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Film Documents Tribal Effort To Reclaim Columbia River Tradition

In the 1940s, construction of the Grand Coulee Dam ended a generations-long tradition among the region’s Native American tribes who had gathered at a nearby waterfall every year. But last year, five tribes revived that tradition.

A film documenting their story called "United by Water” will premiere in Spokane Thursday. 

The film follows tribal members who recreated the tradition by getting back on the water in canoes "trying to retrace our history that's been missing for over 75 years," director Derrick LaMere said.

LaMere is Chippewa Cree and a descendent of the Colville tribe. He also shot and produced the film. 

Traditionally, tribes that relied on the Upper Columbia for fish gathered each year at Kettle Falls in northeastern Washington. That ended with the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the 1940s.

Then, last spring, UCUT—the Upper Columbia United Tribes—got together, hand built canoes and traveled the river once again. 

The film is narrated by author, poet and Spokane tribal member Sherman Alexie. In the film,  Alexie reads his poem "Powwow at the End of the World." Many Native Americans are familiar with it and LaMere said he wanted it to be part of the film. 

There’s also archival footage from what’s now known as The Ceremony of Tears. It was the last gathering of the region’s tribes before the area was flooded for the Grand Coulee Dam. 

"United By Water" will Premiere Thursday at The Garland Theater in Spokane.

A view of Kettle Falls of the Columbia River prior to the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.
/ Bureau of Indian Affairs
Bureau of Indian Affairs
A view of Kettle Falls of the Columbia River prior to the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.
A view of Grand Coulee Dam in September 2009.
Gregg M. Erickson / Wikimedia -
Wikimedia -
A view of Grand Coulee Dam in September 2009.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.