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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Thomas E. Marceau’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Thomas E. Marceau is an archaeologist and cultural resources specialist at the Hanford site. In this interview, he discusses the geological history of the Hanford area and the Native American tribes that have lived in the area for thousands of years. He also highlights how the displacement of Native Americans has resulted in a cultural and historical crisis for these tribes, because their identities, lives, and communities revolve around the lands their ancestors inhabited. He emphasizes the importance of risk assessments of the Hanford land that include the perspective and concerns of Native American tribes.

Date of Interview:
September 10, 2018
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly:   I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation. It is Monday, September 10, 2018. I have with me Tom Marceau, and I’d like him to tell us his full name and spell it.

Thomas Marceau: Thomas E. Marceau. E is for Edward. M-a-r-c-e-a-u.

Kelly:  Great. So, Tom, I’ve known you a long time, but there are things I don’t know about you. It would be great to have you tell us from the beginning when and where you were born, and then how you happened to become what you are today and so involved in Hanford and its history.

Marceau: You really want to go into complete life history?

Kelly:  Well, how about just in a paragraph. A short paragraph.

Marceau: Okay. Short paragraph. Came to Hanford in the summer of 1994. I worked on the Hanford Site for twenty-two years until January of 2016. I was hired to help Bechtel get the contract here, cultural resources work. I was hired as the cultural resources specialist to set up the program, make connections, make contacts, work with the State Historic Preservation officers in Washington and Oregon and with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Basically, make sure that everything that Bechtel was doing in terms of cleaning up the site was in compliance with all the environmental/cultural resource laws.

I’ve been doing archeology since 1974, the first time I got paid to do archeology. For the last forty-four years, I’ve been doing archeology as a professional.

Kelly:  That’s wonderful. Hanford has a rich archeological history. 

Marceau: I think the great thing about Hanford, in terms of the archeology, is the fact that it is the only section of the Columbia River within the continental United States, which has not drowned out the terrace systems. Every other section of the Columbia River—with the exception of the Hanford Reach from down of Priest Rapids Dam all the way to the back pool of McNary Dam—that fifty-two miles of river is the only section of river that has not been pooled from dams. Every other section from the Canadian Line to the Astoria, the mouth at the Pacific, has had impact due to dam construction and flooding of dam pools. All the archeological information is gone. Not gone, as much as it’s been flooded and probably silted over at this point with lots of material.

Here at Hanford, on the Hanford Reach, we still have the PleistoceneTerrace going down to the first Holocene Terrace at about 12 to 13,000 years ago, all the way to the modern river. We have six Holocene Terraces that date about 12,000 years that give us the complete history of where people lived.

People have always needed water and, in a desert environment, no place more. They’ve always lived near the river. They’ve always lived within a few hundred meters of the river. The problem is, the river has changed in the last 12,000 years. It doesn’t run now where it used to run 12,000 years ago. People have been utilizing the Columbia River for major camps, predominantly winter camps, for approximately 12,000 years.

On Hanford, we have all the terraces available for us to study, to look at, to examine, to excavate, to find information that you aren’t going to find anyplace else that isn’t either underwater or under eighteen, twenty feet of silt backed up at this point. It’s a very unique area for riverine culture, riverine adaptations, riverine people in the State of Washington, any place on the Columbia River.

Kelly:  Tell us a little bit about the Ice Age floods.

Marceau: The Ice Age floods are important to look at and think about, because they really were the last change in the environment here at Hanford—actually, within the entire Columbia Basin.

The floods happened someplace between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago. Over that 2,000-year period, the Quaternary ice sheet was wasting away, it was melting and advances, minor advances, lots of melting going on. What it did was set up a lot of water that needed someplace to go. In Montana, around Missoula, Montana, there was an ice bridge that dammed up the Clarks Fork River, and that caused water to back up almost 200 miles within the mountains of western Montana. If you know anything about western Montana, it’s mountain range after mountain range after mountain range all twisted and shaped. It’s the huge part where the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountains come through western Montana.

There are lots of valleys in that area. When the dam backed up from the melting continental glacier, it flooded over 200 miles of valleys and filled with water. Every once in a while, the ice was unable to hold the water back. They say in the literature that the water permeated below the dam, the ice dam, and caused the dam to float. Eventually, that floating ice dam would breach, and then 500 cubic miles of water would come racing across Eastern Washington down into the Columbia Basin, right here where we are.

Because the only way for all that water to exit was through Wallula Gap. Wallula Gap is, in actuality, looking at the size of the basin, a very narrow funnel for water to go through. It took a couple of days for the water to empty from Montana down to here, and it just stacked up at that entrance way. It couldn’t push all the water through the funnel. It somewhere near three or four days for that water to exit the funnel, and then proceed down the remainder of the Columbia River channel all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

During those periods where the ice would break, and the river would come through, the water would come through, Glacial Lake Lewis here in the Tri-Cities would back up to about 12,000, 12,050 feet, meaning that only the tips of the island—the high buttes like Lalíik or Rattlesnake Mountain—would be above it. Candy Mountain, the tip of Candy would be above. The peaks on Badger Mountain would be above the water. You had little islands out here, in this very broad basin, everything else being flooded. Gable Mountain is over 800 feet tall, and even that would be under 400 feet of water at the time. A lot of the valley formations, a lot of the buttes, were underwater, and just for that week or week and a half or so at a time, you’d have a series of islands within this lake, Glacial Lake Lewis.

Eventually, that stopped after a 2,000-year period. Then the sediments that had been washed in—really the last part of the geologic history here, is the reworking of those sediments, the sands, and the silts both from the floods and from the lake blowing and reworking themselves across the basin. We have lots and lots of sand dunes here that you can look at, and it follows the wind pattern from the southwest to the northeast. You can follow these strings of sand dunes forming all the way across the Hanford Site. Particularly even now, those sand dunes have no vegetation out by the river. And you can see active sand dune migration still taking place now after 7 to 8,000 years of moving that sand.

