Bobby Connor is a member of the Confederated Umatilla tribe. The tribe met Lewis & Clark in the fall of 1805, as the expedition traveled along the Columbia. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
They spent a week in our country, on the way out, and a week on the way back.
One of the most notable changes from then to now is that we had a lot more people. Estimates for then are about 8,000 people. (Lewis and Clark) had not seen that kind of density. Our tribe now has 2,377 tribal members.
We have a lot of challenges today. There's a high incidence of diabetes and heart disease today. Our diet was better then than it is now. When we have salmon that are radio-active and living in polluted waters, our people won't be well. For our people to be well, we need the water to be well.
Celilo Falls was the Wall Street of the west; it made it possible to obtain goods that were near us and goods that were far away. But most importantly, it was the richest salmon fishery in the pacific northwest for thousands of years. It was a place where we exchanged cultures, people got married, gambled, goods were exchanged. The loss of it cost us not only that rich fishery, but that cultural exchange.
When Lewis and Clark made it into this area, they were the first white men who had come into our country. They were curious to us . . . They had a fondness for dog meat. We didn't eat dogs. They preferred eating horsemeat . . . it was not our habit to eat horsemeat. Our people preferred to eat fish over meat.
They were unaware how to have firewood in a treeless plain. They were ill-equipped. They did not know how to function here . . . They didn't know when and how to travel. They did things over rapids that they were not skillful at. I suspect it was kind of fun to watch...
We hope that people will recognize that this was not a wilderness. This was a home. Lewis and Clark were not naming things, they were re-naming things. We hope that people will appreciate how long we've lived here, and how much we love this place. We are very proud to be American.
It's a surprise to a lot of people that we are still here. Two hundred years later, we are still here. We have had many opportunities to be completely wiped out, and our people have made sacrifices so we might continue to be here.