These are images of the ancient medicine art – sacred petroglyphs – indigenous to the NChi’ Wana, the Big River below Celilo Falls.
All but the glyph in the last image were removed from their ancient homes as the US Army Corp began the ongoing flooding of Celilo Falls… The US Army Corp housed these for 30 years at the Dalles Dam… 1000’s of petroglyphs remain flooded under the water behind the Dalles Dam. At the request of the Mid Columbia Treaty Tribal Nations – Yakima, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce – these sacred stones were placed near Tsagaglal for all to witness and experience.
The last image is an invocation of Tsagaglal known as “She Who Watches.” She is both a petroglyph and a pictograph. (Tsagaglalal, Tasgiglalal & Guardian of Nihhluidih are among name variations.)
There are many versions of her tale. Lillian Pitt, an artist whose family lived in Wishxam (before it began being flooded), the traditional village below Tsagaglal, shares the following version on her artists site – Giving Voice to my Ancestors:
There was this village on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. And this was long ago when people were not yet real people, and that is when we could talk to the animals.
And so Coyote — the Trickster — came down the river to the village and asked the people if they were living well. And they said “Yes, we are, but you need to talk to our chief, Tsagaglal. She lives up in the hill.”
So Coyote pranced up the hill and asked Tsagaglal if she was a good chief or one of those evildoers. She said, “No, my people live well. We have lots of salmon, venison, berries, roots, good houses. Why do you ask?” And Coyote said, “Changes are going to happen. How will you watch over your people?” And so she didn’t know.
And it was at that time that Coyote changed her into a rock to watch her people forever.
Click on any image for a full sized version
In the years leading up to the ongoing flooding of the sacred Celilo Falls and Gorge area – the raiding of cultural, village and burial sites by settlers was common. 10’s of thousands of artifacts were collected and sold with no regard or respect for the First Nation’s who are the rightful owners. When the Celilo Canal was built in 1915 some of the workers became full time relic thiefs – such as “Arrowhead Charlie” – Charlie Beckham, who made his living at it for 30 years.
In the years leading up to the flooding – a part of the agreement that the US Army Corp made was to see that proper archeological surveys, preservation and curation was done. A museum to house artifacts in the Dalles was promised. Although the Smithsonian, the University of Oregon, the University of Washington and the National Park Service were involved there was in fact almost no funding – once papers were signed. Wakemeup Mound (Home of the Elder Woman) which is at the base of Spedis Valley – where “She Who Watches” is watching, and where these stones have been placed, is a particularly rich place.
In 1951 a band of “hobbyists” as they refer to themselves, incorporated as the Oregon Archeological Society. They insisted on keeping possession of archeological artifacts they found in trade for submitting a registration card with the federal government. A wildcat D-8 bulldozer was run through the mound multiple times and hobbyists made off with whatever they found under the “supervision” of the federal government. As far as we know there are some artifacts at the Burke Museum – but there has been little to no tracking of the ongoing dispersal of the cultural wealth of the Columbia River First Nations. Although OAS formally frowned on the raiding of burial sites – it is known that this was common place.
A Yakama Elder, Martha Skanawa, was living at the site at this time. She confronted the “archeologists” who reported her words in a letter to Douglas Osborne at the University of Washington “You make the old woman mad, you make her angry, you kill the old woman. When you go away?” and his own realizations that… – the old woman is Wakemap!… I am destroying Waq!mup – I am making her mad… and who can blame her?”
In 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became law. In June 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the ongoing flooding, remains of 51 individuals “collected” at the Wakemeup site were repatriated to a joint group representing the Yakima, Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Wanapum. Of the over 20,000 artifacts taken from the site about 1/3 were retained for study by the Washington State Museum, about a 1/3 kept by Dr. Russell Donjon (an OAS member) and the rest “scattered among the many relic hunters allowed to scavange the site.” (For more information see “Relic Hunting, Archeology and Loss of Native American Heritage at The Dalles” by Virgina Butler in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Winter 2007 Special Issue – Remembering Celilo Falls)
The National Endowment of the Humanities has expressed interest in seeing that the obvious need for Community Curation be funded and followed through. In light of the historic and ongoing destruction of cultural resources, which the federal government has supervised, it is our hope that a renewed valuation of the depth and breadth and significance of the deep culture of Columbia River First Nations is invested with due respect.
Recently we were able to sit at a table with the Port of the Dalles, the City of the Dalles, as well as representatives from regional museums and the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes. A joint effort to cooperate in representing the cultural wealth of the region began being explored. It is quite exciting to be witness to an opportunity for seeding repair of this historic dispersal. Great potential exists for healing and honoring around the historic trauma, which is still so fresh along the Big River, the NChi’Wana.
That this may be done with the participation of living First Nations artists – showing their contemporary work – would make this a genuine possibility of connecting the ancient and present in building a positive collaborative future.
This second gallery features pictographs – all but the first two are intact on the cliffs together with Tsagaglal – “She Who Watches” – though settler graffiti is mixed in on some of the images.
Click on any image to see it full size.
A slideshow version of the gallery.