Jan 7 Community History

Jan 7 Community History


I live in a community composed of five towns: Electric City, Grand Coulee, Coulee Dam, Elmer City, and Nespelem. We are tied together in a history that dates to the building of Grand Coulee Dam. It’s a rich history forged in a tumultuous time, during the Great Depression, in which our solution to the devastation was the New Deal: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s determination to help the American people. Grand Coulee Dam was one of the great infrastructure components. Thousands of people flocked to work on one of the wonders of the world, the largest gravity dam and concrete structure in the world at the time which would not only provide power but also irrigation to hundreds of thousands of miles of semi-arid lands, giving life to the land. It’s power provided the electricity to build the warplanes that helped win World War II. And that dam stopped the migration of salmon, the mainstay of food for the local Native American tribes, who had been forced onto a reservation, the roads closed, and families visiting each other from other areas of the Pacific Northwest found themselves trapped and forced to stay as well. The original reservation was formed in 1872 by Executive Order of President Grant. The reservations are sovereign nations, many with treaties with the United States of America. 

Nespelem, a town just northeast of the Columbia River’s turn to the west, is the tribal agency for the Colville Confederated Tribes. The reservation borders the Columbia River [in the portion behind Chief Joseph Dam called Lake Rufus Woods], which flows through Elmer City and Coulee Dam, is blocked by the Grand Coulee Dam to form Lake Roosevelt behind it, and provides the water that forms Banks Lake which borders Electric City. East Coulee Dam sits on the reservation; West Coulee Dam does not. Between Coulee Dam below the Grand Coulee Dam and Electric City above the Dam is the town of Grand Coulee. The five towns are tied by the water and land where the people live who make this semi-arid shrub-steppe biome their home.

So, we are a community rich in history, a history built on the culture of those who chose to live here. Nespelem, of course, is home to Native Americans whose own rich history spans thousands of years. It had it’s own businesses, schools, agencies, attractions— and it’s own history of converging cultures. When the Grand Coulee Dam was built, west Coulee Dam was home to engineers, the designers and supervisors. East Coulee Dam was home to workers; originally it was called Mason City and was to be a model town for the New Deal. Grand Coulee arose from the thousands who came, living in tents and make-shift shacks hoping for work at the Dam, or creating their own work and businesses to serve the thousands arriving to work. Elmer City, on the Colville Reservation, was incorporated in 1947. Electric City incorporated in 1950.

Yes, I live in a community composed of five towns: Electric City, Grand Coulee, Coulee Dam, Elmer City, and Nespelem. And as a rural community, our identity flows from family, friends, and neighbors who find ways to work together to support our community. We’re still working on that part; communities of diverse cultures take time to nurture.

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Image: Marked up NASA Public Domain