When the gates on The Dalles Dam closed in 1957, Celilo Falls was flooded and a vital salmon fishery for Yakama and Warm Springs tribal people was forever changed. Warm Springs Tribal Elder Linda Meanus was a young girl at the time, being raised by her grandparents, Flora Thompson and Chief Tommy Thompson, near the Columbia River in Celilo Village. In that bustling community along the Columbia River where salmon provided sustenance and a way of life, she learned about the importance of first foods, and gained an abiding reverence for her Indigenous culture and language. More than six decades later, Meanus has written “My Name is LaMoosh,” a chronicle of her early life in Celilo Village and a tribute to the legacy of her grandmother to whom the book is dedicated. Meanus joins us to talk about her new book which was published by OSU Press in collaboration with Confluence and historian Katy Barber.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Jenn Chávez: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Jenn Chávez. Celilo Falls once flowed and roared on the Columbia River. And in its full glory was the center of a vital salmon fishery and trading community for Yakima and Warm Springs tribal people. But the Falls were flooded in 1957 when the US Army Corps of Engineers finished building the Dalles Dam, changing the river and people’s lives forever.
Warm Springs tribal elder Linda Meanus was raised by her grandparents in nearby Celilo Village. All these years later she’s written a new book for young readers called “My Name is LaMoosh” about life in Celilo Falls and the legacy of her grandmother Flora. It was published by OSU Press in collaboration with Confluence and historian Katy Barber. I am so honored to be joined today by Linda Meanus to talk more about her book. Linda, thank you so much for being here.
Linda Meanus: Thank you for having me, I enjoy doing this.
Chávez: It’s a pleasure to have you with us. So first, why did you decide you wanted to write this book about your life story?
Meanus: I thought it was very important to write about it because with the other two books, “Come to Our Salmon Feast” and “Linda’s Indian Home,” I said, “grandma always thought we always need to continue our way of life before it’s gone.” Being a grandmother, I felt I need to continue on with the stories. And I thought maybe writing a book would be one of them, because I know the kids nowadays are hungry to learn about our history. So I would want to feed it to them.
Chávez: A minute ago I introduced you as Linda. But the title of this book is a reference to your Native name, which is LaMoosh. How did you get this name? What does it mean to you?
Meanus: In our culture, I think most cultures, it’s required to have an Indian name. I had third stage colon cancer, I’m a survivor. My family felt I wasn’t gonna make it. So in the way we do, we give Indian names, what we were born with. And we can’t reach the gates of heaven without our Indian name. So that’s just the way it is, we have our Indian names and not our English names.
Chávez: And what does your name mean?
Meanus: My great grandmother Flora said it meant “little flower that flows against the river.” So I thought it was an appropriate name to use.
Chávez: That’s beautiful.
Meanus: Thank you.
Chávez: You dedicated this book to your grandmother Flora Thompson. She raised you and she played a huge role in your connection with your tribal culture. What are some of the most important lessons that she taught you?
Meanus: She always taught me about being grateful, and pray every day. Keep busy so you don’t get bored. And she always felt that education was very important, so I became educated because my great grandfather Tommy never had education and grandmother only had third grade. But I don’t think we wanna go there with what she went through.
She felt that education was very important because nowadays you have to have to have education to get a good job. I’m a graduate from Portland State University with a BA.
Chávez: Congratulations, that’s amazing.
Meanus: Thank you.
Chávez: And not only are you educated, but you’re also educating now?
Meanus: Well, I felt it was important because a lot of our people do not wanna move off the reservation. And sometimes you have to take that risk. I just wanted to share my life with people to say we’ve been through so much already. We just need to change the traumatic life, the historical, the intergenerational, to resilience.
Chávez: That really, really comes through in your book here. Your grandparents raised you in Celilo Village near the Falls before Celilo Falls was flooded. And you wrote very beautifully in your book about what it was like to be in that place near the falls. Could you read some of it for us?
[Reading] “At Celio Falls, the energy of the water was really powerful. I could just feel the mist in my face, even if I stood far away. The falls had a roar that was so loud you could hear it from miles and miles away. Even in the next town over, the Dalles, you could hear it. If you ever heard Multnomah Falls, it was ten times louder than that. It was an echo that you could feel in your heart. That feeling of the powerful sound feels like the truth of our way of life. I was little, but I could still imagine the strength of that water. And the smell of the falls. You could smell the salmon, the saltiness of it. It smelled so fresh, the smell of salmon cooking. It was beautiful.
“That’s the way it was for me. I loved it even though I had to follow rules called protocol. I was also not allowed to be down by the river alone because I was so young. Grandpa would get everybody up at 4:30 in the morning. The women would prepare lunch, and the men like my dad and my uncles and grandpa would go out on the river with the nets to fish for the day. I would see all of them down there catching fish. The salmon were too big to have to fight to get food. I think it didn’t bother the men to be on the scaffolds. Those are wooden platforms they built just above the water. I think for them, just to get the salmon was a fight in itself. All day long they would fish.
“My grandfather would pray to the river, and to the creator for the salmon to feed the people. Salmon is a gift from the creator. Salmon provides its body itself to us for our nourishment. We need to cherish that.
“Everything needs water. Our bodies are full of water. He used to get a cup and dip it into the Columbia River and drink it, that’s how clean our water was in those days. He taught us that if we take care of the river, it takes care of us. We have a relationship with the river. A connection. It’s a connection between us and water and Mother Earth. Water has its own intelligence. It flows wherever it wants. It does what it wants. It’s like they say: water is life.”
Chávez: You speak here, you write here about your grandfather Tommy Thompson. He was the salmon chief at Celilo Falls. Salmon, you can tell in this passage, was such an important part of life there. What do you remember about the traditions around salmon growing up there, and the power of that connection that you wrote about in that passage?
