Wy-am, or Celilo Falls, once one of North America’s largest waterfalls, offered life-sustaining salmon and served as a gathering place for thousands of Native Americans for more than 10,000 years. The profound significance of this site is still felt today. Construction of The Dalles Dam in 1957 inundated the site and silenced the great Celilo Falls, creating a slack-water lake in their place. Before the construction and dedication of The Dalles Dam, Wy-am served for centuries as one of history’s great marketplaces. A half dozen tribes had permanent villages between the falls and where the dam now stands. As many as 5,000 people would gather to trade, feast and participate in games and religious ceremonies. Elders and chiefs regulated the fishing, permitting none until after the first salmon ceremony. Each day, fishing started and ended at the sound of a whistle. The loss of this major fishing, gathering and ceremonial area via inundation due to The Dalles Lock and Dam upset tribal life in the region forever. Some Elders still remember the falls and grieve their loss. Celilo Falls was also prosperous to the region through salmon canneries, but it is the tribal heritage that remains significant today.
Visitors can access this site at Celilo Park on I-84 at exit 97, about 12 miles east of The Dalles, where south of the freeway stand the small Indian Village and Celilo Longhouse (still used today for ceremonies) and north of the freeway the park rest area on the river.