There’s also a point at which the floods become important, in terms of whether people were here or not. We know from oral histories that all the tribes have flood stories, very large flooding events, whether it’s singular or plural. But they all have flood mythologies that talk about them rescuing themselves from the floods, getting to high ground.

There is one Wanapum story that talks about a warning from the Creator that the wall was coming. The water wall was coming, and they needed to exit, get out of the valley as fast as they could and not look back. Those who looked back were turned immediately to stone. They point to some places along the course of where the floods would have taken place, where there are huge boulders. They look at those as the people who looked back, the people who did not heed the advice to just beat feet and run out of the basin to high ground as fast as you could.

There’s some indication there of the Sodom and Gomorrah story as well. I mean, how much Christian influence might there be in some of the myths about floods that the Native American tribes have from this area? I think that would make an incredible research question for someone to look at. How much Christianization is there of mythology, particularly around flood myths in the Native American communities?

If there were people here at the time of the flood, they would have been here very, very early, and we’re talking terminal flood stages someplace around 13,000 BP [before present]. We don’t really have solid evidence for people in the Hanford Site area until about 11,000 years ago. There’s a 2,000-year gap between the end of the flood and the beginning of information, archeological information, for people living here in the basin. It doesn’t mean, however, that evidence for people having been here during the terminal Paleoindian Period from, say, 13,000 to 11,000 or from 14,000 to 11,000 might have been here, and it’s been erased.

You’re talking about a wall of water, some places around sixty feet high, coming at you at about eighty miles an hour, pushing all the way through from Western Montana all the way through to the Horseshoe Hills. The destructive force of that much water moving that fast is not going to preserve archeological evidence. It could well be that we have a Paleoindian culture here in the basin that was wiped out. We could have Paleoindian culture in areas we have never gone to look at.

I mention elsewhere that we concentrate on the modern channel of the Columbia River, something that was established approximately 8,000 years ago. The history for 3,000 years to 11,000 years back—or maybe 5,000 years, say, to 13,000 years back—we haven’t systematically looked for. We’re not looking at the ancestral channels of the Columbia River, where people would have lived say 14,000 years ago or 13,000 years ago had they been here, because we’re not examining those ancient channels.

We’re only examining the modern channel, because that’s where the Hanford Site developed. That’s where the nine reactors were placed, adjacent to the current channel of the Columbia River, so they could draw the cold water out for cooling purposes. They didn’t go to the older channels, because those are dry channels. There’s no water in there.

We’ve never really systematically examined the full geological history of the Hanford Site to look for the really earliest occupations. We know where the Kennewick terrace is. We know where that 10,000-year terrace passes through the Hanford Site. What we haven’t had an occasion to look at is for evidence of where Kennewick Man may have walked on the surface, on this terrace, on the Hanford Site. He was buried only twenty miles away from the southern boundary of the Hanford Site. That terrace was available to him at the point he was alive. We don’t know how many other people might have been here. We’ve never looked for them.

Again, another major kind of research question that someone might get involved with, in terms of the archeology of the Tri-Cities area, is looking at the ancient channels of the Columbia River and systematically testing them for evidence of human occupation. It would be a great study. It could really bring us back several thousand more years.

Kelly:  Absent that, what do we know about the tribes that we do know, or about the history, the period of history, that we can reach back to? Would you say that was 11,000 or 8,000?

Marceau: It was 11,000, the earliest point, the earliest projectile point that we have, and most archeological cultures are named after the dominant projectile point for that time period.

The first major projectile point type we have is Windust. AWindust point is something that was in existence 11,000 to about 8 or 9,000 BP, before present. We know we have people here. Well, we found several Windust points, only one of which was found in a buried context. Everything else was a surface find. On a surface find, it’s very difficult to put an exact date on a surface artifact, an isolate artifact, as it were, that you pick up off the surface, other than saying, “In other areas, this point style has dated between X and Y.” We’re looking at the Windust as 11,000 to 9,000, is the most common set of dates in the literature.

One of those points was excavated at about twenty-four inches below surface. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a date. There were no datable organic materials in the soil. There was no datable organic material—no charcoal, no flakes, no materials to date.

We don’t know whether we had a Paleoindian component on the Hanford Site. As I mentioned before, we haven’t looked in the right place, and we don’t know whether the evidence that might’ve been in that place has been washed away. We don’t know whether we have a Paleoindian component.

The first true evidence we have is the Windust Phase, Windust Phase being 11,000 to 9 or 8,000 BP, before present. We know we have people during that time period here. The site continues to have people during the Cascade Phase, which is 8,000 to 4,000, but at a moderate level. If you start looking at the radiocarbon record for the Hanford Site, we have 140 dates, and about 110 of those related to cultural materials, either organic charcoal or carbon or bone or shell or something that people utilized that we can get an organic date off of, using carbon-14 methods.

The record from 8,000 to about 4,000 is kind of spotty, but it’s there. There’s a gap from 6,000 BP to 5,000 BP, and we’re not sure what that is. It seems to align with a period at which a major channel of the Columbia River was being formed, and that would probably be the Holocene IV or the Holocene III time period, someplace in that time period. People may have been living here, but their evidence was washed away as that terrace was down-cut. In other words, you’re living on the terrace. The river is here. The river is now migrating and cutting a terrace. Everything that you’ve been living on next to the river starts disappearing and gets washed away, as a new terrace is formed. We don’t know whether that might explain that thousand-year gap.

After about 3,000 BP, the occupation on the Hanford site appears to be pretty continuous. That is, we have a series of radiocarbon dates going back from 3,000 BP to about 100 years ago that show very continuous occupation of the Hanford site. We know that people were here at least for the last 3,000 years on a very continuous basis. There’s only one time gap in there, between 3,000 and 3,500. There’s a 500-year gap, and we don’t really know what that gap relates to. It was a period of aggradation, which means this is a period when soils and sediments were building up, as opposed to being washed away and torn away. We really don’t know what explains that gap. It might be going to the right place at the right time. We pick up a new sample and, “Bingo. There’s a date in the center of that 500-year gap,” so the gap doesn’t exist anymore.

