I am Huy-ux-pul, the Ever-Present Cooling Mist at the Falls. My English given name is Lana Jack. My Indian name is as ancient as the land, water, and air my people have coexisted with since the first dawn. We are the Wy-am-pum, the “Echo of the Water off the Rocks at the Falls People.” We belong to the river.
Our name is water. N c’ wana, the Big River, also known as the Columbia River, has been our home since time immemorial. We are Salmon People. As long as the salmon are still here, we will be here. When the salmon die, so will we.
We have coexisted with our territories for millennia, interconnected by Natural Law that governs us and dictates our shared responsibilities to steward and be a voice for all those things created, from the first light to we two-legged.
We American Indians are often seen by others as savages, living “in squalor” for somebody else’s dollar, violent drunks and addicts in need of law and order. Yet we are resilient in the face of centuries of ongoing genocide.
At Wayamtama, also known as Celilo Falls, we were as free as the river. At the narrows, where the big river narrowed to 140 feet and cascaded over a 20-foot drop, the salmon were so huge and so plentiful that Celilo was known as the great trade center of the Northwest and beyond. At Celilo Falls we built wooden scaffolds tied off with horsehair rope, and we fished with dip nets. We never knew lack. On the big river and its many tributaries, we thrived on the abundance not only of salmon, but of steelhead, sturgeon, smelt, eel, and trout. The sturgeon could pull a fully loaded boat for miles. We caught trout where Google’s data center is today. We were all about sustenance. For us, wealth was about how much you could give away.
The falls were iconic. It was inconceivable that they could ever be silenced.
“Indians fishing for salmon at Celilo Falls, Oregon.” 1941. Photo by Russell Lee. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017815608/.
In 1855, the United States signed treaties with multiple Columbia River Bands of Indians, the Wy-am included, that promised us the right to fish, hunt, and gather food at our usual and accustomed places. The Middle Oregon Treaty of 1855 was signed by Stocketly on behalf of the Wy-am-pum, referred to in the treaty as the “Lower De Chutes.”
But Celilo Falls was coveted by White settlers. They coveted the land, the salmon, the beaver, and the trees. Capricious new treaties were written to restrict us. The Treaty with the Middle Oregon Tribes of 1865 required “any Indian” to have a written permit to leave the reservation and fish. Hunting, fishing, and harvesting food from the land and waters—the main staples of survival for the Celilo Wy-am—were criminalized.
Although the Celilo Wy-am negotiated the Middle Oregon Treaty of 1855, we are not federally recognized, despite many lawsuits and much legislation attempting to bring honor to the treaty. We are still waiting for fulfillment of broken promises. Today, we aren’t even on the map; we aren’t even remembered. Our land has been parceled away, from 108 acres, to 34.5, to what is now 7.4 at Celilo Village.
Stocketly, who signed the 1855 treaty, was succeeded by his nephew, Chief Tommy Thompson, who was born the year the treaty was signed and became the Great Fish Chief at the age of nineteen. He was highly revered and honored for his order at the great fishery. When the Bonneville Dam was planned in the 1930s, he knew our fate and that of the salmon. After the dam was built, the loss of returning salmon was unprecedented.
Chief Tommy Thompson lived to be 103. After The Dalles Dam flooded Wy-am in 1957, the State of Oregon put him in a nursing home and paraded him around town, displaying him as a prisoner of war for children of all ages to stare at. Tommy died in 1959.
On March 10, 1957, the water of the Columbia River rose up and flooded the falls in a few short hours, burying our way of life, our primary food source, and our inherent sovereignty. That was the beginning of the dismantling of our remaining Celilo Wy-am people after war and pox. As the rising water silenced the falls, our matriarchs, dressed in mourning black, cried for days and nights.
The violence of the flooding of the falls has been overbearing for the People. We did not consent to the flooding of the falls or the stealing of our ancient sacred sites, and we protested the removal of the bones of our ancestors. We have been in perpetual mourning, each generation losing the battle.
Lana Jack stands on a fishing platform near The Dalles Dam. When the dam was completed in 1957, it flooded traditional fishing sites including Celilo Falls (pictured at left), ten miles upriver from the dam.
