My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

NEW YORK, Tuesday—In writing the other day of my hopes that the future Secretary of Interior, Governor Douglas McKay of Oregon, would take a special interest in the Indians of our country and their situation I did not realize that there is a particularly difficult situation in the State of Oregon.

I brought down on my head not only letters on the subject, but the information that a number of women's organizations had sent a representative to New York City. I suppose she will also visit Washington to tell the story of the dams proposed on the Columbia River, for the purpose of creating power, making irrigation possible and improving navigation.

Fourteen dams are being proposed to be built in the next 15 years. One, in particular, is of interest to the Indians of 12 northwestern tribes. I am practically quoting from one of the letters that have come to me. Since I have not been there I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of my correspondent, but it is nothing very new to have the interests of the government, or of some special interests swaying the government, competing with the desires and the old treaties made with the Indians. When this occurs nearly always the history has been that the Indians have lost out.

In this particular case, they say a dam is to be located at The Dalles, Oregon, several miles below Celilo Falls. If this dam is completed, the resulting lake will cover the falls and the Indian lands in which these Indians were guaranteed fishing rights for all time by a treaty made in 1865. This Celilo Falls area, for generations before the advent of the white man, has been the center of religious, social and economic life for these Indians.

Of course, the government will pay them in cash but it will take away their heritage, and the question is whether the Indians can be really compensated.

Other dams have been built, people moved and resettled in other places and they have made a good living and it has not upset their social pattern because they could easily be integrated in the new area. But this is not so easy for the Indians, and there is something particularly valuable to them about such regions that have religious traditions.

I do not know, of course, whether this change will be forced upon the Indians or whether they will be persuaded that new arrangements made for them will amply compensate them for the past ties to this particular spot. My correspondent thinks this cannot be done, however. He claims that 70 percent of the Oregon population agree that this will favor the interests of a few "powerful transportation and power interests" but will hurt the standing of our government in relation to the Indians and it will make many people of the state feel that the government's honor is not to be relied on.

It is stated in his letter that originally the dam was planned for several miles above the falls, which would not have affected the Indians to any great degree, but on the other hand it would not have been as favorable a place for creating power.

These people also are concerned, apparently, to talk over with those interested in conservation, the "preservation of the world-famous gorge of the Columbia from wholesale, indiscriminate logging."

I have great sympathy for this particular interest because my husband thought we were shortsighted in not taking more interest in the preservation of our forests, and I always remember the beauty of this gorge.

E.R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL