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Reaching Out to the Mid-Columbia in Washington State

Darby C. Stapp and Julia G. Longenecker

In the Mid-Columbia River region of Washington, a consortium of organizations and Indian tribes have united to elevate the awareness of cultural resources among the public. "We're in a unique situation here," said Dee Lloyd, site preservation officer at the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site. "The last remaining stretch of free-flowing Columbia River is about to see an unprecedented growth in recreational use--if we don't start getting the public to help protect the resources, we'll lose them."

Indeed, the Hanford Reach represents the last 51 miles of the Columbia River left which still possesses unflooded archaeological sites and traditional use areas. The resources are important to the future of the original inhabitants, the Wanapum, and to neighboring tribes such as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce, and the Yakama Nation. As a source of archaeological data, the Hanford Reach also is important. Although scientific research in the Mid-Columbia is relatively dormant these days, the area will surely attract the attention of archaeologists once again.

Recent discoveries at the Ritchie Clovis Site (upstream in Wenatchee) and the Kennewick Man (downstream) are testimonies to the depth of human history in this area. There is a rich story here to tell about the development of Mid-Columbia culture. Numerous sites exist with potential to show how the arrival of salmon, the changes in weather, and other events affected area inhabitants over the last 12,000 years. The presence of Native Americans in the area, working to protect the resources so they may be enjoyed by future generations, provides a rich environment for cooperative efforts, despite the recent conflicts surrounding the Kennewick Man discovery.

The Hanford Reach/Jack Dawson
The Hanford Reach (Jack Dawson)

Protecting the cultural and traditional use areas will be a challenge whether the Hanford Reach is designated a Wild and Scenic River and placed under the control of the National Park Service, or the local counties are charged with managing the resource. Salmon and steelhead fishing is on the rise and a new boat launch is sure to attract more boats, fishermen, and families. As the last unflooded remnant of the great Columbia River, the Hanford Reach also is a destination for naturalists. The subsequent traffic, will demand campgrounds, trails, and bike paths, triggering erosion, looting, and other impacts.

To prepare for increases in river use, various organizations and tribes are beginning a concentrated effort to educate the public and law enforcement officials. Participants include the U.S. Department of Energy (which currently controls much of the Reach), local historical societies, the Wanapum Band, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and local communities. Using Washington's Archaeology Month as a catalyst, a series of events were sponsored in October to initiate the public education campaign. These included public presentations on the region's prehistory, protection of a major site facing erosion, tours of historical archaeological sites, and an Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) training session for local law enforcement officials.

Our theme for the education initiative, "ARPA: Preserving our Cultural Heritage," underscores two major points--that there are laws protecting the resources and stiff penalties for looting. But it will take the public to elevate the importance of these resources within their own value system. As Fred Blackburn and Ray Williamson state so well in their recent book, Cowboys and Cave Dwellers: Basketmaker Archaeology in Utah's Grand Gulch (1997; School of American Research Press, Santa Fe), we must:

increase people's appreciation of history in much the same way the environmental movement has heightened the public's understanding of how to use our lands, lakes, and rivers. By making ordinary citizens aware of environmental damage and how it affects their lives, natural history writers, educators, biologists, and geographers have sensitized us to the steady loss of our quality of life. Americans began to have better environmental preservation when thousands of people in communities everywhere started to take responsibility for their own local environment. In a similar way, the preservation of the historical record is up to us all. Those who care about preserving America's historic and prehistoric legacy must begin to share their views with others [p. 164].

To implement these ideas in our own community, we are using the acronym ARPA to emphasize four key concepts:

A-Awareness: Gain awareness of the cultural resources in the area and what they mean to the community

R-Respect: Show respect for the cultural resources important to the community

P-Protection: Help protect the region's cultural resources by getting involved

A-Action: Take action when a site is being harmed by reporting the incident to the proper authorities.

Our goal is to ensure that every student in the Mid-Columbia region is exposed to the concepts of ARPA during the course of their education. To help connect with students, we're searching for a symbol, along the lines of Smokey the Bear® or Woodsy Owl®, that can serve as an icon for cultural resource protection. We also will be developing materials for recreationists so that they have the information they need to be good stewards. We're confident that these and other efforts will ensure that future generations of Native Americans, local residents, visitors, and scientists will have access to the rich cultural resource record that exists today in the Mid-Columbia.

Darby Stapp works for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, where he is project manager for the Hanford Cultural Resources Project. His web page can be found at Julia Longenecker works for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Mission, Oregon, providing archaeological expertise to the Cultural Resource Protection Program. Her web page can be found at This article appeared on the Op/Ed page of the Tri-City Herald on October 30, 1998.

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