Oregeon Tribal members bid goodbye to their old village

Celilo Village, Oregon (AP) 9-07

To those who zipped past it on Interstate-84, Celilo Village near The Dalles seemed a horrid slum, but it has been home to many Columbia River tribal members for a half-century.

The homes, many built with third-rate World War II surplus materials, are destined for the wrecking ball. residents are in temporary homes while new ones are built.

But for some, it is a bittersweet time. In a temporary doublewide mobile home, Karen Whitford sat on her couch preparing to say goodbye to Celilo Village’s old houses at a recent ceremony at the village longhouse and remembered.

“I go down there and take long, long looks,” she said. “(I go) where I grew up, a lot of strong memories down there.”

She has returned to the vacant home where her late parents, Chief Howard Jim and Maggie Waters Jim, raised her, where she received what she calls her “Indian education.”

The temporary homes are part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ long-promised redevelopment project.

“There was a lot of history here. Then there was a proposal for The Dalles Dam,” Whitford said to the 50 or so people in the longhouse.

“We, all of our families, we were relocated, we were made to enroll (with separate tribes). Families were divided.”

Celilo Village survived because treaties from the 1850s ceded millions of acres to the government for promises that they could live and fish at their traditional sites including nearby Celilo Falls, submerged by the new The Dalles Dam reservoir in 1957.

“The roar was loud. There was mist from the falls; it was like rain. You could even smell the fish when they were coming up,” said Ronnie Jim, Whitford’s brother and a lifelong village resident who knew the falls as a child.

Bonneville Dam drowned several upstream fisheries and villages when it closed its floodgates in 1938, prompting Congress to let the Corps build replacement fishing sites, some of which were decades in coming.

Other river towns were rebuilt with better materials. At Celilo Village residents said the water pressure was so low that sewage sometimes backed up into the system.

In 1948 and 1955 the Corps put new houses above the future reservoir.

Ada Frank moved into one of them.

“When we moved in here it was so good, you know electricity, stove and everything like that,” Frank said.

But the houses contained asbestos and lead paint and shoddy sewer and water systems began to fail.

George Miller, the Corps’ project manager for Celilo Village’s redevelopment, said it was clear early-on that the relocation program was inadequate.

Many dislodged families were sent elsewhere, some to other reservations, for lack of housing at the village.

Fifty years later some families are gone and others have moved in. Many tribal members continue to use their fishing rights.

Seven weeks ago the residents moved to their temporary homes.

After the ceremony Linda George Meanus and Jim lingered in the longhouse.

Meanus grew up there but lives in Portland for medical reasons.

Jim, who has lived there for all but 5 of his 58 years, has mixed feelings.

“(That place holds) a lot of memories in my life; it will be hard to see it go,” he said.

The village’s younger men who still fish the river didn’t attend. Their fishing season opened the day before and they had families to support.

Chief Olsen Meanus was listed as a main speaker, but pulled his nets from the river as the meeting began, cared for his boat and his catch and left as the elders finished speaking.

Some said just the old buildings, not life at the village, would disappear.

“It will never be a goodbye,” Linda George Meanus said. “Maybe it’s closure from what they took away from us.”

The Dalles Chronicle http://www.gorgenews.com/