Primary Source Documents

Celilo Falls

By The OE Staff

Subjects: Native Americans, Politics, Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality

Overview

Celilo Falls, by Katrine Barber

Celilo Falls (also known as Horseshoe Falls) was located on the mid-Columbia River about twelve miles east of The Dalles. It was part of an approximately nine-mile-long Indigenous fishery that included sites such as the Upper Dalles, the Lower Dalles, Three Mile Rapids, Five Mile Rapids, and Big Eddy.

At Celilo Falls, the Columbia's riverbed constricted to a passageway as narrow as forty feet across, producing what nineteenth-century observer Alexander Ross described as "great impetuosity” where “the foaming surges dash through the rocks with terrific violence." The rapids, which dropped the river more than eighty feet in a half-mile, required most boats and other vessels to portage but also created some of the most productive fishing sites in the Pacific Northwest.

Archeological records date human occupation of village sites along the falls to at least 11,000 years ago. The first written population records come from the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who estimated in 1805-1806 that 7,200 to 10,400 Indian people were present between the Cascade Rapids and The Dalles. Abundant fish runs drew Indigenous people to permanent settlements in the area, and village populations fluctuated with seasonal movement. During the post-contact period, the numbers of people declined as a result of diseases that dramatically reduced native populations. Read the full Oregon Encyclopedia entry here

Content Standards

  • 4.11 Analyze the distinct way of knowing and living amongst the different American Indian tribes in Oregon prior to colonization, such as religion, language, and cultural practices and the subsequent impact of that colonization.
  • 6.14 Identify and describe how the physical and human characteristics of places and regions connect to human identities and cultures in the Western Hemisphere.
  • 6.18 Evaluate the impact of systems of colonial cultures on the indigenous peoples, such as termination, sovereignty, and treaties.
  • 6.19 Examine the continuity and change of the indigenous cultures through relevance and contributions to modern society.
  • 6.21 Identify issues related to historical events to recognize power, authority, and governance as it relates to systems of oppression and its impact on ethnic and religious groups and other traditionally marginalized groups in the modern era (bias and injustice, discrimination, stereotypes).
  • 6.23 Analyze cause and effect relationships within the living histories of indigenous peoples such as land, technology, and competing economic interests.
  • 6.24 Gather, interpret, document, and use information from multiple sources and diverse media, distinguish facts from opinions while recognizing points of view through inquiry and research.
  • 7.23 Examine the importance of trade routes and trace the rise of cultural centers.
  • 7.25 Identify issues related to historical events to recognize power, authority, religion, and governance as it relates to systemic oppression and its impact on indigenous peoples and ethnic and religious groups, and other traditionally marginalized groups in the modern era (bias, injustice, anti-Semitism, discrimination, stereotypes) including individuals who are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian or Americans of African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicano, Latino, or Middle Eastern descent and traditionally marginalized groups (women, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, religious groups, and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender).
  • 7.26 Analyze cause and effect relationships within the living histories of ethnic groups, religious groups and other traditionally marginalized groups in the Eastern Hemisphere.
  • 7.27 Critique and analyze information for point of view, historical context, distortion, propaganda and relevance including sources with conflicting information.
  • 8.21 Explain how historical technological developments (such as cotton gin, roads, railroads, canals, etc.), societal decisions, and personal practices interact with the physical environment in the United States (e.g., sustainability, economics ecosystems).
  • 8.29 Use and interpret relevant primary and secondary sources pertaining to U.S. History from multiple perspectives.
  • 8.31 Analyze intersecting identities and relationships within the living histories of ethnic groups such as individuals who are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian or Americans of African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicano, Latino, or Middle Eastern descent), religious groups, and other traditionally marginalized groups (women, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) in the United States.
  • HS.60 Analyze the history, culture, tribal sovereignty, and historical and current issues of the American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian in Oregon and the United States.
  • HS.61 Analyze and explain persistent historical, social and political issues, conflicts and compromises in regards to power, inequality and justice and their connections to current events and movements.
  • HS.63 Identify and analyze ethnic groups (including individuals who are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian or Americans of African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicano, Latino, or Middle Eastern descent), religious groups, and other traditionally marginalized groups (women, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender), their relevant historic and current contributions to Oregon the United States, and the world.
  • HS.65 Identify and analyze the nature of systemic oppression on ethnic and religious groups, as well as other traditionally marginalized groups, in the pursuit of justice and equality in Oregon, the United States and the world.
  • HS.66 Examine and analyze the multiple perspectives and contributions of ethnic and religious groups, as well as traditionally marginalized groups within a dominant society and how different values and views shape Oregon, the United States, and the world.
  • HS.69 Create and defend a historical argument utilizing primary and secondary sources as evidence.
  • HS.74 Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon, critiquing and evaluating characteristics, influences, causes, and both short- and long-term effects.

