The Mecca of the Columbia River by Tyrone Ross Thompson “Kuni”Tweet
“Real recognition of our presence and humanity would require a genuine reconsideration of so many people’s role in North American society that it would amount to a genuine leap of imagination.” – George Manuel and Michael Posluns The Fourth World
Every year for February and March there are various tribal publications that tell the stories and memories of Celilo Falls. On March 10 1957, the center for trade and heart of the Columbia river was flooded. Various petroglyphs and pictoglyphs was also destroyed with the flooding of the five islands and the falls. This was a sacred site that was the life source for all indigenous people. The salmon is the supplement that would sustain indigenous life for not just ten thousand years but for a time immemorial. The sacred objects that had been destroyed on the islands had markings of the birth of nations. Those markings were created by the ancients and were often referred to as Mud people by my grandfather Moses Jerome Thompson. He was the son of Henry “Pi-usha” Thompson and Agnes “KyWiPiits” Thompson ( NiiMiiPuu). Henry’s father was Tommy “Kuni” Thompson and his second wife was Flora Thompson. Tommy was the son of Kuna who was of Wyampum bloodline also known as Tenino. Kuna was one of the first to meet Lewis and Clark on their invading trips of the Northwest in the years of 1804-1806. As a Wyampum it is important to remember such a sacred place but also the political influence and colonial mindset that helped destroy the trade center of the Columbia River.
In a one short story that Moses had retold was that during Kuna’s time the fur traders that had been invited to the Salmon feast. In between the two years to their visit they had often traveled up and down the river to destroy canoes. The Wyampum’s of the time had asked these imperial representatives why they would do this? And none of them would answer. It would start the distrust of these foreigners. Kuna had led the longhouse of Celilo, the tenet and or spiritual practice would also be known as Washani. He had two brothers Stockeli and Skamia. They had lived long enough when the treaties would be presented by governor Isaac Stevens. Although in a few passages of history books that Stocklei was present to sign the treaty. The oral side of Kuna history was that he was sent there to Walla Walla to observe who was signing the treaty and that Stockeli had sent his younger relative to witness what was going on. Nothing was ever signed by a Wyampum despite a certain individuals beliefs or peoples’ understanding in that historical occurrence. That Wyampum was there to see who was giving up their life for the reservation boundaries for what would become similar to Auschwitz concentration camps. Despite all that turmoil that would bring during those years of the Yakama Wars the Wyampum’s protected their own homelands. As Wyampum’s and Tenino’s protected their lands and families it is often misunderstood as aligning themselves with imperial calvary.
Also during this era Wyampum’s had a complete and sincere faith in their spirituality of Washani. Two become notable for what their messages had been brought to them in their dreams.
“Skamia a resident of Sk’in, held ceremonies and reputedly foretold the construction of the Dalles Dam that would drown the fisheries and villages along the Dalles-Cello reach. With an estimated 250 followers in 1873, he ranked as one of Smohalla’s greatest contemporaries and one of the Indian Office’s biggest headaches. Thumbing their noses at the promise of “civilization,” Dreamers challenged the reservation system and reaffirmed the Indian Identity of their followers.”(Fisher 85)
It was said to that Skamia had led the longhouse across from Celilo on the Washington state side and that often times for a Sunday service and ceremonial feast they would often switch longhouse from year to year and would take turns led each other’s services of Washani. The other was Hunwe a Wyampum woman that would lead services where ever she had traveled. Her memory is honored with our family’s beadwork in a woman’s traditional outfit the background is used with yellow and the pattern representing the number of generations that had used her story. Her recollection is as a follows:
“She, who was a Dreamer all of her life, grew old and lay down to die after telling her people not to bury her for five days. She came back from the land of the dream makers on the fourth day. Stepping out of an open coffin, she told the waiting Indians that beyond life is the one answer. “Heaven is nice, clean and bright. There are many flowers at that place and spirits live there. When you die your body goes back into the Mother Earth…I was sent back because I did not tell everything wrong I had done. One little thing I forgot. So I was sent back. In four years I will die and go to the bright land…Four years later-four years to the day after Hunwe came back with her song-on a day just like any other, she dressed in quilled buckskins, daubed her hands and face with yellow and red earthen paint.” (Relander,C. pg 152-153)
As her account was recorded she had also seen through her dream that was similar as Skamia that the River would change. That the people would soon forget their beliefs after it had changed. She spoke of the foreign people that would consistently arrive in the area of Celilo Falls. It was these tales that my grandfather wanted her memory preserved. After he had married my grandmother Darlene Thompson his family had made her a traditional buckskin dress with the colors of yellow and red. It was the circa of the 1950’s and becoming a patriarchal influenced within American Indian society. There were various people that had become judgmental of this color use by a woman and were trying to say that only men can use the color. But the Kuna family had reminded people that it was a woman that brought the yellow color back a generation before and that was in honor of her power and memory. During this time and years before the dress was made was when the Celilo Fish Committee was created. It was a year after the Indian Reorganization Act made in 1934. “Local Indians established the Celilo Fish Committee to ensure that they retained a measure of control over their own fishery.”(Barber 38) The Celilo Fish Committee consisted of the bands and tribes who had kept their faith in Washani. People who had lived with a mindset that their life didn’t have a price tag for their natural resource that sustained their life. Whose tenet had to intermix with imperial policy makers just to be recognized as legitimate Indians’. It was a compromise to join the committee just to be a heard voice because only confederated tribes was to be recognized by the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The collected nations and bands had joined the Celilo Fish Committee in order to preserve and try to prevent the Dalles Dam from being created. It created a divide and conquer tactic. For example,
