Celilo Falls Restoration – Why we cannot be silent in the face of an ongoing genocide!

Restoration of Celilo
by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ – Sean Cruz, Treothe Bullock and Aurolyn Stwyer stand where Celilo Falls used to be before The Dalles Dam was completed in 1957.
Celilo Falls are intact beneath Lake Celilo.  They were flooded primarily to enable barge traffic – which is a Tidewater Barge monopoly completely subsidized by taxpayers – and which has already built alternatives on the rail lines and freeway. Celilo Falls can be restored without removing the Dalles Dam (though that would be better) and the Dam would still be able to provide electricity. As the central ecological / cultural / spiritual center of our region for the last 14,000 years this flooding is not a historical act of genocide – each day it remains flooded it is an ongoing act of genocide here in Cascadia. A select group of military / government leaders have the power to reverse this ongoing violation of the Columbia,its First Nations, and all living on Earth. The heads of the Dept. of Interior, the Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, The Army Corp of Engineers and President Obama could all make that call.  We the People simply need to demand an end to this ongoing violation of the integrity of our region.
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Friends of Celilo advocates for the repair of the violation of First Nation treaty protections of Celilo Falls as a historical cultural / fishing / ceremonial grounds and the rerouting of the rail lines and freeway which run through the longest continuously inhabited village site in North America. As aware citizens we cannot stand silent as an ongoing genocide continues. Restoration of the falls is not simply a return of falling water.  Water has historically been experienced as Medicine.  The late Chief Howard Jim  – Celilo Village Chief – implored with me, when asked about restoration of the falls that the first law of the people has always been baptism of newborns in the Big River.  With the leaks at Hanford, the high amounts of chemical pollution from agriculture and industry – it has become unsafe in this last generation to practice the first law of the land. Tears are still flowing from this ongoing tragedy. Chief Howard Jim clarified that restoration of the water is what is most important.
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The restoration of Celilo Falls includes a commitment to stopping the pollution of the sacred waters of the Cascadian Bioregion and an end to the living river being held as a militarized industrialized road – at the cost of a living river. Water in its role as essential to all life must be recognized as a sacred trust – rather than as a commodity to be abused and poisoned. Justinian Trust law – which understands that there are some parts of the world – so essential to life that they cannot be owned – such as water and air – is a part of our Common Law inheritance and has been forgotten too long – at a  too high cost to future generations. We have an obligation to restore Living Ecosystems and Human Communities as primary to life and legally restrain the rights of commerce and property and their ongoing trespasses.  The Rights of Nature ordinances (written into law in Community Rights ordinances in over 165 US communities),  Rights of Nature Constitutional amendments of Bolivia and Ecuador, the proposed Cascadian People’s Water Trust,  and the International Convention on the Rights of Mother Earth are all leading legal examples of how we can do this.
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Restoration of Celilo falls also means restoring the possibility of a return of healthy Salmon to all of their traditional spawning grounds in the Columbia River system. There is a brand new CRITFC led coalition of the 25 First Nations in the Columbia Plateau and Canadian Okanagan. Together with engineers and fish biologists this coalition has committed to this restoration as a part of the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty – in the 2014 – 2024 window, which begins in September. It is now widely understood by scientists that the economic / ecological / environmental / cultural costs of most dams built on rivers have been higher than their benefits.  This is the time to take down some of the over 70,000 dams built on American rivers. Currently, though salmon has been the indigenous staple food of the region since time immemorial, it is deadly to eat as a staple food.  Since the advent of industrialism background mercury rates in the environment have risen 1 1/2 to 3% a year and have accumulated in salmon – primarily because of coal transport along the river and coal burning – and its deposits in rain.  Indian communities continuing to eat Salmon as a staple food are suffering high rates of birth defects and cancers directly related to these mercury loads.  This is an ongoing physical genocide when the Treaty Law protected indigenous foods are poisoned to this degree. Coal transport and burning must be stopped.
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Celilo Falls is one of the majestic wonders of the planet. It’s return represents a healing of the heart of a land and the peoples of the land. The peoples at Celilo Village have kept faith and fed the people each spring at the First Salmon feast – for 58 years since the falls have been flooded – just as they have done since time immemorial .  Many have distrust of anyone messing with the river in any way – thinking it better to let Great Spirit remove the dams in time.  We believe there are just a handful of humans who keep this heart of the Big River – Celilo Falls – flooded.  We believe when enough of us realize this is ongoing genocidal violence – subsidized by our tax dollars – and that a healing opening is possible in the restoration of the waters of the Columbia and Celilo Falls – the waters of Wyam will flow freely again. May we all – like the salmon – push up against the obstacles in the river – that life may be renewed.
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Celilo Falls - Wyam - Photo from the archives of the Oregon Historical Society
Celilo Falls – Wyam – Photo from the archives of the Oregon Historical Society

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