Roberts grew up six miles away just outside The Dalles, a descendant of an early settler family. Although they grew up in the same area and are the same age, their lives were lived in parallel fashion because of the differences in their ethnic heritage. During their childhoods, signs in the windows of businesses read, “No dogs or Indians allowed.” Their juxtaposed stories give a full picture of rural Oregon and the parallel lives they led along the N’chi-Wana River. They are both authors of the chapter “Celilo Falls: Parallel Lives Along N’chi-Wana,” titled “In seeing color: Indigenous People and Racialized Ethnic Minorities in Oregon.”
In the chapter, retired professor Roberts and elder and educator Edmo write about their shared, yet separate experiences growing up in The Dalles during the 1950s. Edmo is Shoshone Bannock, Nez Perce, Yakama and Siletz and lived at the fishing village at Celilo Falls until its inundation in March 1957.
Roberts (Ph.D., B.A., Philosophy, University of Oregon) was a faculty member in the Philosophy Department at Oregon State University from spring 1989 through spring 2011. She has now retired and moved east of the Cascades, back home to the Columbia Gorge where her family settled in the 1860s. During her time in the Oregon State University Philosophy Department, Roberts directed the Graduate Program, coordinated the Applied Ethics Certificate, and directed the Peace Studies Program. She was a founding member of Faculty and Staff for Peace and Justice at OSU, and a member of AFAPC (Association of Faculty for the Advancement of People of Color).
N’che Wana Neighbors:
Excerpt from Edmo and Roberts: “The Oregon we know today has been shaped by innumerable forces, on her peoples and on her land; often these dynamics have profoundly impacted both. Careful examination of relationships resulting from the cohabitation of indigenous peoples, European immigrants and their descendants yields valuable lessons basic to understanding our contemporary Oregon experience, especially as it pertains to modifications of the natural world and the lived realities of her peoples.
“The European Americans who sailed up the River or who moved west in the 1800s settled on land which ‘belonged’ to everyone and to no one person in particular until that time. The parceling of this land through grants of homesteads resulted in the phenomenon of private ownership of pieces of the earth by specific individual people. This process involved conflict, cooperation and profound consequences for people and nature. The effects continue today as the descendants of Native peoples and immigrants struggle to live together in a depleted natural environment.
“We grew up in the mid-Columbia River area, near The Dalles, on the border between Oregon and Washington ...
“Although we grew up in the same area and are the same age, our lives were lived in parallel fashion because of the differences in our ethnic heritage.
“Ed is Native American, Lani is European-American. Ed is a well-known story teller, poet and author. Lani teaches philosophy at Oregon State University.
“Our worlds intersected some 12 years ago when Ed was an invited speaker for a conference on Environmental Justice sponsored by the Philosophy Department and then, again, when Ed’s daughter, Se-ah-dom, became one of Lani’s students.
“This provided an opportunity for us to talk and to share stories of our childhoods growing up near The Dalles. It soon became painfully clear that our lives were divergent and at odds in ways explainable only by the racism and sexism the dominant culture imposes on Native peoples. We believe the alternative perceptions and experiences of our lives inform the tangible and actual harms done to some by the sheer blindness, ignorance and arrogance of others.
“We have very different memories of growing up, living near the river, the destruction of Celilo Falls, the local city-owned swimming pool, the Granada Theater and The Dalles High School mascot. We grew up in the same geographical space but lived in radically different worlds. Ed, his family and other Native people have suffered profound effects of racism that Lani, her family and most of the white people did not comprehend.
“We live together yet apart. We are estranged.”
“I grew up in a house built by my great-great grandfather in 1868. The land upon which the house and cherry orchard were located was deeded as a homestead. This acreage, like much of the North American continent, was considered empty and unused by the immigrating Europeans. I grew up with just this conception but learned later that the local Native peoples had ceded millions of acres in the mid-Columbia area in an 1851 treaty. In addition to the cherry orchard, the Roberts family had also homesteaded a wheat and cattle ranch running alongside the Deschutes River, lost to the family in the Great Depression.
“My great-grandfather served in the Oregon Legislature in the 1920’s and the room at the back of the Congregational Church sanctuary, opened for overflow crowds on Christmas and Easter, is dedicated to him as well. I was the fourth generation of my father’s family to graduate from The Dalles High School. My roots are deep in the mid-Columbia region.”
“I was born on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nevada in 1946. My grandparents lived at Celilo, a fishing village located at the falls for about 15,000 years.
Celilo was a central seasonal gathering site for tribal people throughout the northwest, walking in from what is now southeastern Idaho, the Spokane area, Burns and the Washington and Oregon Coasts to fish, trade and socialize. We traded dentillium shells, buffalo products, Wocas (roots) and stories. My Grandma was Nez Perce; my Grandpa was Yakama. I guess that Mom wrote Grandma and they made a plan that we’d all visit. It’s been a long visit! We moved to the River when I was six months old.
“My home is the river. The river was a welcome playmate which never had to be called in for supper. The sound of the river is soothing to my ears, like a lullaby. The river was always a friend. We have been on the River for a long, long, long time, fishing, root digging, hunting and trading along “N’Che Wana,” “The Big River,” as we called the Columbia River. There were legends about white people coming.”