Johnny Jackson: “In the Beginning We Were All One”

Johnny Jackson talks about the chief system, place names, and the history of the river.

Bio: Johnny Jackson is a respected elder and honorary Columbia River Chief representing the Cascades Band. He served in the army in the ‘50s and has been a fisherman for many years. Currently, he serves as a Yakama Commissioner for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s (CRITFC). Johnny Jackson is not only a strong advocate for fishing rights, but is outspoken in preserving cultural places and protecting places/resources from further development and deterioration. He lives near the confluence of the Columbia and White Salmon rivers in Underwood, WA.


Celilo was a great place, my grandfather was a Chief there, Tommy Thompson. After he passed on his son, my uncle Henry Thompson was the next Chief. He passed on, his oldest son would not follow because he didn’t want to be a Chief, he didn’t know how. My grandfather when he passed on, my uncle, my oldest, oldest one, he was in his place. But he never really wanted to follow it. He knew he was a Chief. When he passed on it came down to his younger brother, Wilbur (Slockish?) dad and now it’s down to Wilbur. I have the center seat of the Chief of the Cascades where my people, my dad, but that doesn’t mean I’m a Cascade and not a Klickitat or a Wishram or Wasco.

That’s where the people get confused and they think well there’s this tribe here and there’s this tribe over here. In the beginning–the people used to say in the beginning we were all one. On both sides of the river. We didn’t have them names. When Lewis and Clark came down the river they gave them different names, ’cause they couldn’t pronounce the names the people had. So they gave them names. A lot of them names like Spearfish and whatnot, that’s White Man’s name, white man’s Underwood. It was a man’s name that lived–married my grandma, one of my grandmas. I had two grandmas that lived there in Underwood, in that village. His name was Underwood. That’s how they got that name.

I used to have to stay with them grandmas when I was little because my grandfather did not want me down by the river, afraid I might fall in and lose me, so I had to stay with my grandmas. That’s how I learned about the place where I lived. There’s a lot of history about this river. There’s a lot of history about this area.

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