The Oregon Journal, Portland, OR., June 15, 1952, page B8
WHITE MEN INSPECT INDIAN BURIAL ISLAND
A SETTLEMENT MUST BE MADE
The Dalles Dam to Cover Hallowed Area
By Art Chenowith
For the first time since the dawn of creation, Indians
of the Celilo area a few days ago allowed white men to inspect the ancient
burial island of Upper Memaloose, in the Columbia river, a few miles above
Not all the Indians were in favor of seeing white men tread on ground that has been a hallowed for centuries by the Wish-ham or Wish-Kum tribe. But it was a trip of necessity. This was realized by Chief Tommy Thompson of the Celilo tribe and others.
You see, the burial island soon will be no more. The reservoir of The Dalles dam will cover the projection. Some settlement on the matter must be made with the Indians.
SO FLORA Thompson, wife of Chief Tommy, conducted the trip
for officials of the army engineers and the Indian bureau and invited
representatives of The Journal along, too. The chief himself would have gone
along, for he has four grandchildren buried there, but a recent bout with
pneumonia kept him away.
Flora said the party members were the first white men ever on the island, but Wheeler H. Rucker, project engineer for The Dalles-Celilo canal, said it was likely at least a few fishermen had touched there. Also, he pointed out, a big stone monument on the island peak probably was erected with the help of white men.
AT ANY RATE, it was the first time the Indians had agreed
to let white men inspect the site, which is surrounded by barbed-wire to
keep violators away. The Journal's Herb Alden almost certainly was the first
white man ever allowed to photograph the burial place, and possibly the first
person of any race to do so.
So there was an air of exploration about the trip when the 11 members of the party were ferried in small boats, three at a time, over the half-mile of choppy water from the Oregon side to the craggy projection.
Other Indians along where Flora's son, Max Boise, and a Celilo tribe council member, Abraham Showaway. Missing was Oscar Charlie, Wish-Ham custodian for the island, who lives at Spearfish on the Washington side.
THE ISLAND is just a little chunk of rock, about 200x300
yards, harried by winds and barren of growth, except for a few unpretty wild
blossoms and a strange clump of little cactus. The only structures other
than the white monument are three weathered, unpainted wooden huts, which
contain the bodies of the more recent dead.
The party looked at the monument first. About 12 feet high, it was erected in 1935 in honor of all Indians buried there. It declares that by act of congress the island is reserved for Indian burials.
Byron Price, chief of the Portland district, corps of engineers, real estate division, said, "Normal pool behind the dam will be about 160 feet, which will cover the island completely but leave about 10 feet of the monument out of water."
It was Floras first look at the monument. Her last visit had been 20 years ago. Neither of the other Indians had visited before.
The party then walked over the island, members being careful to follow Flora's lead lest they violate tribal customs. Many bleached bones lay about, some so old they crumbled at the touch. Flora said the Wish-Hams have used the island "since creation."
A number of coffins also lay about on the ground, some empty, some not. All were placed with one end lowered. Flora explained the Indians place the bodies with the heads down for two years.
Then the burial party returns and sews the body into a buckskin sheath. Together with the dead person's jewelry, blankets, clothing and some household goods, the body is then placed in one of the wooden huts. Each of the three huts belongs to a different family and huts are locked to keep out vandals.
THEN HUTS are a fairly modern idea. In ancient times,
stones were piled over the bodies and many of these piles still are there.
Another ancient practice was to put the bodies into huts of woven reeds.
All these had long since moldered away, but some pieces of woven-reed material
still were to be seen.
The door of one of the huts had fallen in or been broken in and the party could see stacks of buck-skin sheaths and piles of coffins. Flora did not know how recently any Indians had been buried there. The smell of death was unmistakable, but old, yet some of the coffins looked fairly recent.
Such personal belongings are has not placed with the body are given away by the survivors, Flora said. If those belongings were allowed to remain in the dead person's home, " it would be Spokane there, " she said.
That huts doors all face east and the bodies are place with the heads to the east, which in the Indian view makes the bodies face to the west.
THE INDIANS believe this allows the dead to face toward
eternity and when the resurrection comes, the living Indians will come from
the east to open the doors and allow the dead to rise.
After about an hour, Flora indicated she was ready to return to the mainland and the party was ferried back. Price said the trip was a fact-gathering tour and that the government doesn't yet know what will be done about to the island.
"The wishes of the Indians probably will be complied with," he said. Others in the party not previously mentioned where R.V. Thompson, assistant to Price; Perry Othus, handling Indian affairs for the district engineers; Jasper W. Elliott, his assistant, and Clarence Davis, district agent of the bureau of Indian affairs.
© Jeffrey L. Elmer