Tanna Engdahl: Forming a Strong Core, After Loss

Tanna Engdahl talks about the loss due to disease and because of land grabs, and how the Cowlitz formed a core stronghold in response.

Bio: Tanna Engdahl is a Cowlitz Elder and spiritual leader. She is also an associate supervisor of the Clark Conservation District and a board member with the Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Her past career has included work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, working as Public Affairs Chief for both NPS and Bureau of Land Management. She is the founder of the Cowlitz Medicine Women.


They brought in disease that we had no knowledge of in our systems. And we lost thousands. Not hundreds, not tens, we lost thousands. Where we had villages in the Upper Cowlitz, the Lower Cowlitz, the Lewis River Cowlitz, the Columbia River into the Willapa hills…we lost thousands of people. That was the great beginning of the decline of our village life. Because there were times when the disease was so powerful and we had no defense, that it killed everyone. It killed everyone in a village and there was literally no one to bury the dead. That’s what the carrion birds were for. They cleaned up the land, the bodies where they lay. Survivors fled to wherever they could outrun the disease. And basically I think what was left of us in those major strongholds–because we were Cowlitz–we came back together and formed that core. And remember this was a time when we realized that a lot of losses besides the disease, a lot of our losses was because of some sort of paper that said whatever the white man wanted it to say and then they took that paper and said this is our land now, this is a deed. We began to understand how valuable that paper was and what was written on it. And that’s the remnants of those great strongholds come back and we understood we had to learn that. As a small of a group as we were, I can remember, the grange halls where we would meet and pass a hat, for education. To get somebody educated. I can remember that. And we became–like we were at everything else–we became good at it.

Related Content