Department or Program



For 11,000 years, Celilo Falls was the most important salmon fishery and trading locale for Indigenous people living in the Columbia River Basin and the greater Pacific Northwest. In 1957, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the floodgates of the newly constructed Dalles Dam, and, within four hours, Celilo Falls drowned. This thesis examines the inundation of Celilo Falls through the perspectives of narrative, meaning-making, and historical memory. The first chapter uses the writings of early nineteenth-century explorers and settlers, such as Lewis and Clark, and analyzes how the first American narratives of Celilo began the process of meaning-making for the space that would ultimately lead to inundation. The second chapter explores the conflict between Native people and Americans along the Columbia River during the twentieth century, looking at American art, songs, Native stories, newspaper articles, and government reports to better understand the perception of Celilo for Native and non-Native actors. The third chapter studies the era of dam construction and the negotiations between the U.S. government and Native people. Finally, the conclusion explores narratives of Celilo post-inundation. It analyzes Native storytelling, poetry, novels, and school curricula to understand how Celilo is remembered and memorialized. Additionally, it delves into conversations surrounding dam removal both in Maine and on the Columbia River. Influential narratives constructed and perpetuated by Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries characterized Celilo Falls as a hindrance to progress and as a resource for technological advancement, which ultimately led to inundation. This starkly opposed the Native conceptualization of Celilo as a home, a meeting place, a place of bounty and wealth, and a space of cultural and spiritual importance. This thesis underscores the relationship between place, narrative, and meaning-making, as well as its consequential and lasting effects.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Baker, Andrew

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file

Open Access

Available to all.