At Celilo Falls, the energy of the water was really powerful.
I could just feel the mist spray your face, even if you stood far away. The falls had a roar that was so loud you could hear it from miles and miles away. Even in the next town over, The Dalles, you could hear it. It was an echo that you could feel in your heart.
That feeling of the powerful sound feels like the truth of our way of life. I was little, but I could imagine the strength of that water.
And then the smell of the falls, you could smell the salmon, the saltiness of it. It smelled so fresh. There was also the smell of salmon cooking. It was beautiful.
That’s the way it was for me. I loved it, even though I had to follow rules called “protocol.” I was also not allowed to be down by the river alone because I was so young. Grandpa would get everybody up at 4:30 in the morning. The women would prepare lunch, and the men, like my dad and my uncles and Grandpa, would go out on the river with their nets to fish for the day. I would see all of them down there catching fish.
The salmon were so big they had to fight to get food. I think it didn’t bother them to be on the scaffolds—those are wooden platforms they built just above the water. I think for them just to get that salmon was a fight in itself. All day long, they would fish.
My grandfather would pray to the river and to the Creator for the salmon to feed the people. Salmon is a gift from the Creator. Salmon provided its body, itself, to us for our nourishment. We need to cherish that. Everything needs water. Our bodies are full of water.
I used to get a cup and dip it into the Columbia River and drink it. That’s how clean the water used to be. He taught us that if we take care of the river, it takes care of us.
We have a relationship with the river, a connection. It’s a connection between us and water and Mother Earth. Water has its own intelligence. It flows wherever it wants. It does what it wants. It’s like they say, water is life.
I hope you are able to take a trip along the Columbia River. Enjoy our river, enjoy nature and the view. Look at the rocks and the water.
There’s history there.
Linda Meanus is an Elder, educator, member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, and
author of the upcoming book My Name is LaMoosh to be published spring 2023 from Oregon State University Press. This piece is an excerpt from it. Find more on the book here: https://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/my-name-is-lamoosh.