river. Why? Because he wants his daughters to grow up in a healthy world.
His DVD, Source to Sea: The Columbia River Swim, was judged “Most Inspiring Adventure Film” at the 2007 Wild & Scenic Film Festival, and won the “Environmental Activism and Social Justice Award” at the 2007 Earth Vision Film Festival. [To preview, click on Swim for Clean Water.]
In April 2009, he began a 1000-plus-mile swim down the Atlantic coast from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. Along the way, he helped thousands of students “launch projects designed to improve the health of our ocean and our world.”
Here is an unpublished letter he sent to The Oregonian on March 7, 2007:
As I read Eric Mortenson’s March 4 piece on Celilo Falls, I remembered my swim of the Columbia River’s entire 1,243-mile length, back in 2002-2003.
Call me crazy, but as I slogged through the fake lake that covers Celilo, I could still feel the Falls.
I knew that when we closed the gates on the Dalles Dam in 1957, we buried one of the world’s great waterfalls, as well as one of the largest fisheries on the planet. In just six hours, the waves of “progress” closed over 10,000 years of history, and over the hearts of fourteen salmon-based cultures.
As I swam, I knew in my heart that this was all wrong. Ever since that day, I have believed that we should permanently restore Celilo Falls.
Eleven days after I finished swimming the Columbia River, my second daughter was born.
We named her Celilo.
Please, free her river.
Questions & Answers
Q: How will we replace the lost electricity?
A: Put progressives in charge of developing alternative sources — something that should have started with a fury in the 1970s when we had our first wake-up call. Innovators are lurking in the shadows, like mammals waiting for the dinosaurs to drop. Give them free rein. Provide incentives. Get the American people behind it. With President Barack Obama leading the charge, we can do it. In 10 years.
Q: How do we pay for it?
A: President John F. Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon in 10 years was realized. People hundreds of years from now will still marvel at that achievement. The same will be true of breakthroughs in energy production and delivery that will make current modes obsolete, and fuel the economic engine of the 21st century. In the end, the development of new energy systems will pay for itself many times over.
Q: How do we flush out the 50-year accumulation of metallic and radioactive poisons built up behind the dam?
A: Put bright minds to the task. Make the process competitive. Keep the bureaucracy to a minimum. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
Q: Won’t native salmon go extinct as a result?
A: They’re close to extinction now. Once the river is cleansed and free-flowing, salmon runs may well increase. History and oral tradition tell of the salmon’s return after major volcanic eruptions, river-blocking landslides, and monumental floods.
Q: Won’t Celilo Falls be covered with silt after being submerged since 1957?
A: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released sonar maps in November, 2008 showing that no sediment had accumulated at Celilo Falls, as had been expected. Also, the maps disproved rumors that the Corps had dynamited the Falls to accommodate barge traffic.
Q: How will drawing down The Dalles Dam affect irrigation and navigation?
A: Changes will be necessary. Perhaps water could be pumped to the high plateau during winter and spring months, and stored for later use. A similar plan was announced for the Umatilla Basin in late December, 2008, by a coalition of farmers and engineers. Perhaps the canal and locks at Celilo, currently underwater, could be upgraded to accommodate modern tugs and barges. Possibilities are limited only by the reach of imagination.
Countless other questions arise. Answers can and will be found.
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