But right now, over the last 11,000 years, there are only two major gaps. One at the 6,000 to 5,000-year period, and one at the 3,000/3,500-year period. Other than that, we’re pretty confident that the Hanford site saw lots of repeated use throughout that 11,000-year period. Culminating with, of course, the modern groups who are named at the beginning of the protohistoric period, someplace around the mid-1700s when Russian explorers first start coming up the Columbia River and making contact with the indigenous peoples. They start at that point getting names, which then carry through into historic times.

Originally, the Wanapum were named the Snake People. Not certain where that information comes from, but the sign was kind of this parallel motion or waving arm motion. That’s been applied to a number of people in the Pacific Northwest, including tribes in Wyoming, including tribes in Idaho, including tribes in Washington. That early name for “Snake” may relate more to the European explorers, as opposed to the individual groups themselves.

But by the 1800s, the name Wanapum is established and used and reverts to its modern usage, which is these are the River People. “Wanapum” means “people of the river.” “Che Wana” being the name they had for the Columbia River. Their name Wanapum means, “pum” being “people,” “wana” being “river.” So, “Wanapum” translates almost literally to “river people,” “people of the river.” But they have been in this area—at least archeologically, if we want to make connections— from that time, I would say, early protohistoric period, all the way through to current times.

As an archeologist and looking at the record, I’m willing to say that they have probably been here—these are the descendants of the earliest peoples. I say that, because when Kennewick Man was found, there was a great concern about, “Was he Native American? Or was he not Native American?” Dr. [Kenneth] Ames did a very detailed study of the Columbia Plateau to try and look for breaks or continuity in the archeological record, as an indication of breaks or continuity in the cultural record. In other words, can we follow archeological cultures from 11,000 years all the way up to the historic Wanapum? 

That was his task from the National Park Service, as part of a lawsuit that was filed to study Kennewick Man by a physical anthropologist. The tribes were saying, “No, he’s ours. He’s Native American. We don’t want him studied.” They had to prove that a skeleton that was over 9,000 years old was Native American. That whole case rested on, again, an examination of the archeological record. Do we see gaps in the record? Do we see, if not gaps, do we see new people moving in, or do we see people moving out? In other words, archeological cultures are defined by a suite of artifact types or some kind of behavioral norms or some kind of environmental use. There is some connection that gives these people a name, and they are named for that suite of resources, that suite of behaviors.

What Ames never found when he examined the archeological record of the Columbia Plateau was any indication that groups from other areas moved in here, displacing the folks who were here, bringing in new cultural traits, or that the people who were here left en masse, and took everything with them and went someplace else.

I know I’ve worked in other areas where I’ve seen archeological cultures transplant each other. I worked in Wyoming for about twelve years and there, I saw the Athabascans being displaced by the Shoshonean, by the Numic peoples, as they expanded from the southwest up to Canada. They displaced people along the way. You see the import of new traits, of new culture, of new ways of doing things come into an area.

We don’t see that in the Columbia Plateau. We don’t see a replacement of culture. We don’t see an abandonment of the area. On that basis, I’m willing to say that I would see continuity from late glacial period times to the modern period, where the people who are here now are the descendants of the folks who were there before.

One really strong piece of evidence we have now is Kennewick Man, the Ancient One, Pips-Me-Maw-Winch. They finally succeeded in isolating ancient DNA from this man in 2015, which proved irrevocably that he was related to modern-day Native Americans, most closely the Colville. The Colville are only 150 miles away from where we’re sitting right now. Their home territory is on the northern Columbia River, just before you get up to Canada. There’s also related to Athabascans, which were a group that migrated from Canada down to the Southwest, eventually becoming among different groups. The Navaho are Athabascan folks who migrated from Canada all the way down to the Southwest.

We see in the genetic evidence a direct link between Kennewick Man, the Ancient One, and modern groups. And the reason the tie to the Colville is so strong is they were the only ones who answered the call the submit DNA. When the university at Copenhagen [University of Copenhagen] was doing this study, they asked for numerous samples from multiple groups, and the Colville gave them DNA— basically, spit, throat swabs, cheek swabs to do. The closest biological link, the closest genetic link between Pips-Me-Maw-Winch and modern groups, is with the Colville. And the authors of the study—and there is, I don’t know, there’s ten, fifteen who did this study—have pretty much stated that if other plateau groups gave their DNA, they would predict that they would also see this very close tie between the Ancient One and the modern Wanapum and the Nez Perce and the Umatilla and the Yakama.

Because, archeologically—to get back to the point I was making earlier—we don’t see the people here who start here leaving here. The same group of people who came in, settled this area and adapted to this land, in my opinion, are the same group of folks who left their descendants who are now here in place that we are talking with and we are working with. These folks, in my opinion, are the descendants of the populations here 10, 11,000 years ago.

Kelly:  That’s marvelous. That’s great that they were able to get the DNA finally and solve that.

Marceau: It took them several tries. They tried in 2000. They tried again in 2005. They could not isolate enough DNA, and the techniques for analyzing DNA at that point were ten years older than what they were in 2015 when they were able to extract useable DNA, and actually place it in a line of succession and say, “Yeah, this guy is here, and here is his haploid group, and here is his, you know, this group.” I’m not a geneticist, so I don’t know. I know in the paper, they cite four of five different types of evidence that they used to link Kennewick Man to modern groups.

I don’t see any breaks in the record. I don’t see any reason to assume that we’re not dealing with the ancestors [misspoke: descendants] of Kennewick Man here in the basin right now, which opens up an incredible amount of potential information in terms of the mythology of this area. That’s one of the areas where my most recent paper comes into play, and that’s [0:30:00] how land forms become culture and part of the cultural systems.

