Tanna Engdahl: Of Course We Wouldn’t Leave

Tanna Engdahl talks about the Cowlitz spiritual connection and the determination not to leave their homeland.

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.


At a time when we were compelled to leave this land, we wouldn’t. We had the mountains, the streams, the prairies, the mists, the rivers, the rain, everything that is a life force on this planet. We had everything here. And of course we wouldn’t leave. Not one of our chiefs or sub-chiefs wanted to leave and not one would sign the treaty that would take us away from this land. We were asked to go over to the coast among people that we were not friendly with, in a place that was not our place. Our place was here. And so we wouldn’t leave. We would suffer all the consequences of hell if we had to but we wouldn’t leave. My own thought is how could we leave? This is where our ancestors are buried and this is where we wanted to be buried. We wanted to live here but we also wanted to die here and we didn’t want our people to leave us. So our tremendous spirit is here. That’s one of the things I think no one ever really understood about the Cowlitz. Not the people that were trying to force us to leave. Not the people that came here later and took our lands and drove us off the river.

Not the people that continued to fight us when we had to come back and coalesce to form a core group to fight for what became recognition–the reservation, a land base. And all those people that fought us, whether they were other tribes, whether they were the people who wanted our homeland, or the people that just wanted to ignore the original people that was here. What they didn’t understand was the power of a Tamanawas. Tamanawas for each individual Cowlitz is the spirit connection. It’s understanding of the soul level and the connection Tamanawas. So strong and so powerful because it was partially made up of our creation, our relationship to the Creator and our ancestors. The people who tried to drive us away never understood what they were dealing with.

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