The once-great Celilo Falls on the Columbia River created one of the greatest salmon fisheries in the world and was the center of the major trading hub in the Pacific Northwest. But that was before the falls were drowned by the Dalles Dam in 1957.
For the past eight years, tribal leaders seeking to preserve memories of the falls and the people who flourished there have been working with world-renowned artist Maya Lin – creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. – to erect a memorial.
The Confluence Project began in 2002 because Columbia River tribes wanted to have a voice in the national commemoration of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Celilo memorial is just one of several major art pieces Lin has designed for the Confluence Project, a series of memorials planned for or already installed at the request of tribal elders along the Columbia River.
The memorials are intended to preserve the memory of how the river shaped the lives of those who lived along its banks before it carried Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean. The memorials also aim to explain the loss Indigenous peoples suffered when the river was choked with dams to provide cheap electricity.
“The wounds have to see the light of day and people have to learn and understand that history,” said Umatilla tribal citizen Bobbie Conner. “It’s more than symbolic – it’s the beginning of a conversation or dialogue that this country has yet to have.”
Umatilla tribal elder Antone Minthorn and Conner told the crowd of mostly non-Indians what they hope visitors will gain from the memorial.
“That they understand what Celilo Falls was and why it was important to us,” Minthorn said. “Celilo was a huge fishery – the largest in the Northwest.” For thousands of years, tribal fishermen mounted wood scaffolds anchored to cliff walls in order to scoop salmon into nets at Celilo Falls. Today, there is still a village at Celilo, though it is much smaller than the great hub that flourished prior to the construction of the dam.
Read the full story at News From Indian Country.