Our Indian names connect us to the land we are from. My great-uncle Moses P. Showaway told me, “No matter where you go, your name will bring you home. Here you are—Wy-am. Go to China, and you will have to dig your way back.”
My mother was born at the falls; her mother and her mother’s mother, too.
I was born into this intergenerational trauma. I am one of only a handful of Celilo Wy-am left who can trace our lineage via documentation—and, yes, blood quantum, our great mark of pedigree.
American Indian people are dying out this way, after centuries of oppression and genocide. While there are 574 federally recognized Tribes in the United States and more than 400 Tribes that are not recognized by the federal government, many other Tribes are now fully extinct. And others, like ourselves, are at the tipping point of going extinct.
I’m not telling you my story lightly. I’m not sharing this for greed or for fame. This is not easy for me, to talk about the pain and suffering we have experienced as Celilo Wy-am. All due respect to my elders, with their own stories.
I will pay for this. There are people who will criticize or even retaliate. I am not safe in my own home for speaking out. There is a price to pay. But we are desperate to thrive. We deserve justice.
I don’t want pity. I want action.
One of the ways the oppressors ensure we have no power is by criminalizing our sacred foods, preventing us from fishing and hunting and gathering in our usual and accustomed territories. The Celilo Wy-am are river people. We come from the river; our brothers and sisters are the salmon, the beaver, the roots and berries that grow here, all nourished by the land and water—most importantly, the water.
My dad raised us, me and my siblings, to have no fear on the water, even at night. We fished 24-7. Summer days, we lived on the river and in the trees at the park; they were a part of us, our friends. Our daddy was a great fisherman, from Alaska to the Columbia River and everywhere in between.
We fished hard with our mom and dad and our uncles. There were only two boys, Leon and Lonnie, and four of us girls: Lila, Leah, Jo Anna, and me. Our dad’s crew was all girls most of the time, all spaghetti straps, tube tops, and Daisy Dukes, styling in our fish boots. We hung and cleaned and patched nets when we weren’t running them or guarding them.
Because we lost all our tribal fishing and hunting rights and sites, it was illegal for the Celilo Wy-am people to fish. It remains illegal, even after the 1865 treaty was nullified by Congress in 2020. The state game warden called my dad “The elusive Percy Jack.” The warden said they could never catch him with fish and could never find him when they tried.
We had multiple close calls with the authorities when I was growing up. There were six of us kids and our parents in one tiny, two-bedroom house, so I made my room in the closet. Under my bed was a manhole.
One morning, I woke up to my dad’s panicked voice yelling, “Get up, get up, get up!” He threw my bed aside, and he and my mom threw gunnysacks full of fish into the hole, along with a net covered in fish scales. He quickly changed and scrubbed off what mud he could, tossing his scaly clothing down with the fish.
Soon the state game wardens came knocking at our door, saying, “We saw you, Percy Jack.” There I was, pretending to be asleep, guarding the manhole and our livelihood. My dad let them in and they looked around, but all they could see was kids everywhere, sprawled all over that house. Probably a few cousins, too. They looked under all the bunk beds, but not under mine. They couldn’t find anything. No fish or nets, no charge.
Another time, my cousin, my dad, and I got chased by the state game wardens. I was guarding the net while my dad and cousin took off to play pool in Rufus, Oregon. (Both my parents were pool sharks.) I was young, twelve or thirteen. It was cold, and the water was so wild, and I was scared.
At closing time, here came my dad in a speedboat with a 200-horsepower Mercury motor on it. I could hear them coming. They didn’t even stop—they yelled, “Jump, jump!” I had to jump onto the moving boat. The net was tied off on the edge of the dam. They told me to cut the line and pull it in, because we had game wardens bearing down on us left and right.
Here we were in the speedboat, three people and a rather long net. My cousin Virgil Hunt Jr. was operating the boat. He threw the motor in reverse, ripping out of there as my dad cut off the rest of the net. Cuz made a U-turn and drove us out to Preacher’s Eddy, where there are rock islands. Virgil yelled, “Hold on!” and we went flying up on a rock island. He said, “Get the gunnysacks and cover the engines!” The wardens use a heat-tracking system, so we worked quickly to cool the motor. Then we lay on the rocks.
