Harmony dominated the Sinixt or Arrow Lakes People of northeast Washington State until 1930. Talk of a great dam being erected at Grand Coulee, Washington struck fear and tension reservation wide. Traditional fishing could be lost forever. Would be lost forever. Backwater would force towns, graveyards and other historical sites to relocate.
Backwater would soon travel as far as 151-miles upstream, later to be christened Lake Roosevelt, after President Roosevelt. This grand dam was about to annihilate a whole lifestyle for many tribes covering hundreds of miles. Native Americans from as far as Montana would rendezvous at the plunging falls during the spring and summer months to spear and net anywhere from fifty- to ninety-pound Chinook, Coho and Sockeye. Yet, they would never again journey to spawn this far north because fish ladders were not built into the dam’s structure.
Once again, the Sinixt people and other bands were to be dislodged. There was no choice and no one asked the People. Little compensation was rendered. Consequently, families and businesses were uprooted. A gushing flood would soon swallow a way of life once familiar.
“People were angry,” said Mrs. Marguerite Lemery Ensminger, an eighty-seven-year-old member of the Sinixt band who remembers the days before life changed forever. Mrs. Ensminger went on to say, “Anyone who deserved the money is old or dead. They were kids then. The original people never saw anything.” Her words hung thick in the air as she cast her eyes down at the table from her wheelchair as I chatted with her the summer of 1999.
The old town of Inchelium, home of the Sinixt and Colville bands, would feel the footsteps walking on its worn soil for the last time in 1940. In June of 1941, workers completed the Grand Coulee Dam. Flood waters traveled 151-miles upstream engulfing 135-feet of land, farms and communities. They were literally swallowed by a flood.
1. The line was drawn between Canada and the United Stated, extending to the Pacific Ocean, in 1849 and divided the upper and lower Lakes or Sinixt people.
2. The Lakes or Sinixt people on the lower end of the 49th Parallel were added to the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State in 1872.
3. Grand Coulee Dam began construction in July 16, 1933.
4. In June 1941, Native Americans throughout the Northwest met at the Falls for the “Ceremony of Tears”. It only took one month for the Kettle Falls to disappear from backwater.
5. The reservoir was full and the first water flowed over the dam’s spillway on June 1, 1942
A rush of water
Concrete halts the salmon runs
Swallowed by the Flood
Lakes Language as taught to me by Elder Marguerite Ensminger as seen in The Heart Trilogy by Carmen Peone.
Columbia River Sin Eequatchka
Sin ee- quaw-t-ch-ka
See- woo- lth- k (lth is a sound made when the tongue is pressed against the back teeth and one blows gently)
I would love to hear from you about the Grand Coulee Dam. Have you been there? What was your impression of the dam?