One thing that you can’t avoid in living a life off the land is living off the land, so you are surrounded by all the land forms. We know ourselves that one of the first things we do is we start naming places: Gable Mountain, Gable Butte, Rattlesnake Mountain, the Columbia River. We give them names. All people give locations where they live a name. It’s a way to orient yourself at its most basic level. “Where are you going?” “I’m going over there. “Can you tell me where there is?” You know, so you put a name to “there.” You are naming the areas that you are utilizing.

Well, that implies two things. You have an intimate knowledge of those areas, because in your annual rounds, you are moving around your home range to take advantage of seasonally occurring resources. You can’t gather spring plants in the fall, and you can’t fish for fall runs of salmon in the summer. You have to be at certain places within your home territory to acquire resources according to the schedule that nature gives you.

That’s one of the great things about tribal groups of any tribal societies is, they don’t dictate terms to nature; they allow nature and them to live in harmony. In other words, they know at which point in the season they need to do which ceremony, which plants to gather, which resources to go to, when to move. Everything is set up by a knowledge of the land base and what it supports: what soils support what plants; what plants support what animals; what slopes, again, support what types of trees;  how far do the trees go up or down? These people have a very intimate knowledge of the environment because they are making a direct living off of that environment. 

As you use places, they become cultural. They not only become cultural, because you are going through those areas, but they take on additional meanings. We know, for example, that in the Pacific Northwest, in the Columbia Plateau, that personal religion was based, in many ways, on personal contacts with the spirits.

One way to contact a spirit personally was to have a vision quest. You go to a high summit, and there, in a totally isolated situation, you do not eat, sleep, drink, or do anything for three days and four nights. You just pray, and you are waiting to make contact with some representation of the spirit world. It could be a mineral spirit. It could be plant spirit. It could be animal spirit.  It could be a water spirit. It can be any type of spirit, who is going to teach you some lesson that you absorb in terms of, “How best to live my life,” or, maybe, “How to help out my group, my family, my clan, my lineage, my tribe.” Because you are getting direct knowledge from the other world, from the spiritual world.

We know that people have used that type of situation to make a mountain become a spiritual place. We talk about Gable Mountain, named after Thomas Gable, who ran horses in that area, had a horse ranch in that area. That’s fine from about the 1850s to modern time. Prior to that, that mountain was called Lalíik [misspoke: Nookshai], the Otter, more particularly, the River Otter. If you look at it, otters are a type of animal that can live in two environments. They live in the water, and they live on land. In the spiritual sense, an otter can take you from the physical world to the spiritual world. By riding the back of the otter, by going to the top of Gable Mountain or Nookshai, as they call it, and, seeking that vision, the otter is transporting you from the physical world to the metaphysical world, where you make contact and have a vision.

Now, we know these things work, because when you go on a vision, an elder or a spiritual leader—at least as it’s been explained to me—presents the quester with a rock. That rock is taken to the vision quest location. If you have a successful vision, you place the rock at that spot. If you don’t have a successful location, you bring the rock back. It’s kind of a telltale sign, or not a telltale sign, because once you’ve had a vision, you’ve been contacted by the spirits. If you talk about that message, you lose it. I had it explained to me that if you reveal the power, you lose the power.

One of the ways that I’ve kind of internalized this—and this may be way off the mark, but this is just me working with these guys for the last twenty-two years. If you came down without the rock, everyone knew you had a successful vision, to my mind. If you came down with the rock or you tossed the rock before you got to the village, or otherwise didn’t place at the vision site, you did not have a vision. There was a visual clue for the community, and there was a social clue for the seeker that whatever knowledge you obtained is your knowledge to use. Use it wisely. Use it to the best advantage. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be used for community purposes, but it couldn’t be revealed to the community.

That act sets aside some very unique places around here as vision quest locations. What we know about vision questing is that as you advanced in age, you moved to a higher and higher and higher summit. The point not being to see more, the point being more to impress on you how small you were relative to the world, by how much more of the world you could see. An adult in their thirties or forties would not vision quest at the same location where a teenager might or where a young child might. Women and men did not vision quest in the same location. They had separate locations for men and women to vision quest.

But we do know that they started this very early. Mooli Mooli, the Little Stacked Hills out by N Reactor, are a sacred area, because that’s where children as young as five and six years old were sent to seek their first visions. They did that because major fishing villages, winter villages, occurred just on the other side of the hills on the banks of the Columbia River, so that the adults could send the kids up into the hills.

If you’ve been in the hills, once you get into them, you have no idea where you are anymore. You could be on the moon. But the adults knew that the kids were close enough that if something happened, they could get to them, and the kids knew that the village was close enough if something happened, they could get there as well. But while they were doing vision questing on the internal hills in Mooli Mooli, they were pretty much in their own little spot.

This is something that, just from that one aspect alone, causes areas to become sacred. We also have areas that carry cultural information. “This is where X started this particular ceremony. This is where the ceremony has to take place.” That becomes a cultural spot on the land. Or, “This is where X had his great battle or won his great victory,” or did something. In the history of the tribe, this place becomes important as a historic marker.

We have cultural markers. We have spiritual markers. We have historic markers. We have the landscape basically becoming a magnonic device, hiding in plain sight for the complete history of a group, because every place they go to has some kind of cultural meaning to it. That is their world.

We need to make one more kind of point to help drive this home: native peoples don’t wander. They move about within their territory, but native peoples most times have an area in which they were created. With that creation, they are bound to take care of that area and all of its resources. They don’t generally migrate away from home territories. We see a situation in which the tribe establishes their place on the ground with these types of land forms, where these ceremonies and these events take place. The whole thing becomes part of the cultural system passed on from generation to generation to generation.

