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Karzmiski on Columbia Gorge

Lewis & Clark: Ken Karzmiski {format} 3:34 Barrett Golding

Buried memories of lost languages and cultures.

Broadcast: Jul 18 2003 on NPR Living on EarthSeries: Lewis & Clark Trail: 200 Years Later Subjects: Native, Historical, Environment, Spoken Word

Lewis & Clark Trail: Lost Languages

July 18, 2003


MAN: Paddle. C'mon harder. Paddle.

LAURA KNOY, host: We continue now with our series Lewis and Clark: 200 years later.


WOMAN: One, two, three.


KNOY: Producer Barrett Golding bicycled the trail and sent us a series of audio postcards along the way.


KNOY: Like this one of archeologist Ken Karzmiski, who collects evidence from the Captains' campsites in central Oregon. Ken Karzmiski works at the Discovery Center, near the Dalles Dam in central Washington. Interstate 84 is on one side, a railroad is on the other, and in between lie thousands of lost historical artifacts.


KARZMISKI: We're standing at a ledge right now, at the edge of the river, basically at the salt wall and we're looking down about 30 feet at the river's edge. There's a big bend in the river here, and we're about to enter the Columbia River Gorge. The dams – there are dams built all the way up the Columbia, and many of the Lewis and Clark campsites would be underwater here.

But even beyond the Lewis and Clark campsites, Lewis and Clark –if you look at their maps, they map village after village after village, up and down the river here. All of those villages have been flooded, as well. Any sacred place that they may have seen – and they saw burial sites – those have been flooded.

Almost everyone who is thinking about Lewis and Clark – always thinks about the aspect of trade. They could be trading knives, they could be trading beads. As they're coming back up the Columbia River, they're trading skins. Lewis and Clark are trading skins for beads. They're getting beads from the Indians, which the next day they may trade for dogs, which they'll use as food. On the Missouri, they could get firewood because of the cottonwoods alongside the Missouri River. Here, they had to buy firewood. Now that's a shocker. I mean, you think of Lewis and Clark as guys who were out exploring the wilderness.


KARZMISKI: But along the Columbia they are with a different group of people almost every night that they are out here. When Lewis and Clark passed down this river, there were 23 native languages being used; today there are two. The challenge is: can we keep those two? And is there any way that we can recover any of those other 21 that have been lost? If, for instance, people used the Lewis and Clark bicentennial to fund the preservation of the Umatella language – and there is a preservation effort going on right now and it is one of the two languages left. By itself, that would be worth having a bicentennial. Languages that they recorded then, 200 years ago, we can't, today, because they've disappeared. There's a direct connection. They were interested in languages. We ought to be. That would be a good piece of commemoration for a bicentennial.


KNOY: Barrett Golding's portraits of the Lewis & Clark Trail: 200 Years Later are part of the Hearing Voices series, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For more audio, images and interviews from the trail, go to our website,