By Sean Cruz
Portland,Oregon— Having been advised by friends among the Celilo people and Columbia River treaty tribes to wait, to wait a season, to wait for permission to continue, to be respectful to sacred traditions, to respect privacy, to honor friendships, to listen and wait, the nascent Friends of Celilo Falls will do as advised.
We will respectfully wait, recognizing that there is a sacred relationship between the people at Celilo Village and the River tribes and Celilo Falls that is unique to them and that can be understood only by them.
The Friends of Celilo Falls will support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states in Article 11:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.
2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.
And in Article 12:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.
2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.
These Articles certainly apply to Celilo Falls and many other sites in that stretch of the Columbia River between the dam at The Dalles and Maryhill.
The Friends of Celilo Falls recognizes that indigenous sacred sites are threatened all over the world, and that only the people who are indigenous to these sites are capable of understanding the mysteries and relationships that make these places so essential to life on this planet.
The Friends of Celilo Falls will call on the United States to provide redress, in conjunction with the respective indigenous peoples, in all cases that violate Articles 11 and 12 of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.
The Columbia River Tribes, the Celilo people and all their relations are preparing for a time of sacred ceremonies as First Salmon approaches, as they have done for many thousands of years. They meet at a place sacred since the dawn of time, a place taken by force against their will by a nation that claims to value justice and respect for religious traditions.
The Celilo Resolution,SCR10, passed by theOregon legislature in 2007, mourned the loss of Celilo Falls, and recognized its religious stature and great spiritual significance with these words:
“Whereas on March 10, 1957, the waters held back by The Dalles Dam flooded and silenced the awesome and sacred roar of Celilo Falls, severing a great spiritual connection between the Creator, Mother Earth and the Native Peoples of Oregon; and
“Whereas the silence of the dead falls is rivaled only by the silence in the hearts of the elders who remember the thunder of the falls and the vibrant community struck down by the dam….”
As a call to action, the Celilo Resolution only called for a moment of silence and nothing more. There had already been fifty years of silence, and now there is more than 55. What is far more significant lies in the Resolution’s recognition of the strength of the spiritual connection and that the fullness of the religious experience includes the water, the salmon, the cascades, the roar, the mist and the vibrations in the ground. All are essential. All are required. The tribes never signed any of this away in any treaty. None among them would have had the power or the authority to do so.
Ultimately, what happens here will be determined in the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps more than once. SCR 10’s recognition that the flooding severed “a great spiritual connection…” will have enormous significance at every step of the judicial process.
In retrospect, we should have amended the Resolution in 2007 to change its reference to “dead” falls. Celilo Falls are neither dead nor buried. They are submerged and, ironically, that may have saved them from being dynamited to oblivion. A sonar survey by the Army Corps of Engineers shows that the rock structure is intact. What was only a short time ago considered impossible is actually entirely possible, and inevitable.
They still perform ceremonies at Celilo, where the Creator provided countless millions of salmon for these particular peoples and for their relations, as they have for seasons beyond counting, each in their own season.
Now, however, the Salmon struggle to survive and the People have no privacy, oppressed by a freeway and fast moving trains that separate the People from the River and do immeasurable harm to spiritual connections no less sacred than any other on Mother Earth. There is no mist and the ground and the water are both still. The River is silent.
The Friends of Celilo Falls understands that privacy is essential to indigenous religious ceremonies and practices the world over, and that often the only action an outsider can take is to respect that privacy. We will do so.
The Friends of Celilo Falls recognizes that even the most well-meaning of outsiders can be clumsy, and that clumsiness can cause harm in ways only the affected people can understand. We will try not to be clumsy. We will wait.
The Friends of Celilo Falls will emerge through ceremony, and only the Columbia River Treaty Tribes and the People at Celilo Village know the time and the place and the manner of those ceremonies, and what will follow. We will wait.
Right now, it is a time to wait, to respect, and to honor, and not to be clumsy.
For more information about threatened sacred sites and future announcements about the Friends of Celilo Falls, keep in touch through the Sacred Land Film Project and Honor the Earth, and other sources TBA.
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