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Getting straight on Celilo

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Regarding the letter from James P. Miller, it appears that some myths regarding the Columbia River Indians refuse to die [LETTERS, DECEMBER]. I would point out the following information, most of it obtained from the records of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Indian Affairs while doing research for my book, Empty Nets: Indians, Dams and the Columbia River.

There has never been a “Celilo Tribe.” The small core of people who lived at the original Celilo Village were the Wy’am. The $26 million settlement was paid to the four treaty tribes as compensation for the loss of Celilo Falls as the premier fishing site that had provided the sole or major source of livelihood for hundreds of Indian families for centuries. By the time The Dalles Dam was built, the Celilo Village site had been squeezed to less than seven acres by the railroad, the Celilo Canal and the Columbia River Highway. There is no record of any compensation to the Indian residents.

In 1949 the Corps bought 34 acres south of the railroad (the current Celilo Village site). It built water and sewer systems, both now badly deteriorated, and 10 homes.

In 1950 Congress appropriated $210,000 to relocate permanent residents of Celilo. This did not cover the dozens of families who lived there six months or more every year and left only during winter months. Records are not clear as to the number of people compensated for destroyed houses. The records say about two dozen families still lived in the old village in 1955, when they were removed. Appraisals valued the majority of homes at $200-$800, while even modest replacement homes would cost $7,700. Some of the displaced Indians moved to the new Celilo Village, where they were housed in surplus Army tents. To say “the planning and compensation were coordinated by a commission that included members of the tribe” gives a distorted picture. The tribes negotiated for the settlement over loss of the fishing at Celilo. The rest was pretty well dictated by the government and reluctantly accepted by the Indians as the best they could get.

Roberta Ulrich


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