We shape-shifted—we disappeared. It was like we weren’t even there. The wardens searched around and around us for hours. When they gave up, at dawn, we had to work to get that boat off the island before we returned home to Celilo. It was just another one of those “salmon scam” moments—one more way we have been criminalized and dehumanized for exercising our treaty rights.
Our dad could very well have gone to prison over the salmon scam. My atwai uncle Chief Johnny Jackson, at my brother’s funeral, called him “The infamous Percy Jack!”
“While everybody else had caught a case, your dad got away every time,” he said. “Then he began to haul fish to his people in Lummi. We would have to sleep on a pile of salmon going down the road in our old station wagon, dripping slime all the way. Your dad would say, ‘Smells like money!’”
Because of our struggle for our fishing rights, my family was involved in the American Indian Movement (AIM). When I was thirteen, running was my thing. In 1979, my mother, Mary Jack, helped organize a salmon spiritual walk/run. The federal government didn’t want to give us the right to harvest steelhead, so we protested. We ran from Celilo Park to Salem, and then from Salem all the way up to the Seattle federal building.
I didn’t have the right shoes for running that far—just my Chuckie Cons—so I got shin splints; there was no cushion between me and the pavement. I was introduced to peyote for the pain, and I participated in the Native American Church. My mama was not happy with me.
The AIM song was our anthem, and I learned it on the big drum, which I helped carry. It was the first traditional song I ever learned, because I was kicked out of our longhouse.
I used to have to sit and listen to my elders, all too often Moses P. Showaway. He was a Vietnam veteran, sent to war at age seventeen, who came home more traumatized than ever. Because the VA would not acknowledge his complex PTSD, he self-medicated with alcohol and cigarettes all his adult life. He was the son of Minnie Showaway, and he helped raise me. He called me “mama.” I can still hear him calling me.
Moses would tell me to go howl at the moon with him as he banged on a trash can, singing the chief song. He understood a lot of languages—Chinook, Latin, Wasco, Sahaptin—because his dad, Abe Showaway, was a fluent speaker of them. Abe was a mapmaker for the Army Corps of Engineers, and he and Minnie traveled with their delegates to designate our shared “usual and accustomed” sites from Celilo to Cascade Locks on both sides of the river.
Our matriarchs negotiated a total of six relocations—efforts to continue the genocide against us, to take away our lands, our allotments. As part of The Dalles Dam settlement, individual Indians were given individual allotments. My allotment, where I currently live, is just less than an acre, passed down to me from Moses Showaway. It’s not much, but it’s enough to connect me to my ancestors and the land we come from.
The matriarchs in my family were leaders in the Celilo longhouse before the flooding of the falls. In The Last Salmon Feast, a short documentary on the Celilo Wy-am people, the Oregon Historical Society shared footage that depicted the way of life of the Celilo Wy-am people before the dam changed everything. My great-grandmother, Minnie Showaway, was named and recorded in the documentary as the leader of the womenfolk, given her place of honor.
I did not grow up with the knowledge. My mother didn’t practice her gathering and harvesting of roots or berries. I was taught how to gather roots and the First Foods of my people from traditional food-gatherers, anyone who would teach me. For the Celilo Wy-am and many other regional river Tribes, Bands, and Nations, food sovereignty is sacred and carries our songs and ceremony. This is what my people have died for.
My mother was fluent in her language before she went to boarding school. Afterward, she never spoke her language, never grew her hair long again.
Both of my parents were survivors of boarding/residential schools. They never spoke of their experiences. Heinous crimes were committed against Indian children, their families, and their communities during this tragic era. This is the hour of acknowledgment. These crimes must be talked about, but it is not without pain for our elders. We need to protect them: their hearts, their stories.
I say none of this to offend my beloved elders. Their locked-away stories are invaluable and cherished. Our elders can help us all heal.
I ran away at seventeen and became a daily user of alcohol for several years. I had alcoholic behavior long before I took my first drink. I found a mate who beat me. I had grown up with it. In my mind, domestic violence was normal. All too often, I called it love. It’s in our shared histories, memories, the traumas our people have been through. It’s in our DNA.
