Celilo honors falls’ memory


The Dalles Chronicle

March 10, 2007

Remembering Celilo Falls takes more than a village, and this weekend Celilo Village will fill with visitors come to commemorate the falls’ legacy.

For centuries uncounted, Celilo Falls boiled and foamed through a narrow, twisting descent. As the huge salmon battled their way up from the ocean, or down from spawning grounds, and through the seething waters, native fishermen waited atop platforms with dip nets to capture the river’s wealth.

Fifty years ago this Saturday, the raging falls came to an end, submerged beneath the backwaters of The Dalles Dam, 10 miles downriver.

Celilo Village residents, tribal dignitaries and government officials from afar will honor the memory of Celilo Falls with events both Saturday and Sunday.

Celilo legacy events will include solemn ceremonies, traditional feasts, a powwow and exhibits telling the story of the falls. Films of the falls will be held at Celilo Park on the riverfront. Traditional salmon dinners are planned both days, and food vendors will also make traditional foods available.

Wy-am Chief Olsen Meanus Jr. invites the public to all events both days.

“A lot of people talk about the falls, non-Indian and Indian alike,” said Meanus, chief for the past two years following his grandfather, Chief Howard Jim.

At 47, Meanus is a few years too young to remember the falls himself, but grew up on its stories.

“(The elders) talk about the falls — the experience, the meaning, the feeling of how it was to fish the falls,” Meanus said. “Everything I have experienced through their stories.”

Those who do remember the falls recall the suspended trams that pulled the fishermen across to the islands, but before the tram lines, they crossed the treacherous waters on heavy, dugout canoes. So Celilo Legacy ceremonies start Saturday with a canoe ceremony, where Meanus will greet the Puyallup canoe on the banks of the Columbia. A number of other Pacific Northwest tribes will also participate in the canoe ceremony.

“We’ll welcome them here to the land and then have traditional opening ceremonies,” Meanus noted.

The Wash’ut service at 10 a.m. is the official opening ceremony, both days.

Silent films and slide shows portraying the falls and its people will run throughout both days as part of the celebration.

“We’re hoping that a lot of the pictures, displays and films will spark the memories of our elders,” said Bobby Begay, also a grandson of the late Chief Howard Jim. Begay is a coordinator of the event and the preceding planning process, which included many of the village residents, as well as representatives from surrounding tribes.

Begay also extended his welcome to weekend visitors.

Traditional displays will be featured at the WaNaPa Village at the in-lieu fishing site at Celilo Park.

“It’s an educational village,” explained Begay.

Traditional ways of cooking salmon, creating nets, making tule nets and stories of Coyote legends are among the events planned at the park.

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