Meanus: Well for our people, it was more of a survival. It was our sustenance. In those days we didn’t have money, we just traded. They considered us a trading place of the Northwest. They considered [it the] Niagara Falls of the Northwest. And it was a big place to trade, barter. We traded salmon for other tribes, for beads and material, other foods. We had people come from even Australia and New Zealand just to see the falls and see the salmon, the fishermen fishing. And so it was just part of who we were.
Chávez: You spend your early years living in Celilo Village with your grandparents, Flora and Tommy Thompson. What are some of your favorite memories of life as a child there?
Meanus: Well, it was very important to know. They would take time for us to learn. They’d have us sit at the table. They would share stories and legends to the village kids. We would sit there, making necklaces and stuff, teaching us how to do bead work. The men would teach the boys about making gill nets and drums, trying to teach our kids about what we should be doing now.
Chávez: One of the things you do in this book [is] introduce young readers to the term “first foods.” You write about what we’re talking about, learning from your grandmother how to harvest and preserve first foods like salmon, roots, and berries. Why is it important to you to share so much about your first foods and food traditions?
Meanus: Well, the way the world is going now, we preserve our foods. For wintertime, a lot of our elders and our people can’t make it to the store. So we have our traditional foods, our salmon, our deer meat, we have lamprey as well. And we have a variety of different kinds of roots, I think we have ten kinds of roots, but we only acknowledge seven. And we have our chokecherries and our huckleberries. Those are the foods that are very healthy. I share our traditional foods with people because they’re healthy. They’re important because they come from Mother Earth. So everything that we get from our traditional foods comes from Mother Earth. So we give thanks to them, because without our foods we wouldn’t be here. Like I explained, we take care of them, it takes care of us in a good way. Healthy way.
Chávez: Celilo Falls was flooded by the construction of the Dalles Dam in 1957, and it really changed the way of life for a lot of people. At the time, how did your grandparents and other tribal elders in the community oppose the building of that dam?
Meanus: Well, they didn’t want to have the dam. They just wanted our salmon. It was what we lived for. Even though the dam is still there, we still fish, it helps pay the bills, what salmon we can get. We used to have a lot of salmon back in the days. But now the salmon, it depends. If they could modify the dams, maybe we’d have more salmon.
Chávez: There’s a really powerful photograph in the book of you and your grandparents standing near the falls wearing tribal regalia. It’s now a famous photograph. Can you describe the day it was taken, and why your grandmother felt it was important for you to be there?
Meanus: Well, at that time back in those days, I was over in Catholic school in Lake Oswego, Christie School. And grandma felt it was important for me to be there to take the picture overlooking Celilo before they inundated it. So we wanted to share what we look like before all that. They had our pictures taken. And some of the pictures, like one with my hands by my mouth, that’s the one [that’s] supposed to be famous is because there was a dog there that I wanted to have a picture taken, but it wasn’t our dog, so grandma says “no, that’s not our dog.” So I was pouting and had my hands, and they snapped that picture.
It was just something she wanted to share that this is what we look like before they took our falls away. But I’m happy though the falls are still there. They shifted. Like everything else is shifting.
Chávez: Another memory you share in the book is how when you graduated from high school at the Riverside Indian Boarding School in Oklahoma, your grandmother surprised you with a visit all the way from Oregon. What was that experience like? And what did it mean to you that she was there?
Meanus: Well, it was an honor. She unexpectedly surprised me coming to Anadarko, Oklahoma for my graduation. She surprised me showing up there because I was partying with my classmates. And this guy came over where we were partying, he said there’s a little old lady sitting in your cottage with long hair with a wing dress and moccasins on, and she’s got a cane, and she’s from Warm Springs. I said “that sounds like my grandma.” He says “I think she’s your grandma because she’s sitting at your village.”
And so when I went to go see her, I said “what are you doing here?” “I come for your graduation.” Oh. So she had me go to my room, go lay down a while and shower up. And then after that she surprised my classmates. She gave every student $100. That was from fishing. She saved a lot of her money to come down for my graduation. And took us to Six Flags.
She always considered anybody that was a friend of mine was her granddaughter too. So she considered everybody like family that I associated with.
Chávez: How do you think your grandmother Flora would feel about this book that you wrote and dedicated to her?
Meanus: You know, I think she’d be very happy about it. She always encouraged me to do things from the heart, speak from the heart, tell the truth from the heart, the things we do. I think she’s probably proud of me in her spirit.
Chávez: Yeah, I think so too.
You wrote this book for young readers, and you often visit with young students in schools to talk about your experiences. One thing I noticed in this book, you wrote that your father once said to you “you will always be a teacher like your grandma.” What teachings do you help young people take away from your book?
Meanus: Just be who you are, just be proud of where you come from. I always felt like they always want to know, they always wanna learn. My grandkids always wanna know, they wanna learn about who we are. And I always want to share my experience of wanting to learn. And so when they’re hungry for that, you got to feed them what you have.
Chávez: You also write in your book that every day you learn something new. What are some of the things that you are still learning today?
Meanus: I’ve learned to be more grateful. I’ve learned to live life every day, no matter what’s thrown at you. And with everything that’s been going on, I’m happy to be here. And I wanna give my grandkids a better life than what we’ve been through. So hopefully they will learn to be like grandma.
Chávez: I just wanna ask lastly, do you have any advice for other Indigenous people who might be thinking about how to share their stories or traditions with younger generations?
Meanus: Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, to speak from the heart. Share your stories, even though it may hurt. But that hurt goes away after a while.
Chávez: Linda Meanus, thank you so much for being here today. And congratulations on your new book.
Meanus: Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.
Chávez: Today I’ve been talking with Warm Springs tribal elder Linda Meanus, who is author of the new book, “My Name is LaMoosh.”
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