I’ll go back to that point I made some time ago about—we now know that the Ancient One, Pips-Me-Maw-Winch, was connected to modern folks genetically. It’s possible—and I just say it’s possible—that some of that culture or religious, spiritual, historic history has passed over 9,000 years to these modern peoples that are here now, doing the same ceremonies at the same time` at the same place that they’ve always done it. This importance of religion is tied to place. Ceremony is tied to place. Creation is tied to place. You don’t leave the place. You continue to work out the agreement that the humans made with the plants and the animals that they would all care for each other.

You see this incredible time sequence over which these religious and spiritual beliefs could have developed, and cultural norms could have developed. We’re looking at this group right now, thinking, “How old are some of these beliefs? How far into the past do they go?” Remember, I mentioned earlier on with mythology about myths. We also have to look at what has come in from outside cultures to change this, if anything, and how far into the past can these things really go? How far back can oral knowledge and oral history go? We don’t know for certain.

But on a very unrelated point, when they’re looking for ways to warn people about buried contamination, one of the things they want to do is communicate to people 10,000 years from now, 20,000 years from now, because the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years. How do you bury this stuff? And then tell people 48,000 years from now, “There’s only a quarter of what there used to be here before, but it’s still kind of deadly?”

Believe it or not, one of the things that they’re looking at is to put together a team of oral historians, people who will carry the message forward that this area is off-limits. Because we know that language doesn’t work. I could put in front of you a text to the Chaucer [Canterbury] Tales, written 1,000 years ago in English, and, unless you were an ancient linguistics scholar, you couldn’t read it. And that’s our language. That’s English from 1,000 years ago, and we can’t read it except for a small group of scholars. Kind of acting on that—I believe they’re looking the same way, into the future—is, “We need to find a dedicated group of folks who are good at oral history and good at reminding each other of these oral histories and passing that information along.”

Believe it or not, one of the groups they’ve turned to are Native Americans, because they know they are very good at oral histories, maintaining oral histories, maintaining oral laws. And, trying to get as unvarnished a retelling as you can so that you don’t add things to the myths or to the stories, or to the ceremonies, or to the history. You retell it, and you retell it faithfully.

That’s something that Native American groups do, and they look for the individuals within the community who have those skills. They select those to become the knowledge-keepers for the group, just the same way they do with the fishermen or with the hunters or with the root-gatherers. They look for these types of things where, “That kid really remembers these stories.” You know, and they start to put them in apprenticeship programs. One of the apprenticeship programs is oral tradition, oral histories, myths. You know, “Keep our history alive.”

Because they are just—and I’m talking of the Wanapum now—they are just starting to write down their language. Because they have seen so much of it being evaporated away with the youth, because there are so many other things that they are finally admitting that, “I think we’re going to have to start writing some of this down, because it’s not as important to the kids.” And by the time it gets to be important, they’re in their mid-twenties, and some of the people who could tell them stuff are no longer there anymore. They’re seeing this happen in real time.

It would be really interesting to see how far back in time you can take an oral history. I know that when we work with the tribal people, they are always telling us, “We don’t need archeology. We have our oral histories. We know what happened.” That’s an interesting kind of deal, because over the last fifteen, twenty years, archeologists and tribal people have really started to work more closely together to look into just that question: how far back, how reliable our oral historic information in terms of, “Can you find an archeological correlate to what they’re talking about?” It’s a fascinating field of study, to marry the oral history with the physical archeology.

We have a little bit of that. You’ll remember there’s one quote in there where Rex [Buck] is talking about the archeology that he’s done on the site with us. He says, “It was really interesting to go out with you and do the archeology, because we always knew some of these things were very old but we didn’t see them. Because they were below the ground. But now we have the below-the-ground information to add to the above-ground information, and we can really see our history going back.” He says, and it’s kind of interesting, “It’s not that I didn’t believe it, and I’m not telling you that I don’t believe. But I’m seeing things now, working with you guys, with the archeologists, that is really confirming in my mind things that I’ve been told. There’s now a physical record of it. You’ve taken us back 6,000 years in this pit that we’re standing in, and you’re talking to me about this soil and these materials. And, I’m putting that now” —this is Rex— “into context from stories that I’ve heard. But I’m seeing it. It’s not just a story anymore. I’m seeing how old some of this is, because you’re showing me how old some of this stuff is.”

I think that’s an enormous interplay, between archeologists and tribal people. Just that type of verification of, “Here’s a behavior. Where does it lead?” But the whole field of archeology really comes down to what physical materials are associated with what behavior, and how do you link the two. In other words, if I’m making a projectile point, what gets left behind? What physical evidence shows that I made a projectile point when I walk away and take the point with me? Or what physical evidence shows I was cooking this type of root? How do I prepare it, and is it different from preparing another type of root? And does that mean that the archeological signature is different? Because we use a flat hearth here, and we use a roasting pit here. And we use hot rocks dropped into water here. You have different techniques for cooking foods.

Trying to make the connection between the behavior and the physical materials is something that archeologists do all the time. Well, now we have the tribal folks to come in and say, “Hey, here’s how we did it. Here’s what we did.” I’ve learned a lot of more in terms of how things were done by talking to the tribal folks who could tell me something. I have a rock. They can tell me how that rock was used. That broadens both of our experiences, because it takes them back to the date for that rock, and it takes me back to how it was used.

The interplay in archeology these days between tribal people and archeologists is just a very good thing. You get a lot more information out of it.

It’s important, I think, to realize that Native Americans look at resources as people. I think that’s something that you have to really get a handle on. It goes all the way back to a time before humans when the animals were in charge of the world. It was with the coming of man that the animals all got together and said, “You know, that thing over there, it doesn’t have any hair. It doesn’t have claws. It doesn’t have teeth. Can’t take care of itself. I don’t know what they’re going to do. We’re going to have to help these guys out.”

All the animals and the plants came and, one-by-one, they volunteered to serve the human interest. The first one in line was salmon, and salmon said, “I will give you my flesh, so you will survive.”

The people said, “Okay. In return, we will take care of you.” And then, deer came. All the animals and all the plants, all the roots and all the fruits.

