Ancient Indian Fishing Grounds
Subject: Before dam construction on the Columbia River, the falls were ancient fishing grounds of all the Indian tribes of the middle Columbia River area.
Before a network of dams controlled the Columbia River it was often a raging torrent. Here at Wyam Falls, known today as Celilo Falls, a vertical drop of more than 20 feet and sheer basalt bluffs on either shore forced the river into seething, boiling rapids.
From time immemorial this region comprised the fishing grounds of all Indian tribes of the middle Columbia River area. Early Indians speared huge salmon while standing on the the rocks and their descendants built platforms over the rushing waters from which they gathered fish in long-handled nets. These fishing grounds and the right to take fish from the Columbia River were reserved in 1855 treaties between the tribes and the United States.
Dam construction, which began in the 1930s, forever altered the river’s character. When The Dalles Dam was completed in 1957, the storage basin behind it filled in above the falls and inundated the fishing grounds. Treaty reserved fishing rights, however, continue to be exercised by Indian people in the middle Columbia River area. The loss of Wyam Falls did not mean the loss of the Indian way of life.
Hwy/milepost: I-84 MP 97