Washington tribe exhibits images of flooded petroglyphs

By Shannon Dininny
Ellensburg, Washington (AP) February 2011

The island petroglyphs long revered by a tiny band of Indians known as the Wanapum have been underwater for 50 years, but the band will exhibit rubbings from those stone etchings in a new museum exhibit.

The Wanapum have lived for centuries along the banks of the Columbia River some 30 miles east of Yakima, and its members consider Whale Island, where more than 300 petroglyphs were created, a holy place.

Like many culturally significant sites for tribes in the Northwest, the island was washed over 50 years ago with the construction of Priest Rapids – one of more than a dozen hydroelectric dams constructed along the Columbia River in the 20th Century.

Rubbings from the Whale Island petroglyphs produced before the dam was built haven’t been shown in several years, and the band believes a new generation of children should be exposed to this side of their heritage, said Angela Buck, director of the Wanapum Heritage Center. The rubbings have been in storage at the center’s repository.

“They are not images of just scratching on stone. They are a reminder to us of what is holy,” Buck said.

Visitors will view the rubbings through window cutouts, as if peering through a church window.

Over the years, the Wanapum band’s 80-mile range from Vantage to Pasco was diminished by government land grabs for the Hanford nuclear reservation, irrigation projects, and the Army’s Yakima Training Center. The Grant County Public Utility District then began working to build two hydroelectric dams, 10 miles apart, in the middle of the Wanapum wintering grounds.

The band had no legal right to the land, but the utility district reached an agreement with the Wanapum in 1957. Today, many of the band’s roughly 60 members work for the district, which also finances the band’s heritage center.

The exhibit, “Sacred Spaces,” begins with a grand opening Feb. 3 from 3-6 p.m. and will remain up until June 11 in the Central Washington University Museum of Culture and Environment.