Remembrance and Mourning: Stories of Lower Elwha Klallam Trauma and Resilience on the Dammed Elwha River

Authors: Whitney Mauer*, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Environment, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Ecological restoration, memory, Indigenous peoples
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Cleveland 1, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Ecological restoration is gaining urgency, especially for Indigenous peoples who have endured the historical trauma associated with the settler colonial transformation and appropriation of Indigenous landscapes. For the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (the Strong People) of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, whose ancestral lands have been marred by large-scale environmental disruption from hydroelectric dams, ecological restoration offers the promise of transforming the Elwha River from a settler colonial landscape into the landscape of Lower Elwha Klallam cultural memory. However, many of today’s Klallam elders grew up along a river that had already been dammed for 20 years or more. In 2014, dam removal on the Elwha river was completed. In 2015 and 2016, I conducted group interviews with elders and members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, showing them satellite images of the Elwha River before and after dam removal. The images provoked memories of life on a dammed river. Participants told stories of fishing, swimming, playing, and smoking fish, pointing out sites that have been lost due to restoration. Although participants expressed hope and joy for the renewed river, they also mourned the loss of these sites. In this paper, I show how the narratives of remembrance and mourning indicate the reverberation of historical trauma in contemporary life and of the Strong People’s resilience and resistance to settler colonial rule.

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