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Celilo: What was it like?

Ocean Kuykendall, one of 15 teachers in the Mid-Columbia region to receive a $3,000 grant from Confluence Project’s Gifts from Our Ancestors, gathered 180 middle school students to hear Native American voices of today share how their culture, customs and the Columbia River continue to be a strong current in their lives.

“I want students to understand the legacy of Celilo,” said Kuykendall, “and the importance of the place to the tribal people, even 50 years after its death.”

With a goal to create a deep understanding and empathy of what it might have been like to be a Northwest stakeholder during the loss of Celilo Falls, each Traditional Artist, all of whom are a tribal members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, found their unique way to share that.

Ed Edmo lived in Celilo Village and was 11 years old when the falls were flooded. He helped students understand what it was like to be an “Indian” after the settlement of “non-natives” at Celilo Falls. Sharing photographs with students Edmo wove personal stories of the prejudices he experienced as a youth and told traditional stories he learned from his father.

“My dad used to tell me these stories at bedtime, “ said Edmo. “I remembered them all.”

Jefferson Greene, a community advocate, shared with students songs and stories that continue to be an important contemporary cultural practice for the Columbia River People. Students then created their own personal stories and transformed them into a visual art piece.

As a commercial fisherwoman, cultural anthropologist, traditional beader and food gatherer, Brigette Scott communicated many aspects of her present-day culture including language, customs, clothing, shelter, economics, and ethno-botanical (interaction between people and plants) uses of plants in the Columbia River Gorge.

Students will continue to explore native plants by writing legends, creating botanical paintings of the plants and molding their stories into clay.

In their Social Studies class, they will evaluate the social, cultural and economic impacts of the construction of The Dalles Dam.

“The kids were deeply moved by the stories surrounding the devastation of Celilo,” said Kuykendall.

“They found out what happened when the people of Celilo were relocated and how this affected their lives.”

Erika Rench is the Confluence Project education coordinator.

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