In Defense of Wyam

Native-White Alliances and the Struggle for Celilo Village

  • Published: June 2018
  • Subject Listing: Pacific Northwest / History; Native American and Indigenous Studies; Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 312 pp., 23 bandw illus., 1 map, 5.5 x 8.5 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography
  • Contents

When the US Army Corps of Engineers began planning construction of The Dalles Dam at Celilo Village in the mid-twentieth century, it was clear that this traditional fishing, commerce, and social site of immense importance to Native tribes would be changed forever. Controversy surrounded the project, with local Native communities anticipating the devastation of their way of life and white settler-descended advocates of the dam envisioning a future of thriving infrastructure and industry.

In In Defense of Wyam, having secured access to hundreds of previously unknown and unexamined letters, Katrine Barber revisits the subject of Death of Celilo Falls, her first book. She presents a remarkable alliance across the opposed Native and settler-descended groups, chronicling how the lives of two women leaders converged in a shared struggle to protect the Indian homes of Celilo Village. Flora Thompson, member of the Warm Springs Tribe and wife of the Wyam chief, and Martha McKeown, daughter of an affluent white farming family, became lifelong allies as they worked together to protect Oregon's oldest continuously inhabited site. As a Native woman, Flora wielded significant power within her community yet outside of it was dismissed for her race and her gender. Martha, although privileged due to her settler origins, turned to women's clubs to expand her political authority beyond the conventional domestic sphere. Flora's and Martha's coordinated efforts offer readers meaningful insight into a time and place where the rhetoric of Native sovereignty, the aims of environmental movements in the American West, and women's political strategies intersected.
Katrine Barber is associate professor of history at Portland State University. She is the author of Death of Celilo Falls and Nature's Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century.

"In Defense of Wyam is an ambitious historical project that interrogates the gendered and racialized processes of alliance-building among Indians and whites on the mid-Columbia River."
-Michelle M. Jacob, author of Yakama Rising: Indigenous Cultural Revitalization, Activism, and Healing and Indian Pilgrims: Indigenous Journeys of Activism and Healing with Saint Kateri Tekawitha

"An analysis of the alliance between Flora Thompson and Martha McKeown to address the construction of The Dalles Dam in the context of Indigenous and white settler expectations and realities, gender, and the Cold War."
-Kimberly Jensen, author of Oregon's Doctor to the World: Esther Pohl Lovejoy and a Life in Activism

"Barber never flinches from the inequities and violence of Euro-American occupation of indigenous homelands. She reveals the ways in which two women, one Indigenous and one Anglo, negotiated the unequal terrain of their region. This is a history of cocreation and convergence, warmly respectful but unsentimental, that faithfully renders its subjects in three dimensions."
-Virginia Scharff, Distinguished Professor of History, University of New Mexico