When you go to a feast, you look at the way the food is laid out. It’s laid out in the creation story. It starts with the salmon and it ends with huckleberries. All the food groups are represented in between, because they still do it in the order in which the food presented itself to the people.

Now the people have this relationship to the animals and to the plants. For them to have given up of their sustenance, the humans will take care of them. They will make sure that they grow and they prosper. They will take care of the soil. They will take care of the water. They will take care of the air. They will do everything they can to make sure those plants and animal resources—and even the mineral resources, the rocks. They made deals with the rocks for specific types of stone to be used. So, they are in this relationship in the world, in which they are literally a part of everything around them. They’re not above it. They’re not below it. They are on an even par with everything else that sits out there.

All of that establishes their place on the land, to the point where there are specific places that you go to select specific resources,  to the point where a family might have a gathering area that is specific only to them. Or there could be a family, or there could be a lineage, or there can be a community, or there can be a village.

The number of places out there that are tied to either individuals or groups is phenomenal, because they are a part of the land. Rex says in one of his quotes that I used, “The Indian is the land. The land is the Indian. That’s just the way it is.”

That’s exactly how they live, and, given that, the attachment to this place is incredibly strong. They have to remember that all these resources that subsisted them, that allowed them to survive, made that original deal that they would keep on taking care of it, from time immemorial through time immemorial. They talk about seven generations, where they’re looking at three generations passed our present generation and three generations to come. That’s what they owe their allegiance to. “We got it from our ancestors in this condition. We owe it to our descendants in the same condition.”

The cultural ties to the land are incredibly strong, because it is their obligation to support and care for all those things that have allowed them to survive, if we look at the full timeframe, for 11,000 years in this place. They don’t take that “Yeah, I’m just walking across the land.” No. “This is this spot, and this is where I go.” One of the things you see in the oral histories when they get evicted from the site—and we may be jumping to the next area—is, they start losing the ability to go to those specific areas.

While the Europeans look around and say, “You know, that balsam root flower looks just the same there as it does twenty miles over there off the Hanford site. It’s the same balsam root.” The tribes will go, “That’s where I have a connection with that plant. That’s not my plant. This one is.” But because they were forced out of this area, they’ve had to make adjustments. They’ve had to go to different places to obtain foods and other resources that they can’t get on the Hanford site.

I think it’s really interesting in one of May Taylor’s comments, she says, “Yeah, we couldn’t go to Hanford, so we went down to Hermiston. But you know what, it doesn’t taste the same. It’s not the same plant. It looks the same, but it doesn’t smell the same. It doesn’t taste [the same]. It’s not the same thing. It’s not from the right place.” This whole concept of linking place and activity, it’s just fundamental to Native American life.

I would broaden that off to indigenous cultures, people who are living off the land, live off the land. We’re speaking here of Native Americans, because that’s the group we’re dealing with. But if you go to any preliterate societies who are living that close to the land, you’re going to see the same kind of cultural behaviors.

It’s not unique to this area. It’s just that it’s very much manifest in this area, because Europeans—we never stay in the same place. You’re born someplace, and the first thing you do when you obtain legal age is you generally move away, whether it’s to a new city or a new house or a new state or a new country. Modern European or non-native societies split up.

Traditional societies stay together, and when people move away, it doesn’t take them very long—I’ve seen this myself in the years I’ve worked with these groups, four, five, six years outside—they come back. They don’t want to be away from the homeland. They don’t want to live somewhere. They’ve tried that. It’s like the roots that May Taylor was talking about. They don’t taste the same. That spot over there in New York where I went to school isn’t the same. I want to come back to Washington. That’s home. Tri-Cities, that’s where I live. That’s where my family lives. There’s a whole different way that indigenous people look at the world than we do.

What do you want to talk about?

Kelly: About the forced eviction.

Marceau: In 1943, when the government took over the Hanford site, everyone was evicted. They gave notices of the eviction. Basically everyone had to leave.

They never really talk much about the Wanapum and the Native American people. There was no court cases to give them benefits for lands and resources they had lost, although they had court cases for all of the farmers. They could go to court if they wanted to. Most didn’t. Some did. They didn’t make out that much better if they did go to court—maybe a smidgeon, little bit more added to the money they received for their lands.

But they didn’t treat the tribes the same way they dealt with the Europeans. They didn’t really seem to care. In fact, the Wanapum were away when they took over the Hanford site, and their entire village was just closed down. Over the course of the next several years, it was looted by workers putting the Hanford site together. They didn’t even get a chance to go back to their campsite from which they were evicted to get their possessions and their belongings before they had to move someplace else. Europeans were all given an opportunity to carry away whatever they could. We know they didn’t carry away much. There’s so much stuff out there in historic archeological record, because they couldn’t carry that much away in forty-eight hours or thirty days or whatever they might’ve had.

But the tribes weren’t even given that opportunity. They didn’t even get access back to their camp to get their possessions. That’s a difference. Right from the get-go, they were treated differently. They are in that same kind of situation to today. There’s lots of concepts about, “Well, it’s okay. They’re not there, but they can go someplace else.” As we mentioned earlier, they really can’t go someplace else.

What we’re looking at in this particular section for what they lost is, they lost access, and with that lost access to this land came a number of things. We’re kind of looking at that.

One was resources, physical resources, and most of that was in the realm of plants. Animals migrate in and out, so that you can catch animals someplace else. You would prefer going to the spot where you traditionally hunt, but if not, you can take the animals someplace else. But they’ve lost access to those plants to which they have very strong personal, family, or community ties. They can’t get there anymore. That’s a loss that had to be substituted for by going someplace else.

There’s a second type of loss, which is the transition of knowledge, and that’s something I see as incredibly important. When you look at ceremony and you look at how that should take place at this spot at this time of the year, and the teachings that go on depend on being at that spot so that all that information is passed along in its right context. They have lost the ability to teach the next generation. At this point, we’re two generations removed from the spots they need to be at to learn the culture, to learn the history, to learn the ceremony, to learn the importance of that place to them.

