A shift in the landscape east of the Cascades during the 1930s took place between the rocky cliffs of the Columbia River with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam. As the turbines began to produce electricity, the Columbia River flooded the land behind the dam creating Lake Roosevelt. I live by this water. When this man-made lake in northeastern Washington was formed, it covered orchards of trees, foundations of homes, and sacred burial grounds. The fishing weirs built by the Colville and Spokane Indians to catch the native salmon disappeared. Living by water I sometimes forget this lake used to be the Columbia River so many years ago. The drawdown is a reminder.
As the snow melts and the trees begin to bud we watch for the signs of the drawdown from our deck. The shoreline across the lake shows up more and more with the sandy beach getting wider and wider. Long, narrow sandbars appear close to shore as the level of the lake drops. The commuters at our local school begin talking about having to drive all the way around if the water gets too shallow and the ferry can’t operate.
While walking the shores of the changed landscape I begin to understand what creating Lake Roosevelt did to the native people. Two thousand tribal members were displaced. Homes and businesses were lost. As my students walked along the path of old Inchelium last spring and stood on foundations of old buildings and marked the places where family houses had been, they too began to understand how the mighty dam and Lake Roosevelt affected their people. Elders sadly explained how there was an attempt to move all the bodies from the cemetery. Some things couldn’t be salvaged.
I live by this water and love watching the sun rise and reflect on the blue lake, but I also look forward to driving closer to Canada and seeing the river in its natural form at the headwaters of the Columbia. Eagles, moose, deer, and coyotes also continue to live by water close to the shores of Lake Roosevelt. Bald eagles are at home along the shores of the lake as they dive for fish in the deep blue water. The native people have found new places to fish. New land was found for the cemetery.
I live by this water. I hope to visit the remains of Old Inchelium again with my students as we celebrate the beginnings of a town moved up a steep mountain and rebuilt. I will walk quietly along the shore so as not to disturb the deer drinking in the shallow water. I will listen to the stories from the elders to gain a deeper understanding of what is sacred. As the bald eagle circles above the pine trees by the lake, I am reminded of a renewed sense of respect I feel for the lake and land around me. I live by this water.