Film Documents Tribal Effort to Reclaim Columbia River Tradition

Oct 26, 2017

In 1940, 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 will premier Thursday. 

The film is called United by Water. Director Derrick LaMere says it retraces the steps of ancestors of tribal members who relied on the Upper Columbia river.

"Getting back on the water traditionally through canoes and trying to retrace our history that’s been missing for over 75 years," 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 1940’s. 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, and includes Alexie's poem, ‘Powwow at the End of the World.’ Many Native Americans and Indigenous people are familiar with it, and LaMere says 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 premiers in Spokane.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Note: This story has been updated to reflect more preferred terminology when referring to Native American people and groups. See resources on covering Native American and tribal issues from the Native American Journalists Association