Alcohol and the driven spirit had me out on the highways, hitchhiking. That’s a setup for us unprotected women to be the Missing and Murdered. I was almost abducted in 1987, after a stay in Multnomah County for stealing Pampers and baby formula. When I got out, I hit Interstate 84 to get home to Celilo. A long white van with no windows pulled up. Four men jumped out to attack me and throw me in. I swung my purse mad-crazy, and at that moment another van pulled over. I heard a man’s voice tell the people in that van, “Stay here.” It was the Hood River football coach. Had he not come to my rescue, I might not be here to tell this story.
I was full of rage for all that my family, my people, my land have suffered. We survived genocide. I lost my children because of addictions—I was never deemed worthy of being a mom. But then I moved to San Francisco for treatment, after our fishing days. I got clean and sober for the last time years ago in Tacoma and stayed that way, even after my mother’s death in 1992.
I wanted to be loved or even know love. Today, I want to be love. I ran toward my healing, and continue to run after it.
Today, Jesus keeps me. Moses and Minnie Showaway were Catholic and Washat. This made no sense to a lot of people. Church was where they did their best to assimilate and acculturate us. This left us very anti-Christianity. But Jesus found me on a dusty Pow Wow trail and set me free, and I am forever grateful.
Celilo Falls isn’t dead. My ancestor is very much alive. She’s just filled with toxins. The fish are dying in this river.
The fish and our other Sacred Foods are intrinsic to our existence. We are imprinted into our Mother’s memory. We are hers, by song, by name, by language.
The Celilo Wy-am are becoming extinct, right before your eyes. And that is what the government wants, so they can have what is left of our land and resources. They have made us nonexistent.
Reparations are in order, but we cannot be reconciled to a nation that never wanted us here.
We have been subjected to unsafe drinking water all this time. In the last relocation, ending 2009, called the “fulfillment of the promises,” the Army Corps built a new water tower worth millions. And the water inside remains the same, unsafe. We have new windows, but the sprinkler from my garden has covered the entire back side of my house in a white film. Recently, the tower ran out of water, and inside we discovered organic matter, red in color.
My son got spinal meningitis when he was a baby after constant ear infections. He became deaf because of bacteria in the water. (His paternal family told him he was deaf because I was a drunk. He has never called me “Mom.”) For that reason, I only drink purified water. My brother Lonnie used to call me a yuppie and stick his pinkie finger out when I gave him bottled water. The loss of our relationship to our water is a void that only Berkey could bring back to me. Today, because of my Berkey water filter, I can drink the water at Celilo for the first time in thirty-five years.
I traveled to Standing Rock as a prayer warrior. We were called protesters. “Water is life,” we chanted—“Mni Wiconi” in the Lakota language. It rang throughout the village day and night. I danced with my butterfly eagle fan as a jingle-dress healer. They used mace on us and people were shot with rubber bullets, and doused with ice water in below-freezing temperatures. I have complex PTSD from the violence we experienced. It was war.
We are in war still. Premature death stalks us. My brother Lonnie’s last words, before he passed away recently, were, “Keep doing the work.” I’ve been in service to our needs as river people for almost ten years. I cry every day for my people.
People in the village thought my great-grandmother was a witch. She spoke in tongues and was a healer, using the knowledge of our traditional medicines that never got passed down. People paganized her way of being and knowing.
My mom taught us girls to bead so we could go to the drive-in. Once, I peered into her bead box and asked her, “What is that?” She said, “Those are beaver balls—the testicles of a beaver.” Her granny used them to pray for women with fertility issues.
We are of the Beaver clan as much as we are the Salmon People.
I had a stroke a year ago. I thought I was just having a blood sugar low—I’m diabetic—so I made myself a meal. I took a spirit plate, an offering, to my granny’s homesite at Celilo Park. When I got there, as I was walking to the point of the eddy, I noticed an eagle flying overhead. It flew really low to the ground, so I raised my phone to take a photo, and I suddenly got hit with a dizzy spell. I began to trek back to my SUV.