That means that knowledge is not being transmitted. In some cases, that knowledge is then lost, or you will see where they struggle to try and teach the next generation something about that place that these kids have never seen. How do you tell someone how important this place is? They don’t even know what you’re talking about. They never had the opportunity to stand out there.

As Rex says in his interviews, “Just to sit by the river and listen. Not do anything, but just listen and absorb everything that’s happening around you.” Because in his mind, the entire world speaks to him. The air talks. The water talks. The wind talks. The leaves talk. Everything has a voice. He’s basically saying, “You don’t have the opportunity to do that if you can’t take someone there and sit them in that spot and say, ‘Here’s what this area means to us.’”

You say, “Okay, well, you know, the government understands that.” People fought for a long time to get Indian religion recognized, and they did. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act was originally passed to allow Indians to practice their religion. It’s been usurped by the modern right, and I won’t get into that right now. But its original purpose was to allow them to use ceremony and materials the way they always have and access to federal lands, which they had been denied, to do it at the right spots. And that was an incredible law that was passed that allowed Native Americans to be Native Americans again. “You can practice your religion.”

Part of it happened, because they wanted to take peyote [a type of spineless cactus with psychedelic properties] in jail as part of the Indian way, the Red way. Well, a lot of that was resolved in the courts when the AIRFA was passed that said, “We give you your blessing, guys. You can now practice your religion in the ways that you used to do it.”

That doesn’t mean anything if you still can’t get back there to that spot. It doesn’t mean anything if you can’t teach the next generation everything about that in its totality. And that’s, to me, more important, but that’s kind of in a Western way. But losing plant resources is bad, but losing religion is worse. Well, their view is, “It’s all bad.” We tend to want to prioritize or rank things. The loss of the ability to transmit knowledge from generation to generation is detrimental to these guys.

The fact that because of what happened at Hanford, some of the elders won’t even come here when they are allowed. DOE has started to allow bus tours for the tribes. The very first one we had was around 1997, or maybe ’98. It was incredible, because we took years to convince the Hanford patrol that we could bring children on to this site, and they would be okay. They would be safe. At the time, no one under eighteen could even step foot on the Hanford site.

Well, our first busload of tribal people, we had a six-month-old infant out there with us. We took kids out there. We had the patrol, we told them where we were going to go. We put itineraries together, yada, yada, yada. But it was the first time some of these kids had ever seen Hanford. It was the first time elders had an opportunity to talk to kids about these areas, both in their native language, Sahaptin, and in English. It was a wonderful thing to observe.

But as Rex points outs, it’s always a tour. “You don’t just let us go.” You don’t just say, ‘Okay. Go do what you need to do. We’re going to put restrictions on you. We’re going to put bounds on you.’”

That’s helpful, but that doesn’t get them where they need to be. You lose both the ability to transmit the knowledge the way it needs to be transmitted, and the ability to go to places that you need to go to. And that’s for mythology. That’s for history. That’s for ceremony. That’s for any kind of event that’s commemorated by that landmark or by that landscape. You can’t get there.

The thing that’s kind of happening is, they are allowing people on site with greater frequency. But we still need to push, to push more, because until they are allowed to conduct ceremony at the spot without white supervision or intervention, they’re really not getting to be where they need to be. I don’t know if that will ever happen in my lifetime even, but it’s something that I think the cultural programs on Hanford should really work for, is to get access to the site again. If cleanup is clean, if clean is clean enough, and you can go do it safely, that’s what they should do. They should allow these practices to take place back where they did, because you’ve lost that whole chunk of territory that you used to have access to. There are so many spots.

We know there are places out there that we can’t be told about. We’ve been told, I’ve been told, cultural program staff has been told, about places that are important, because as we have a project, we have to know something. But they don’t volunteer information. I know from participating in ceremonies with them for twenty-two years, there are stories and places that they can’t tell white people. It is just forbidden. I, as a shiapo, as white person, sometimes have to leave the room, because they’re telling knowledge that I don’t have any reason to have access to. To me, that’s the way it should be happening with the Native American community on the Hanford site.

It is such a wonderful reserve, because nothing has happened here for seventy years. It’s one of the few places they might still be able to go and hold the ceremony at the right spot and not be bothered by anybody, in what’s more or less still natural terrain and natural environment. It’s such a key point, in my mind, for the continuation of their culture. And that’s a lot. We see that happening all the time.

The fear that the elders have of this place, it shouldn’t be that way. But how do you get a ninety-year-old person out here to talk about something, when they’re convinced that they walk into this place, and the air will kill them because it’s contaminated? That’s kind of how they’ve absorbed this: “Bad things happened here, and it’s changed the air from good to bad. I don’t want to go there and breathe bad air.” That’s a real traditional elder, who has generations of knowledge in his or her mind that can’t be passed on to the next generation, because they won’t even go to that spot. Who knows if those people would go if it was, “Okay, it’s good to go.” Would they accept that? We don’t know that.

But there have been consequences of being shut off from the site that I don’t think a lot of people think about in terms of Native American involvement, what they’ve lost from being pushed off of the Hanford site. The Europeans went and started other ranches and ranched the hell out of this area. The Wanapum did not. The Wanapum went back to Priest Rapids, and they’ve stayed there. They just regret the fact that this big piece of their home territory is unavailable to them, and it’s also unavailable to any other tribe that used to come here as well.

They don’t take into account that the tribes see even the perception of risk as enough to stay away from the area. Most times, you want to see some kind of numbers. You want to have it shown. “This is bad, or this is good.” Black and white.

