MATTAWA — Don’t try to stare down a great-horned owl. They’re experts.
Hundreds of grade school kids from all over Eastern Washington discovered that Oct. 25 when they came face-to-face with Bert, who perched calmly on the leather glove of handler Steve Siebert.
This was Siebert’s first appearance at Archaeology Days, a celebration at the Wanapum Heritage Center to showcase the rich cultural and archaeological history of the Columbia Basin.
“They fly and hunt for jackrabbits,” Elian Guerrero, a second grader at Mountain View Elementary School in Quincy explained, after hearing Siebert describe how he uses Bert and other birds in his collection for hunting.
Hosted by the Wanapum Band and Grant PUD, the event began in 1999 and now spans two days — one just for the kiddos and a second for adults. Kid’s day was definitely the noisiest.
Students from as nearby as Quincy and as far away as Leavenworth, Richland, Coulee Dam, Toppenish and Spokane observed flint knapper Lloyd Barkley, a Pendleton, Oregon resident and member of the Yakama Nation, make projectile points (don’t call them “arrow heads”) out of obsidian.
They got a close look at Luna the live Pacific Lamprey and a handful of baby lampreys in an aquarium set up by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials. They learned to use the “atlatl,” a spear-throwing device used by hunters some 3,000 years ago. They observed intricate beadwork on buckskin, had fun using Grant PUD’s solar car racetrack, and watched PUD linemen put on their popular high-voltage show.
The commotion shifted indoors only for a hot dog lunch, served by their Wanapum hosts.
“We do a bit of pre-teaching about the Wanapum Native Americans, and then the students can come and see things in person, touch things and talk to people,” said Brooke Rosenow, second-grade teacher at Mountain View. “This is a great way to learn about the past.”
Education is also the goal for Heritage Center Curator Angela Neller. “My hope is that our visitors learn something and realize how important the natural and cultural resources are to the tribes,” she said.
Many exhibitors stuck around for adult’s day, too, when the focus takes a more scholarly turn with a series of archaeological-themed discussions by local and regional experts. Columbia River Historian Bill Layman kicked off the series with a talk about the Native American rock images — pictographs and petroglyphs — submerged in the reservoirs above Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams.
The Wanapum gifted each presenter with salmon and cherries. The audience munched on donuts.
“You guys bring us a big gift today just by being here,” Rex Buck, leader of the Wanapum, told the nearly 200 adults seated for the upcoming talks. “We can all come together and maybe understand things we didn’t understand in the past.”
Rex’s daughter Lela Buck was one of many who helped organize the event. Many Wanapum helped in the kitchen and elsewhere in the Heritage Center to make the event happen. Rex’s grandsons helped out on the atlatl field.
“As young Wanapum kids, they’re sharing things about their culture,” Lela said of her young nephews. “They’re just talking about who they are, and that’s really cool. We’ve been fortunate that Archaeology Days are just growing and growing and growing.”
Story by Christine Pratt, Grant PUD Public Affairs