Pride in Her People

Charlotte Basch enjoys the view from Neawanna Point, not far from her Seaside, Ore., home.

Pacific sophomore Charlotte Basch started re-writing her people's history when she was 12. Now, she is a leader in the Clatsop-Nehalem Tribe and is studying ways to help bring her heritage back to life.

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In 1851, 19 tribes negotiated treaties at Tansy Point near Astoria. How ever, the government never ratified the treaties and, as the tribe’s website states, the Clatsop-Nehalem people “began to fall through the cracks.”

Some members settled on reservations, such as the Siletz and Grand Ronde in Oregon, or the Chehalis or Quinault Indian Nation in Washington. Others stayed in their homeland. 

“We lost a lot of heritage and culture,” Charlotte said. “We were pushed out, mostly because the area is beautiful, rich and full of many resources—so many settlers wanted to go there.”

For Charlotte, the future isn’t about recognition, so much as revitalization.

“A lot of our language has been lost,” she said. “A lot of our dances and our songs have been lost...we have a few of our stories.”

She wants to use her education as a path to exploring retention and revitalization of indigenous cultures worldwide—including her own.

“I’ve had a really strong interest in indigenous people all over the world, specifically in the Americas, because I believe we’re all related,” she said. 

When she was younger, she visited Australia. 

More recently, she worked as a volunteer with a nonprofit agency, Cross-Culture Solutions, in Ayacucho, Peru, one of that country’s poorest areas, where she worked with mothers in a wa-wa-wasi, or “baby house” in the Quechua language.

“I really wanted to find more of the indigenous-based teachings for their kids, since almost everyone outside of Lima at least speaks Quechua…especially the elders,” she said. “So, I was really hoping to bring that home, the way they teach their younger community members about the past.”

Pacific has allowed her to continue her exploration.

This winter, she visited Trinidad, in the Caribbean, through a Pacific research class on culture. There, she got to meet with the president of Santa Rosa Carib Community, a major organization of indigenous people in Trinidad and Tobago and to see how natives there maintained their cultures.

“I wanted to work with them and see how they’ve held on to a lot of their traditions, their culture and language, mostly because since my father’s tribe is unrecognized, we’re hoping to move through the process of restoration, which is an extremely difficult process.”

Last summer, Charlotte took another step in that process, as a coordinator for the Clatsop-Nehalem Tribe’s involvement with canoe journeys held in the summer with many other Northwest Native American tribes.

(Learn about the Native American canoe journeys or watch the video documentary Paddle to Swinomish Clatsop-Nehalem with Warmsprings.)

Charlotte’s group, which included both Clatsop-Nehalem and Warm Springs Indians, traveled more than 800 miles by canoe and motor vehicles to the Swinomish Tribe’s home near LaConner, Wash.