The tribes don’t really care about the numbers. They’ve just seen that this has damaged their resource. But in a risk assessment, we don’t look that way. We don’t talk about that. We don’t talk about loss of access as something that should be in a risk assessment. Because the loss of access relates to the continuity of their culture. It impacts their ability to transmit their culture. The perception of risk alone—it doesn’t even have to be real. It just has to be, “Something might have happened over there, and I don’t want to be anywhere near it.” And now you’ve lost that individual as an instructor, as a teacher, as someone who’s going to help mediate old generation to next generation, because they won’t even go near that spot, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent to them. It’s, “Bad things over there. I’m not going near it.”

But risk assessments, even tribal risk assessments, really don’t go into that kind of detail. Native plants, can they use the native plants? That’s the question that Rex has been asking me for years. “Can we go out and use the plants again? If we can’t, can you tell me how many we can use, and still have it be safe?” He understands the concept of, if you eat twenty salmon, you’re in trouble. If you eat two salmon, you’re okay. He understands cumulative risk and cumulative dosage.

Really, his question is, “Okay, so if I can’t gather that plant here, I’ll understand that. But if I can gather it here, can you tell me how much is going to be safe?” In other words, “Can I go out and get five quarts? Do I only pick one plant? Do I pick two quarts?” That is his concept of a risk assessment. “How much can I use?”

Well, we don’t talk that way in doing risk assessments. We don’t really pull the Native American community into an assessment of what risks their community is under.

I do know enough about risk assessments that you have to conduct in that light of the people who are at risk. Not the assessor, not how they might perceive things, but how the people who are impacted perceive things. They talk about in native societies, “We don’t all do the same things.” Men and women have totally different roles, so men have a different exposure than women do. Children have a different exposure than elders do. But, again, risk assessments don’t take those kinds of things into consideration.

I think there could be—and maybe there is, I just don’t know it—a whole school on nothing but traditional indigenous risk assessments, to really get a good discussion going of how safe is safe, and can they use this area again. They want to know the answer to those specific questions, and it’s not generally the question that the Europeans are asking. We’re not asking whether I can go out and eat balsam root in the spring—but the tribes do. There’s this whole area of risk assessment that figures into, are they going to get back to this land?

Because we talked about the things they’ve lost. They lost social connections. They used to come here and trade in big groups. All the plateau tribes, one of the areas they would come to was the Hanford site. Celilo Falls, Kettle Falls, other areas around here. One of the major gathering areas was on Hanford. They would have marriages and they would have alliances formed. Because no one can use this area, some of the informants have pointed out, they’ve just out-and-out lost contact with some people they used to have long-term social relationships with, because they can’t do that event. They can’t do that stuff.

There are a number of different ways Native American communities have been affected by a loss of Hanford that unless you start looking at their culture through their eyes, you don’t even see. You don’t even realize that there’s been a risk, or there’s been some kind of harm done. Because you think of it as European, you’re thinking of it in terms of white scientific culture, as opposed to native, indigenous culture. We need to bridge that gap someplace. Until we do, they’re going to continue to be damaged and hurt by this loss of access and things that just aren’t happening anymore.

One thing we haven’t talked about is how patient tribal people are. They’re sitting in there, waiting. They’re waiting to get back, and they’re waiting to take care of this land that right now, they can’t take care of. They hear the signs.

Tribal societies, tribal people, are very patient. They will sit and wait for as long as it takes, because they know they’re not going anyplace else. They were created here. They are obligated to take care of this area. They have no desire to leave this area. They will outwait us. In fact, one of the things you’ll hear in meetings with these guys is just that: “Ah, well, don’t worry. 100 years from now, you’re all gone. We’re still here.” They have a long-range view of how things can play out.

But Rex has said—and I use his quotes to close out this chapter—basically, he says, he is listening and he has no doubt that the land is still strong. That the land has its own desire to take care of itself, and continue to help the people and the resources. He says he hears those things. He is only waiting for that point in time where the land is going to announce, “It’s time for the people to come back.” He’s ready for it. He’s waiting for it. He’s looking for the signs. He’s listening for the signs.

He talks about it in terms of: “You have to hear what’s going on. You have to see what’s happening. At some point in time, we need to be at that spot to continue our existence. Because that’s going to be the critical time, when the earth calls. We have to answer. We have to be there when the call comes for the earth to renew itself with us helping.”

So, they’re here. They’re waiting. He’s just holding back, hoping that that comes sooner than later. But their whole concept of the land is, “Yes, it’s been damaged, but the land is strong.” The land has been persisting for thousands and thousands and thousands of generations, taking care of him and his people. He knows it will continue to do that as long as it can. They are very eager to get back to that. The land itself, in their view, is very strong.

It’s us, the Europeans, that kind of need to get out of the way a little bit, as it were, and allow the tribal people to start taking care of the land again, the way that they know they need to do. We are simultaneously encouraging cultural traditions, and being good stewards of the land. I can’t see a better long-term stewardship program than one that actively involves the tribes in the land management issues out here in terms of making this area reusable again, making it productive again. I hope that happens. I hope I’m here to see it when it does.

Kelly:  Well, I hope you are, too. Is there anything else that you want to say about this issue or more generally about Hanford’s environmental legacy?

Marceau: It’s an interesting, because I’ve worked here for twenty-two years on the site, trying to think about the environmental legacy of the place. I don’t know. I just hope it gets to the point where it’s clean enough to be used again. Whatever they need to do. We keep on kind of slipping in and out of the news, in terms of funding or no funding or whatnot. I think when you start looking at how many billions of dollars it will take to clean this site up, you can understand that. But I hope we don’t give up kind of and say, “Oh, we spent enough money. We’re not going to get it all,” or “There’s no sense in continuing.” There’s too much at stake out here in terms of the land itself.

I also hope that the land stays as a natural preserve. I am not a supporter of developing the Hanford Reach. I would love to see it stay in its pristine condition. It is a game preserve. I would like to see it open to the public in terms of interpretation and visitation. That’s probably where we’d go back 17 million years ago, to the geologic history.

I’d like to see people get to appreciate the land for what it is. It’s survived a long time. It will out-survive us. Even if we don’t clean it up, it will still out-survive us. So, who knows?

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