Rhythm of the River

Indian Tribes in the Pacific Northwest are working to restore salmon habitat.

By Ken Olsen; photographs by Scott Spiker

Celilo Falls was once a magnificent series of rapids, channels, and chutes stair-stepping through the Columbia River Gorge along the Oregon-Washington border. But that changed when the Dalles Dam was completed in March 1957. Its construction—part of the hydropower-dam building boom that seized the country early in the twentieth century—flooded Celilo Falls, decimating a salmon population that drove a thriving Indian trading economy and upsetting a diverse ecosystem the size of France.

Today, the tribes who have fished these waters for centuries have banded together to create a unique agency, The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which is dedicated to saving the region’s salmon. The commission has teamed up with sport and commercial fishermen, conservation groups, and businesses to support a lengthy court battle to force the federal government to deal with dams that are eradicating fish. A federal judge is expected to rule in this case by early next year. The outcome could require the feds to take meaningful steps to restore 13 stocks of threatened and endangered salmon.

To learn more about fishermen on the Columbia River, check out the October/November issue of Plenty.