First Peoples

The Centre of the World

Just below Horse Thief Butte, at the eastern gate of the Columbia Gorge, lies the centre of the world. Here it is before it was flooded by the Dalles Dam:

Deep Net Fishing at Celilo Falls, 1957  Source

Thirteen years earlier, the other great fishing hole on the Columbia, Kettle Falls, was inundated by Grand Coulee Dam. Here’s the great poem that the Couer D’Aleine poet Sherman Alexie wrote about that catastrophe. For thousands of years, each site annually drew tens of thousands of people from distances of over 500 miles. In this area, cities were temporary arrangements. They formed for a purpose, then vanished when that purpose was ended, only to reform the next year.

The people still come.

Lone Pine Fishery Station, The Dalles Oregon

Note the Government Issue fence put to better use as a clothesline. Net fishing is wet work.

 The 1855 treaty gave the people the right to fish on the falls. The US Army Corps of Engineers studied that treaty in the 1950s and concluded that there were no legal issues attached to flooding the falls, and so built their dam. They were wrong. After a series of successful legal challenges, fishing remains a primary right. The Lone Pine station above is an attempt to allow space for those traditional rights. In June of every year, Native American fishers line the railroad and highway infill for hundreds of miles, casting out into the water. Then they come to the centre of the world.

Two Technologies on the River

The one in the foreground has ensured that more money is being spent maintaining salmon stocks in the river than the one in the background has ever earned through electrical generation.

The point I would like to make is not about technology, intrusive or otherwise, nor whether it is well meant or not. My point is that ignorance of the cultural nature of landscapes is very expensive. It’s easy to tally up the cost of raising juvenile salmon in expensive hatcheries, then scooping them up above the 10 mainstem Columbia River dams below the Grand Coulee Dam, trucking them around the dams, and barging them to sea. It’s harder to tally up all the other lost opportunities and lost knowledge that we will have to relearn at great cost. The best thing, perhaps, is to just start.

Early Season Fishers on the Morning River

The future begins with watching the river flow.

Tomorrow: The biggest waterfalls of all. Bar none.

1 reply »

  1. I enjoyed my hike at Horsethief Butte earlier this month. It’s a great place to hike or climb. I would also welcome any hikers and climbers to my vacation rental – 30 min. away.


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