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Lower Elwha Klallam Celebrate Cultural and Ecological Renewal in the Wake of Dam Deconstruction

The Lower Elwa Klallam, a federally recognized Indigenous Nation located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, have had much to celebrate in the last month: the discovery of a ‘Legendary’ sacred site, the uncovering of archaeological evidence for ancient inhabitation of the Elwha river area, and the return of the salmon run to the Elwha’s middle range. All of this has been able to take place because of the removal of an almost century old dam.

The Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams

The Elwha river has been key to Lower Elwha Klallam life since time immemorial, a relationship that continues to this day, even though that relationship was radically altered in the early 1900’s, when two dams were placed across the Elwha. The first of these, the Elwha river dam, was completed in 1913 as the Olympic Power and Development company sought to generate energy using the river. This was followed soon after by the Glines Canyon Dam lying further up river, effectively splitting the Elwha into three sections. Top, above the Glines Canyon Dam; Middle, between this and the Elwha Dam: Bottom, below the Elwha Dam. These impositions along the rivers natural course altered the character of the watershed, with profound natural and cultural consequences. Fish migrations up river were blocked as designers had not thought to include fish ladders in the builds, indigenous fishing activities were hindered and the equilibrium of the local ecosystem skewed and damaged. In addition, the Elwha Dam alone flooded two hundred and sixty seven acres of land of cultural significance.

After well over half a century in operation, action was finally taken to reverse the ecological and cultural damage caused by the dams. In 1992 the American Congress mandated the full restoration of the Elwha’s ecosystem and natural fisheries to be achieved via the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act which was passed in 1995. The involved authorities found that the best course of action to achieve their goal of restoring the Elwha was the complete removal of both dams, a process which began in 2011. The Elwha dam has now been completely removed; its Glines Canyon partner is around half way through demolition.

(Re)Discovering the Secrets of Dried Land

The joy felt by the Lower Elwa Kllalam at the Elwha dams removal this year has been complimented by two subsequent revelations. The first of these involves the re-discovery of a sacred site strongly linked with the peoples’ creation stories. In two deep rock depressions the Klallam creator spirit is thought to have bathed and blessed the indigenous peoples of the area who believe they originate directly from the area. The notion that such a site should actually exist may not have been surprising to elders such as Ben Charles, who reports having seen it beneath the waters in his youth. Yet, despite the testimony of elders and records of the rock passed on in oral and written history, its Atlantis like submersion from sight meant that many younger Klallam believed it to be only a legend.

ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Lower Elwha Klallam Celebrate Cultural and Ecological Renewal in the Wake of Dam Deconstruction.

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