Wanapum Heritage Center displays history in the making ( Yakima Herald, Oct 14 2015 )

The heart of the Wanapum’s ancestral homeland — the Columbia River, the soaring bluffs to the west — unfolds in expansive views through the large glass windows of the new Wanapum Heritage Center.Located near Priest Rapids Dam and scheduled to open Thursday, the $20 million center was designed by the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids to help them preserve, protect and share their culture.  But it is not a museum about the past  “Today, the cultural things are still of value and are embedded into our daily living and embedded into our DNA,” said Wanapum leader Rex Buck Jr. “Yes, we are living in today’s culture. This is still who we are.”  That sense of living culture is present across the Wanapum Story exhibit. In a display about traditional fishing practices, the fishers wear jeans and sweatshirts. On one wall, moccasins, bead work and baby boards share space with trophies, model cars and photographs of students in Mattawa football uniforms.  “We gave everybody the opportunity to bring something in that’s important to them,” said museum director Angela Buck, who is also Rex’s wife. Many design elements, from the traditional east-facing entry to canoes placed along the river side of the building, show how the cultural center was planned by and for the Wanapum, but it’s also designed to be an education for the rest of us. “To me, the important thing is the education provided to help the people of the surrounding area and the people of the state to understand that these things are still here,” Rex Buck said. The 50,000-square-foot center includes permanent and temporary exhibit space, a research library, event space, a high-tech language center for recording the few remaining fluent speakers of the Wanapum language, and behind the scenes space for managing an ever-growing collection of artifacts and photographs. The new center is the latest chapter in a long-standing relationship between the Wanapum and Grant County Public Utility District, which began back in the 1950s when the newly formed utility was looking to develop two dams along the stretch of the river that the Wanapum have called home for countless generations. When the PUD began planning Priest Rapids Dam, a small community of Wanapum was living quietly in tule mat houses on the western bank of the river near Priest Rapids, fishing and gathering like their ancestors. Without federal recognition, a treaty or legal protections for their land, Wanapum leaders decided that their best option was to work with the PUD when the dam was in development, Buck said. “They knew that their life was going to change. They knew they couldn’t continue to live the way they had always lived; they were going to have to send their children to school and those kinds of things. So the most important thing was that they could continue to live on their land, which was Priest Rapids, and be able to perpetuate their culture, their tradition and their beliefs,” Buck said. “In order for them to survive as a people and maintain their culture, they had to come to terms and negotiate with Grant PUD. Today, that’s what provided the opportunity and we’re still able to live here.” Buck described the relationship between the Wanapum and the PUD today as one of “mutual trust and respect.” About 75 people still live in the Wanapum Village, which is only accessible by driving across the dam, and many of the adults work for the utility. Others live around the region or on other reservations, but the exact size of the band is not known because they don’t enroll members. “When we started on the Priest Rapids project in the 1950s, we agreed to work together to protect their heritage,” said Chuck Allen, a PUD spokesman. “This facility is that promise we made in the 1950s, it’s a crowning achievement.” The PUD owns the center, but it is operated by the Wanapum. It replaces a much smaller one located at the Wanapum Dam, located about 18 miles upriver.

Tribe's  tie to utility key to its survival    -- Feb 4 2001, Oregonian.  

