By Shalaya Williams
Editor’s Note — To celebrate National Historic Preservation Month we’ve asked several individuals and organizations from around the state to tell us what preservation means to their community. We hope you find inspiration for your next preservation project from these stories.
Working with the Cultural Resources Protection Program (CRPP) of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) has given me fresh, new insight into the concept of what is ours and what is most important to us as people. There is much to be proud of when you can say you work for a protector of natural and cultural resources who bases its moral code on the ancestral law and way of life.
The opportunity to conduct oral history interviews out on the tribal lands makes this job even more meaningful and unique. It makes my imagination come alive when the elders tell the story of how this land came to be and why all of the plants and animals are so important. For me, this started out of a respect for our First Foods that could only grow fonder, as a seed planted at birth that is becoming more dynamic as it grows into a garden.
Last year, I was given the task of researching the importance of water to our Tribe with the Department of Energy (DOE) Hanford as a main resource. When visiting the sites, it was almost like going back in time to lands that were beautiful, untouched and rich in culture and history. However, the reality of today is that much of the area is tainted and closed off. Had I not been given this project, I may never have known how certain environmental problems can affect our First Foods, in particular through water passage underground. I guess you can say my perspective is evolving from nothing is wrong to not everything is perfect.
Working in cultural resource protection for me has been a process of finding a balance between following our traditional laws and adapting to change while protecting the land that holds our foods.
Shalaya Williams is an Oral History Technician Trainee with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). Learn more about the history and culture of the CTUIR.