As I was walking back, I noticed a walking stick that had been chewed on by beavers, and I picked it up. A few steps later, I fell into the river. It was windy, and I couldn’t move. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. As the waves crashed over me, I thought, Jesus, is this how I die, really?
Then I heard a voice command, Get up! So I dug my new walking stick into the rocks until it became stable enough for me to walk, pulling myself hand over hand up my stick. I stood, swaying hard back and forth, when I heard the deep tone say, Pick it up. I could barely stand, but I reached down to pick up the waterlogged stick. The log was covered with very visible faces of beavers: the mama, papa, and babies.
I returned a week later to thank the beavers. I sang them their own song: “I love you beaver, beaver, beaver. Come out to say hi, beaver, beaver, beaver.” They came out with the message that benzene is killing them, that the Columbia River is polluted beyond livability, and to clean it up now.
My ancestors said it all along: our river will die. Today this is more true than ever. Every spring the beavers die on the highway. It crushes me. Today I am a Beaver Believer! Their existence is parallel to ours. They have been brought to their brink of extinction, and have survived.
They call us crazy, like Saint Thomas, because we can hear from the other realms in which our Wayakin live. We have been portrayed as heathens because of our connection, our traditions, our ceremonies. But that’s what gives us our strength, our resilience, to keep going, keep fighting. I am so done with fighting. I am about the healing journey, truth and reconciliation. But I will still speak up and speak out on behalf of our people.
We are not just somebody’s sad story. Like the falls, we are still here. We love, we live, we fish, we pick, we dig, we sing, we dance.
I know who I am. I am a woman of integrity, of honor. I am Celilo Wy-am and Coast Salish. And I won’t stop speaking up until my people have their rights back and we are our own Nation, as promised in the 1855 treaty, able to oversee our own affairs, resources, people, land, and water.
I believe, in our lifetime, the river will run natural again. And we will be there.
TagsBelonging, Environment, Family, History, Natural resources, Place, Native American, Indigenous
10 comments have been posted.
As we drove through The Dalles on our way home to Idaho. we looked up the Celilo Indian VIllage and found your story. Thank you for sharing it and educating us on your heritage. Very well written and meaningful.
Lisa Wanner | February 2024 | Eagle idaho
Thank you Lana for sharing your story. You are the one your ancestors have been waiting for and may we all reflect on the past and co-create equality for All Peoples of the Earth
Ellen Trichte | April 2023 | Hood River, Oregon
Lana, you bring respect and honor to your people. The range of emotions we feel while reading this article bring us through tears, anger, laughter and love. The ending leaves us with the question, "What can we do, Lana? How can we help?"
Russ & Kellie Richmond | April 2023 | Goldendale
Inspirational story, you forefathers must be proud of you! Keep being an inspiration!💕😺
Cat Koehn | April 2023 |
A poetic and real story of your truths. This is a gift to the world to have your story published. Thank you for all your endless work.
Hope Hutsell | April 2023 |
I am deeply moved by Lana Jack's incredible journey. She is fighting a battle that must be won to remove a stain from the government of the United States of America, which has waged a shameless campaign of genocide and attrition, starting almost before the ink was dry on the Treaty of 1855. I have long wanted to see Celilo Falls restored, the once-mighty Columbia River again flow freely, indigenous fish populations return to pre-dam levels, with habitats repaired, and all the other benefits to the ecosystem and the health of the planet that will accrue once dams are removed. Add to that her dream of federal recognition, at long last, of the Celilo Wy-am Tribe. Thank you, Lana Jack. I raise my fist in solidarity.
David Hedges | April 2023 | Oregon City, Oregon
What beautiful words. I'm honored to hear them and to know you, Lana.
Cynthia Vogel | April 2023 | Rainier, OR
Beautiful article, an excellent testimony to your ancestors
Winona Stevens | April 2023 |
Thank you for sharing your incredible story and the incredible story of your people, Lana. What an honor you have bestowed on us all!
Virginia Staubach | April 2023 | The Dalles, OR
Strong story. Your words are heartfelt. I am your ally. Send me information of those a can write to. Those I can address for I firmation on actions. Thank you sister!
William Rowe | April 2023 | Vashon Island