The small town of The Dalles, Ore., will play host to a public conference in March commemorating the 50th anniversary of the flooding of Celilo Falls, a former Native American fishery and trading spot on the Columbia River. Celilo Falls, a natural waterfall that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed on the Oregon Trail, was flooded when the U.
The small town of The Dalles, Ore., will play host to a public conference in March commemorating the 50th anniversary of the flooding of Celilo Falls, a former Native American fishery and trading spot on the Columbia River.
Celilo Falls, a natural waterfall that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed on the Oregon Trail, was flooded when the U.S. government erected The Dalles Dam in March 1957. The site previously served for thousands of years as a salmon fishery and place of trading, socializing and ceremonial rituals for Native Americans.
The conference will be held by the Center for Columbia River History (CCRH), partnered with Portland State University and Washington State University in Vancouver. The event will be sponsored by a $39,000 grant awarded to the CCRH in August 2006 from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent agency of the U.S. government dedicated to education, research and public programs.
“It’s going to be a real exciting conference,” said Katy Barber, director of the CCRH and history professor at PSU. “It’ll be a place where natives and non-natives can gather to talk about an important issue and our shared history.”
More than 20 speakers are scheduled to take part in the conference, including historians, anthropologists, linguists, artists and various scholars talking about the importance of Celilo Falls. Topics will range from history and archeological remains to the environmental impact of the dams, Barber said.
Maya Lin, artist and designer of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be involved in dedicating a commutative piece of artwork at the closing ceremony, which will include a traditional blessing of the land.
Virginia Butler, an archeology professor at PSU, has been interested in the Columbia River and fish since 1995 and will speak at the conference. Butler said she has spent time examining the archeological records and evidence of former settlers in the area, as well as fish remains. She said she has studied the effects of the dam on surrounding life.
Butler said the dams have had an effect on the salmon populations in the Columbia, landing many varieties on the list of endangered species. She said the dams have not been all bad, but their effects on the environment need to be evaluated.
“It may be time to reflect on what they’ve given us and what they’ve taken away,” Butler said.
Celilo Falls now lies at the bottom of Lake Celilo. Butler said the dam caused the river to submerge a lot of the archeological records, but evidence dates Native American settlements at Celilo Falls back over 9,000 years before the area was inundated.
“The history of the region very much defines who we are as citizens of our region,” Butler said. “I think about the Columbia River as being part of PSU’s history.”
PSU’s original campus, called the Vanport Extension Center, was situated along the Columbia River. The center was constructed as a temporary solution to the facility demands of post-war students. A 1948 flood wiped out the entire city of Vanport and the center was relocated in downtown Portland and renamed Portland State College in 1949.
The conference will be most appealing for people who are interested in the history of the Columbia River, the Pacific Northwest and Native Americans, as well as environmental issues, according to Barber.
“I hope students get over there and get some perspective on Native Americans whose lives were affected by the dam,” Butler said.
The conference is free, but registration ends March 1. Additional information on the conference and how to register can be found at www.ccrh.org/calendar.php.