Tanna Engdahl: Our Writing Was Our Words

Tanna Engdahl discusses the movements of the sky, origin stories, and how words passed on knowledge.

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.


But we understood how to get to the mountains and study from that altitude. We have a site, a sacred site, I won’t say where it is. But there is remnants of our culture that was there and we know it was there to study the sky movements. We probably had, as part of our origin stories things that related to the stars, to the sun and the moon and the movements there and how that relationship affected the land. I wish I could’ve lived then. I would’ve been one of those people that studied the stars and on nights when I can, I try to get out there. But that’s just part of the DNA. Back then, before we were interrupted I think we had vast knowledge. But it’s not the kind of thing we had in writing because we didn’t have writing…our writing was our words handed down to our children. That was our writing. And that was interrupted. So what we have is the things that non-Cowlitz wrote about us and the confusion there.

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