Monument for Celilo will engender a sense of place


PORTLAND — Last weekend a group dedicated to preserving the indigenous history of the Columbia River unveiled its latest project: a memorial that will let visitors experience the sense of what Celilo Falls once was and now is.

Before the The Dalles Dam was built in 1957, Celilo Falls was a gathering place for American Indians for 10,000 years. It was one of the best fisheries on the Columbia River, where water thundered over the rocks in several waterfalls.

In an effort to memorialize what was once there, and still remains deep under the surface of the pooled water, the Confluence Project plans to build a memorial designed my Maya Lin. (Lin is known for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial.) She has worked with the Confluence Project to build memorials at six points along the Columbia River, marking where rivers meet and American Indians gathered throughout history.

“Celilo is the last site and is considered in many ways the crown jewel of all the sites,” said Aili Schreiner, project director for the Celilo site, “because of its incredible cultural significance.”

Last Sunday, Nov. 7, the Confluence Project unveiled a model of Lin’s planned memorial: a 300-foot-long arch walkway. It will start in Celilo Park, then slowly rise up to a high point 20 feet off the ground, then dip back toward the water ending in lookout over the water.

“It was inspired by the fishing planks that historically were there, part of the culture and livelihood for tribal and non-tribal members,” Schreiner said. “The sides are woven in appearance, inspired from traditional baskets made and used along the river and at Celilo.”

A visitor walking along the arch will take a journey through the Celilo experience.

Something not seen on the small model are the words that will be inscribed along the walkway.

The words will tell of the geological history. They will tell of what Lewis and Clark saw when they came to the great falls. They will describe what it was like to fish at Celilo, with the sound of the falls thundering all around.

“The description of the visceral sensation of being in the presence of the falls,” Schreiner described, “the sound, smell, feeling of the mist described in the physical presence the falls had.”

The words on the walkway will describe the opposition American Indians voiced when the dam was proposed. Lastly, it will lead to the calm, flat water, with no words to interfere with experiencing the present.

“As the person is experiencing this introduction to this place, people and history — as they walk toward the end they have a sensory description in their minds,” Schreiner said. “When they come to the end they will be met with the change that is there. The flatness of the water. The silence. It is really meant to be a place to reflect about a lot of things.”

While the memorial is just a model now, the Confluence project is planning for the future. It needs to raise $2.5 million more to build it. It plans to have the memorial finished and ready for dedication at the end of 2012.

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