Wanapum now work for the agency that once invaded their wintering grounds in Washington.   WANAPUM VILLAGE, Wash. -- Fifty years ago, a tiny band of Native Americans called the Wanapum were living much as they had for centuries among the basalt cliffs that frame the banks of the river they named Chiawana.   They caught salmon, hunted deer and elk, gathered roots and built their homes out of mats made from tule reeds.   They worshipped in the old way, held fast to their traditions and spoke little English.   But the band, squeezed for years by government land-grabs, has forged an unusual relationship with the Grant County Public Utility District that may have been the key to the Wanapums' survival.   The Wanapums' 80-mile range from Vantage to Pasco and their access to the camel-colored hills and surrounding sage and grass lands had been diminished by vast acquisitions for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, irrigation projects and, later, the Army's Yakima Training Center.   In the 1950s, the Grant County PUD put the wheels in motion to build a pair of hydroelectric dams, 10 miles apart, right in the middle of the Wanapum wintering grounds.   At the time, no one seemed to realize the Wanapum were there, says Kathy Kiefer, a PUD employee who worked as a liaison between the tribe and the utility from 1990 to 1996.   A Yakima newspaper reporter who befriended the Wanapum wrote to the PUD, telling it the projects would be catastrophic for the band, which, under tribal leader Johnny Buck, was basically squatting and had no legal right to the land.   "The bottom line is the PUD needed to keep on the fast track, and the grandfather (Johnny Buck) had been squeezed into the one last place he could hang on to," Kiefer says.   Buck would not live to see the agreement signed in 1957, but today, Rex Buck Jr., one of his grandsons and, at 45, essentially a tribal elder for the 10 Wanapum families that remain, wakes up every morning to the hum of the red-and-green Priest Rapids power plant, on what is still one of the most isolated stretches of the Columbia River outside of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.   Changing to survive  "Once the projects came in, there was nowhere for the Wanapum to go. They couldn't do anything," says Buck.   "In order for them to survive, they had to make a change."   So the Wanapum rolled with the punches. The children would have a chance to go to school, and jobs meant an end to the lean months that come from living off the land. Thirty-two of the band's roughly 60 members are employed full or part time by the PUD now.   The PUD, in its literature, calls the relationship between the utility and the Wanapum remarkable and unprecedented. Kiefer calls it collaborative.   "It's a partner relationship that's based on trust and respect from both sides," says Buck, who used to be an electrician for the PUD but now spends most of his days at a desk.   The Wanapum Village on the west bank of the river is made up of 10 modest houses, a horse corral, a shiny new playground and a tidy longhouse for ceremonial and community gatherings. Accessible only by driving across the top of Priest Rapids Dam, the village is opened periodically to friends of the Wanapum for special activities.   Buck can remember the days before satellite television, telecommunications and easy trips to Costco in Yakima, an hour away.   "It was a very simple life," he says. "It had discipline."   "We had very little, but we didn't need anything a lot.   We just had what we needed -- our food and our beliefs and each other," he says.   He and his brother Richard, 40, of Lapwai, Idaho, are two of the four adults remaining from their generation, which numbered about a dozen when they were boys in the village. Today, they must compete with outside influences such as the Internet and MTV to impart the value of the old ways -- the skills, the stories, the beliefs -- to the next generation.   "When we were young, we didn't have TV," Richard Buck says. "Our father used to sit down . . . and he would tell us the legends. It was a form of entertainment about creation, birds, the river flow, what they were at one time. That's how we learned it."   Feeling like an old person and like countless generations before them, these two reluctant elders sometimes wonder if the message is getting through.   "I feel just like a really old person," Buck says. "Nobody really wants to listen."   The Wanapum numbered about 2,500 when Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery followed the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. The Wanapum didn't fight in the Indian Wars of the West. They obtained no treaty rights or title to their lands. They refused to move to the nearby Yakama Nation reservation and are not federally recognized.   White men's diseases, substance abuse, relocation and changing times have limbed the Wanapum family tree, with roots that reach back at least 9,000 years, according to the archaeological record.   The Wanapum Dam Heritage Center, upriver from Priest Rapids, is filled with displays showing Wanapum history, from early tools and building materials to beadwork and intricately woven baskets to the circumstances that made the PUD and the band an unusual team.   Buck, who works part time on relicensing preparation for the PUD, remembers when the baskets were tools for hauling and storage.   "We'd go to town and leave them in the back of the truck," never realizing that one day they'd be worth thousands of dollars to collectors and considered priceless to those who have lost the traditional skills.   He looks at a photograph taken 20 years ago. He and his brother, Rex, are the two young men in the picture and the only ones still alive.   "I get angry at these men. I shouldn't be one of the elders," Richard Buck says.   The Wanapum have salvaged what they could as the world changed around them, Rex Buck says.  An education has helped band members survive amid the white culture and better communicate the Wanapum values to those who don't always care to understand.  "You can do a couple of things. Victimize yourself and say, 'I'm like this and fall victim,' and just don't do anything.   Or you can say, 'Our people . . . have always welcomed people who have come to our land and provided them with a place, a welcomeness because that's how we are, that's the nature of who we are.' "  ( Thanks Joe Lilly )

Wanapum Indians learn to live with dams Aug 8 1999, Tri-Cities Hearld.  Buck talks about the dams and his people slowly and evenly, showing his emotion by repeating the things he holds most dear.  He doesn't condemn settlers for wanting electricity.  He doesn't even curse them for stomping on his land - a dry place overlooked by almost everyone until the Columbia Basin irrigation project and hydropower made it habitable. Instead, he talks about accepting changes, learning to live with the new while revering the old.  It was the same tactic his grandfather Johnny Buck took when accepting the PUD's offer of a home and jobs if the dams were built. "I could victimize myself, or I can accept the change and the challenge," Rex Buck Jr. said

River people' have stake in dams: Wanapums keep close eye on relicensing process   July 23 1999, Wenatchee World.  Wanapum Indian elder Rex Buck says the Priest Rapids Dam is now an important part of the culture of his people. "You see, we live next to the dam," he explained, standing in the center of the village less than a quarter of a mile from the dam. "We live with the dam." "We look at it as we're all in this together and we all have a stake in it."  The majority of the adults who live in the 65-person village work for the Grant County PUD, which owns and operates Priest Rapids and nearby Wanapum dams. His participation in the relicensing process as a Wanapum leader will be much like the role his grandfather performed 50 years ago. When construction began on Priest Rapids Dam in 1956, the dam formed a reservoir that covered their former village. Johnny Buck led the Wanapum from that location to the new village they occupy today.