By Sean Cruz
For more than ten thousand years, the Columbia River Tribes husbanded the natural beauty and resources of Celilo Falls, creating an economy that many would call “the Wall Street of the West”, amid a natural landscape that had few peers (often called “the Niagara Falls of the West”), with five times the flow of Niagara Falls.
Under the stewardship of the Tribes, the Celilo Falls economy was green, sustainable, non-polluting, the foundation and generator of a major regional market that spanned many thousands of square miles, and it looked like this:
Under the Doctrine of Discovery and the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the United States claimed ownership of what it called the Oregon Territory, and by 1855, after many epidemics, starvations, and military and vigilante campaigns against the Indians, white settlers had dispossessed the Tribes of just about everything they had ever known, forcing them onto reservations far from the Columbia River, far from the Williamette, far from the Snake.
The map demonstrates how egregious and unfair the Treaties were, signed under duress by people who did not speak English or other European languages, and who had no choice but to sign, since more than two and a half million acres had already been claimed by the settlers, including both banks of all the major rivers in the Pacific Northwest.
Yet the River Tribes, the Wyam People, clung to The Falls, to N’ch-iwana, to their villages and sacred sites that dotted both banks of the River, upstream and downstream, as they had for thousands of years.
White settlers moved in and claimed ownership of portions of Celilo Falls and of everything else that they wanted, and what they wanted was more, more fish than could be caught from platforms or with a dipnet, and the industrialization of Celilo Falls began.
They built fish wheels and canneries, created industrial-scale wastage of the fish, and committed the unthinkable sacrilege of dynamiting a canal through the Indian village, just a few feet from the sacred Falls.
The Industrialization of Celilo Falls, and its failures, pt 2
For thousands of years, fish like these were plentiful in the Columbia River, but that was before the River Tribes lost control of the resource, and unimaginable wastage ruled the day.
Coming: The Industrialization of Celilo Falls, and its failures, pt 2