By Sean Cruz
For more than 10,000 years, the River tribes were careful stewards of Celilo Falls and the salmon who thrived there, and managed a trading economy that reached far beyond the Pacific Northwest.
Then came the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and then the Oregon Trail, and the Oregon Donation Land Act that offered free land—Indian land—to white settlers, who changed the landscape perhaps nowhere more dramatically than at Celilo Falls.
In the early 1900s, the white citizens of the new state of Oregon decided to dig a canal close by Celilo Falls, blasting its route through the rocks where Native villages had existed since the dawn of humankind. The River tribes were not consulted on the project.
They built fish wheels, roads and railroads, and a canal, right through Celilo Village, and Celilo came to look like this:
To the new stewards of the Columbia River, Celilo was a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else.
The Celilo canal was little-used after it was built, but the worst news was yet to come.
Coming: The Industrialization of Celilo Falls, and its failures, pt 4