The Willamette River: Where I grew up

Colombia River Gorge

The Willamette River: Where I grew up

Portland, Oregon 97267, United States

Created By: University of Virginia


The first stop on this tour is not actually on the Columbia river, but on the Willamette, which feeds into the Columbia. This is because this is my birthplace, and where I first became connected to the water.

From when I was born to when I was 8, my family lived on the Wilammette river just outside of Portland, Oregon. Some of my closest memories are of my dad and my brother going out in our canoe off of the dock by our house, and paddling over to the island to pick blackberries. We would also take the occasional mud bath.

And although I didn't know it, this is actually distantly reflective of how the Chinook people lived, as they traveled the waters with canoes made with cedar, and picked the native huckleberries. The Chinook people were the original inhabitants of the Wilammette valley and the Columbia River Gorge, and this area was specifically the Clackamas people, which is a subgroup of the Chinook.

Before settlers came, the Willamette valley was an extremely wealthy place for the native americans. This is because salmon was extremely abundant, and there were over 100 varieties of edible plants. Also, although the people still migrated with the seasons, they were more stationary than other tribes because of this abundance.

In the spring they gathered camas roots, in summer they lived in summer camps to fish and hunt and gather berries, in fall they burned praries to harvest seeds and preserve the last runs of salmon, and in winter they would return to their permanent villages.

On the Willamette, before the dams, there was a waterfall called "Hyas Tyee Tumwater," translated to "Great Chief Waterfall," is based on the term "tumtum" meaning heartbeat. This is because to the Clackamas people, the falls was the heartbeat to the Willamette.

The First People of Clackamas County, Oregon (

This point of interest is part of the tour: Colombia River Gorge


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