“the Yakamas depicted themselves as the “host to visiting indians” who “shared their tribal fishing location with them.” The Yakama’s described this generosity as pretreaty tradition in which “at no time…did the visiting Indians ever assume property rights in the fisheries.” The Yakamas considered that the only other Indians who shared a right to the Celilo fishery were the Warm Springs Indians but argued that the 1865 Huntington Treaty had made those rights void. Even though the Corps had set aside what nearly everybody considered an unjust treaty, the Yakama insisted that the Warm Springs be made to stand by that early treaty. The Yakamas also considered the Umatillas simply guest fishers with no claim to the fishery apart from the generosity shown by the Yakamas. The Yakama pamphlet also asserted that the tribe comprised 63 percent of the fishers at Celilo and that Yakama fishers caught 78 percent of the salmon sold commercially.”(Barber 164)
What they fail to address is the population of each Nation. They had used their own chess game for not just a powerhouse of fisherman but to use these numbers for compensation for commercial fishing. The Yakama fisherman was at odds with the Celilo Fish Committee and their respective requests because their plea to stop during funerals and instant deaths while fishing was often ignored and the slave dollars became more important to them. Yakama fisherman had often continued on despite those requests but that was not the only set back Tommy “Kuni” Thompson spoke little English and his own interpreter John Whiz had manipulated his words. Tommy stated “As long as I have lived, 80 years, I have been raised at Celilo. My people had lived there before me…All of this time I did not know that Yakama and Umatilla Indians had any fishing places at Celilo.”(Fisher 183) After Moses(grandfather) had read the passage he stated that what Tommy was trying to explain that the other tribes did not have a hereditary fishing place along Celilo Falls. That also the group the Celilo Fish Committee was trying to have a mutual understanding of use of the fishing place and trade center not exclusion of certain tribes. It was later revealed that Tommy’s ally John Whiz had called the Wyampum’s dogs and lived like them. After pretending to work with the people of Celilo Falls the following occurred “he then moved back to the reservation and became a vocal participant in the same tribal government he had once opposed.”(185 Fisher) The Wyampum interpreter who went back to the Yakama reservation had probably undermined the Celilo People the whole time. It is often overlooked that Tommy had spoken Ichishkiin, Sahaptin; and Chinook Jargon and rarley spoke English. And by the sounds of Whiz’s betrayal and misuse of funds he would easily put fourth his own agenda. Wyampum’s faced a constant threat of colonial thinking.
In addition, Yakamas had found a way to exclude another tribe. As stated in the following. “although there was serious conflict between the Warm Springs, Umatillas, Yakamas, all three agreed that the Nez Perce did not have a rightful claim.” (Barber 168) This was only after a court ruling in 1933 that had taken away that the connection the Nez Perce tribe had with Celilo Falls and Indian village. While the confederated nation was fighting for their own illusion of superior right to this sacred place they had no problem disconnecting others. This is an effect of a patriarchal influence because while the courts and government entities were denying people from an ancient site they did not recognize that Henry’s wife was a Nez Perce. After all these struggle of trying to be heard the end result was this “In the end, the Coprs compensated the Yakama Indians $15,019,640; the Warm Springs Indians $ 4,451,784; the Umatilla Indians $ 4,616,971; and the Nez Perce Indians $ 2,800,000.”(Barber 172) All the tribes listed here had gotten a monetary handout for the flooding of Celilo Falls by the Dalles Dam. While a graph was used to benefit one tribe over another the need for electricity effectively destroyed a sacred space. While simultaneously destroying a collective history, memory; & knowledge marked on petroglyphs that was on the five islands and what Celilo Falls had represented for indigenous people.
In Conclusion, that although it is powerful to keep our memories alive of Celilo Falls. But as mediums account the story of Celilo they should also start to recognize that there were people that wanted to prevent the flooding from happening to the trade center. This incident that took place on March 10 1957 was an action of environmental holocaust. The importance of recognizing each other is needed because if the words continue of having a superior right over another tribe or band it becomes an institutionalized mindset that damages everyone. It takes step backwards instead of forwards because it caves in to the colonial practice of ownership by man-made laws.
Finally, if Wyampum’s was to consider federal recognition as one such lady is fighting for in recent months it has to be done eloquently and with collective truth. Not just for immediate satisfaction to be federally recognized or to play favored politics with the oppressor. It has to be a deep sense of what was fought for in the first place to preserve our identity in a colonial world but it does not mean that we have to be compensated in monetary value just because you missed that handout. Because to be federally recognized goes against what the old timers had tried to preserve. If there is no sight to think in terms of centuries than that cause falls on itself and will remain that way if there is no dialogue created with all Wyampum’s in that search for imperial recognition. That is infancy thinking to want to be federally recognized in this colonial era because it all disconnects from what we once originally lived and diminishes our faith in Washani that makes us less compared to the ancients who truly practiced and believed.
“a resurgent approach to Indigenous decolonization that builds on the value and insights of our past in our efforts to secure a noncolonial present and future.”( Coulthard 149)
Barber, Katrine. Death of Celilo Falls. Seattle: University of Washington Press 2005
Coulthard, Glen S. Red Skin White Masks Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition . University of Minnesota Press 2014
Fisher, Andrew Shadow Tribe: The Making of the Columbia River Indian Identity. Seattle, Wash. University of Washington Press 2010
Relander, Click Drummers and Dreamers Caldwell, Idaho. The Caxton Printers 1956