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Photo of Celilo Falls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, 1948

Dad shot this historic photograph of Native Americans dip net fishing for salmon and steelhead trout in the Columbia River. The location: Celilo Falls. The time: 1948.

Celilo Falls (named after the "Si-le-lah" tribe, and located near The Dalles, Oregon), ceased to exist in 1957 when The Dalles Dam came into existence. According to the book The Indian Dip Net Fishery at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, by Schoning and Johnson, Oregon Fish Commission, 1951, "People from the Warm Springs, Yakima and Umatilla reservations stood on the bluffs overlooking Celilo Falls and watched the waters rise until their fishing grounds were swallowed up in silence."

Since the early 1800's, history records Native Americans fishing the spring and fall salmon runs from platforms and wooden scaffolds situated on seven islands, the water's edge, and the shore of the Columbia River. Later, small cable cars built by fish buyers linked the shore to the islands. It became mandatory that all fishermen be roped to the platform while fishing. They used two types of dip nets: one stationary, the other movable through the water. The dip nets attached to poles ranged from 15 to 25 feet in length.

The Columbia River was, according to author Cynthia Stowell (Faces of a Reservation, Oregon Historical Society Press, 1987), the heart of people from the Wasco and Sahaptin cultures. They derived much of their food and a way to provide for themselves and their families, in fact, fishing locations passed down from father to son. During the closed season one man commonly went to the fishing ground and caught all he wanted for his own use before another began fishing. The Celilo Native Americans refrained from fishing at night to allow fish moving during the darkness to escape to the spawning grounds.

In June 1855, 151 tribal representatives signed their x-marks to a treaty ceding millions of acres to the U.S. government for $150,000 in goods and services. The treaty reserved 578,000 acres for the Native Americans, giving birth to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

According to Stowell, when Celilo Falls ceased to exist in 1957, much more was lost than a cultural relic. Many fishermen knew no other way to make a living. Warm Springs tribal leaders had no choice but to accept a four million dollar settlement from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, the Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs wisely invested the money, and Stowell writes that the tribes have made the Celilo money work for them beyond anyone's expectations.

Photo of rose grown by Carolyn Crook Downing, photographed by Judy Crook Vorfeld

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