Longview United Methodists Church and on through Celilo Falls and the Palouse

Totem Pole Journey Days Four and Five
August 26-27, 2016
Dr. Kurt Russo, Journey Organizer

The residents of Longview are being asked to accept the construction and operation of the Millennium Bulk Terminal. If built it would be one of the largest coal export port terminals in North America, exporting 44 million tons of coal every year to Asian markets. Impacts of the associated train traffic would reach beyond Longview to cities, towns, rivers, and countryside in Idaho and Montana that would suffer the consequences of the dramatically increased number of 1½ mile-long coal trains. It is little wonder that over a quarter million comments were submitted to Washington State’s Department of Ecology by communities such as Longview that were alarmed and appalled by the potential adverse impacts of the proposed terminals and the associated coal trains.

The totem pole journey organizers were asked by local residents to bring the totem pole the United Methodists Church in Longview for a blessing, and to add our voices to their efforts to defeat this foolhardy and feckless proposal.   We have every reason to believe the residents will succeed in defeating the proposal. Looking around the large gathering on the lawn near the church we saw young, middle-age and elderly residents as well as many members of the Cowlitz Tribe, including their Chairman Bill Iyall.

Chairman Iyall emphasized the importance of unity among tribes and between all the communities to defend our natural and cultural heritage. He thanked the Lummi Nation for leading the way in the defeat of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point. His emphasis on unity was reiterated by Jewell James who thanked the faith-based community, the nongovernmental organizations, and people from many different walks of life who are standing up—and who now know they are not alone. “The large oak is in the tiny acorn,” Mr. James said. “We are all in this together.”

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” totem pole journey documentarist Fred Lane said when the event was concluding. “The same old game. These corporations think they rule over us. I’m looking around and thinking, no. They might have profits and the politicians but we have the power of the people who would pay the price.”   Mr. Lane was touching the heart of the matter. The journey is not about a totem pole. It is about the force that brings and keeps people together for the greater good and that honors the creation.

As the pastor of the church noted, this is not just a Native American issue. It is an issue that goes to the heart of our democracy, our democratic faith, our belief in ourselves, and, ultimately, the fate of life on earth. “It touches all of us,” he said, “like that boy, over there, laying his hands on the eagle on the totem pole. Our spirits are moved, and moving together.”


Celilo Falls, Washington
On nearly every one of the totem pole journeys, Mr. James makes it a point to stop at the small Native village at Celilo Falls. Until the Dalles Dam was completed in 1957 the Falls was one of the most culturally significant natural wonders in North America. This maze of basaltic islands and narrow channels has been a sacred site for Native peoples for at least 10,000 years.

It was a force that shaped a way of life. The people of Cello Village have not forgotten. They remember and they continue their prayers for the forces of this sacred place, for the salmon, and that the Columbia River will one day again run fast and free. Although the journeyers did not stop at the village this year they did go down to the Columbia River near Celilo Falls to pay their respects and add their prayers for the eventual resurrection and resurgence of The Great River.

Into the Palouse

Leaving Celilo, we traveled north and east to make our way to Sandpoint, Idaho. Most of the day was spent driving through the Palouse region in eastern Washington. The name derives from the French word “pelouse” meaning a grassy expanse. The Palouse tribe is also native to this region, calling themselves pallotepellows, or “the people living in the gooseberry valley.”

Those native grassy valleys would soon disappear. In the 1860s cattlemen moved into the Palouse bioregion. Initially the settlers used the hills as pasture, but they were soon farming these slopes, as well. By 1869 the first grain crops were grown in this bioregion, and within ten years of the first plowing water tables in low-lying meadows dropped below the level to allow tilling. The increase in the conversion of native prairie vegetation to field or pasture resulted in the draining of wetlands. Equipment enabled farmers to utilize the steep slopes, further shrinking the habitat for native flora and fauna .

By the early-1880s, the Palouse Prairie had been badly overgrazed and large-scale effects of non-native herbivores were found throughout much of the rangeland of the interior Columbia basin as Cheat Grass replaced native plant species in the steppe region. Between 1940 and 1992 the number of cattle more than doubled, with cattle becoming the dominant grazing animal in the region.

Since 1900, 94% of grasslands and 97% of wetlands in the Palouse have been converted to pasture lands, crop, and hay production.87 Native flora such as the Idaho fescue, Rough fescue, Smallheat goldenweed, and Jessic aster have been replaced by wheat, barley, and lentils, as well as yellow star thistle and twenty-nine other introduced species. The disturbance of the ecosystem has also resulted in the severe reduction in the richness and abundance of native fauna such as the

mule deer, spotted frog, sharp-tailed grouse, while the whitetail jack rabbit and the ferruginous hawk have been nearly extirpated as breeding populations. Of the once-continuous native prairie dominated by mid-length perennial grasses,little more than 1 percent remains, making the Palouse Prairie one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States.