Native American issues come to the forefront

The History Club at Washington State University Vancouver seeks to engage students with the past. It has partnered with The Collective for Social and Environmental Justice, as well as the Clark County Historical Museum and the Washington State University Vancouver First Nations Club, to present four films that brought to life some of the struggles and history of Native Americans.

The films were screened over the past three Thursdays, and dealt with various aspects of Native American culture and history.

The first film in the series, “A Thousand Voices,” told the story of Native American women in New Mexico. It began with their creation stories, and discussed native history in New Mexico, covering the Spanish, Mexican and United States invasions. In the documentary, the women said that originally, women were tribal decision makers, not men. According to tradition, because the women were the ones who gave birth to the men, they got to decide if and when a life should be risked. The film noted that the culture had always been a matriarchal society, until the arrival of the Spanish.

The documentary then traced the influence of Spanish culture and patriarchal society on Native Americans in New Mexico. According to the film, Spanish representatives refused to deal with Native American women, and men were forced to become Native American representatives and decision makers. Over time women gradually lost the power they had held in society.

The second event featured two shorter films, “Celilo Falls and the Remaking of the Columbia River” and “The Lost Fish.” Before the films began, Wilbur Slockish, hereditary Chief of the Klickitat people, spoke. “There’s a lot of history that’s not in the books,” Slockish said. “It probably should be.” Slockish said that events such as forced relocations of Native Americans and the “loss of our food supply” should be remembered and taught.

The first film to be shown was “Celilo Falls and the Remaking of the Columbia River,” which comprised historical photos and film footage of the Native American fishery in Celilo. The salmon runs at Celilo were an important part not only of the Native Americans’ diet, but also their culture. Celilo Falls drew Native Americans from all over to come and trade for salmon.

The film detailed the United States government’s construction of a hydroelectric dam in 1957. The dam submerged Celilo Falls, and eliminated a traditional fishing location. “That’s why you don’t find any remnants of our villages there,” said Slockish. “The Bonneville Dam flooded our fishing spots.”

“The Lost Fish” was about the Pacific Lamprey, one of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest fish. According to the film, while millions of dollars have been spent on preserving salmon populations, the lamprey “has slipped through the cracks of conservation efforts and is now lost from most of its historic range in the Columbia Basin.” Members of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs Tribes have worked to keep the lamprey from becoming extinct, and have tried to bring political attention to the fish in hopes it will aid their efforts.

The final film screening was “Promised Land,” and discussed the Chinook and Duwamish tribes’ fights for federal recognition. The event opened with Sam Robinson, vice chair of the Chinook Indian Nation, leading a drum circle in a blessing song. These tribes were not recognized by the federal government in the 19th century, and have been fighting to become federally recognized tribes.

According to the film, the treaties did not actually give rights to American Indians, instead the treaties let tribes stay on lands they occupied and allowed access to traditional resources. The film noted that the last two tribes to be federally recognized worked nearly 30 years, cost the tribes hundreds of thousands of dollars in court and required the intervention from a federal court. The film noted that due to the costs involved, many unrecognized tribes have not tried to gain federal recognition.

In 2015 the Duwamish Tribe was denied federal recognition, and shortly afterwards the Bureau of Indian Affairs changed the criteria for federal recognition of Indian tribes. The change in criteria would have allowed the Duwamish to become federally recognized, but they were told they would not be allowed to appeal.

After the screening, Sarah Samudre Salcedo and Vasant Samudre Salcedo, the makers of the film, along with Robinson and Jane Pulliam, a Tribal Council Member of the Chinook Indian Nation, answered questions from the audience. Robinson said that “We’re not going to give up, we’re going to continue on and battle” to gain federal recognition.

“Promised Land” is not currently available on DVD, it is only viewable through community events, though it should be available later this year. To find out when it is released on DVD, or when and where future screenings will take place, visit the film’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/promisedlanddoc. More information on the film, along with the film’s trailer can be found at http://www.promisedlanddoc.com.

For more information on “A Thousand Voices,” visit http://silverbulletproductions.com/documentary-films/a-thousand-voices/.

For more information on “Celilo Falls and the Remaking of the Columbia River,” visit http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sgpubs/celilo-falls-and-remaking-columbia-river-dvd.

For more information on “The Lost Fish,” visit http://thelostfish.org/.

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