Additional Sources

Oregon Encyclopedia Entries

"Celilo Fish Committee (1935-1957)," by Andrew Fisher

"Columbia River," by William L. Lang

"Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission," by Laura Berg

Native American Treaties, Northeastern Oregon," by Cliff Trafzer

"Lillian Pitt," by Rebecca Dobkins

"Salmon," by Joseph E. Taylor

"Sk'in," by Andrew Fisher

"The Dalles Dam," by William F. Willingham

"Elizabeth Woody," by Janice Gould

"Tommy Thompson," by Andrew Fisher

Articles and Books

Aguilar, George W. Sr. "Celilo Lives on Paper." Oregon Historical Quarterly 108:4 (Winter 2007): 606-613.

Aguilar, George W. Sr. When the River Ran Wild! Indian Traditions on the Mid-Columbia and the Warm Springs Reservation Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 2005.

Allen, Cain. “Replacing Salmon: Columbia River Indian Fishing Rights and the Geography of Fisheries Mitigation.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 104 (2003): 196-227.

Barber, Katrine. Death of Celilo Falls. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005.

Fisher, Andrew H. “Tangled Nets: Treaty Rights and Tribal Identities at Celilo Falls.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 105 (2004): 178-211.

The Isaac I. Stevens and Joel Palmer Treaties, 1855-2005 special issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly Vol. 106, No. 3 (Fall 2005)

Jones, Eliza Elkins and George W. Aguilar, Sr. "Oregon Voices: Telling the History of a Shattered Culture: An Interview with George W. Aguilar, Sr. Oregon Historical Quarterly 106:2 (Summer 2005): 272-283.

Remembering Celilo Falls special issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly Vol. 108, No. 4, Winter 2007.

Ulrich, Roberta. Empty Nets: Indians, Dams, and the Columbia River. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1999.

Wilkinson, Charles. “Celilo Falls: At the Center of Western History.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 108:4 (Winter 2007): 532-42.

Harbarger, Molly. "Celilo's success might be path forward for Columbia River tribal housing - but it wasn't easy. The Oregonian May, 20, 2016.

Film

Celilo Falls silenced by the Dalles Dam. University of Oregon

Stories from the River - Celilo. Confluence Project

Websites

Celilo Falls History: Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Confluence Project Library: Celilo

Additional Lesson Plans

Experience Oregon: Oregon Historical Society: The Geography of Indigenous Oregon

Oregon Department of Education: Elizabeth Woody: Oregon Poet Laureate 2016-2018

Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State

Cite

The OE Staff. Celilo Falls. 2021. Retrieved from The Oregon Encyclopedia, https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/packets/9. (Accessed December 4, 2021.)

Teacher Guide

After examining and reading about the documents in this packet, answer the following questions:

  1. What did you learn about Native American seasonal food collection (also known as seasonal rounds)? How does the harvesting and preparing of salmon fit into these rounds?

  2. How would you describe the importance of Celilo Falls and other fishing sites along the Columbia River to Native Americans who lived, traded, and fished in the region for thousands of years?

  3. How do early EuroAmerican explorers to the region describe Celilo Falls in their maps and journals? How is this view of the river different from Native Americans who lived or traded in the region?

  4. How did EuroAmerican colonizers in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries view the Columbia River? Were places like Celilo Falls viewed as an asset or an obstacle to the developing economy?

  5. What role did treaties between the U.S. government and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama Nation, Nez Perce and unaffiliated Columbia River Indians play in the destruction or depletion of traditional Indian fisheries on the Columbia River?

  6. What are some of the reasons the federal government decided to build The Dalles Dam? Do you think the tribes who live in the region were compensated adequately?

  7. Provide some examples of how members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Yakama Nation advocated for their rights to fish on the Columbia River.

  8. How have Native Americans kept traditions and culture alive? What have they lost and what have they saved?

  9. What are tribes in Oregon and Washington doing to keep the tradition of sustainable salmon harvesting alive in the region? Visit the following websites to begin your research:

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Fish Habitat Restoration in the Umatilla River Basin

CTUIR Fisheries Habitat Program

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Fisheries Department

Nez Perce Tribe Fisheries Resources Management

Yakama Nation website