Pride in Her People
White waves lap the sandy beach. Seagulls squawk overhead. Eagles pose in tall trees nearby, watchful. Pacific University sophomore Charlotte Basch is at home, in her favorite spot.
It’s known as Neawanna Point, an 18.5-acre estuary just north of Seaside, Ore., off Highway 101.
Today, it is part of a preserve established in 1968 by the North Coast Land Conservancy and others to protect a sensitive ecosystem and a place of cultural significance.
Hundreds of years ago, it was the place of Charlotte’s ancestors; a place where the Clatsop and Nehalem Indians lived together in longhouses, where they fished and hunted, where they weaved clothes and baskets, where they danced.
It also is the place where Lewis and Clark once stayed, not far from Fort Clatsop, where, in 1805, they met Coboway, the Clatsop Indian chief who was Charlotte’s great-great-great-grandfather.
Her mother, Roberta Wright-Basch, hails from the Puyallup tribe in Washington. Her father, Richard Basch, is from the Clatsop-Nehalem tribe. Charlotte has grown up with their shared ancestry and considers herself a proud member of both tribes, one who wants to use her talents and education to work with and for indigenous communities.
An ambitious student, Charlotte is a Pacific University sophomore working on a combined major in anthropology and sociology and hoping to add dance next year. She also is striving for minors in Spanish, political science and indigenous studies, a new minor that launches next fall, thanks in part to some of her own efforts.
Her passions go back to her childhood.
Charlotte’s father, Richard, serves as the Native American liaison to the National Park Service for the Lewis & Clark Trail at Fort Clatsop. When she was 12 years old, Charlotte accompanied him to work and was shocked to see the historical video that played at the fort.
The video depicted “the Clatsop-Nehalem people as just basically decimated—they looked horrible,” Charlotte said. “It said that they were extinct…but I always knew I was Clatsop (Indian), so I went back to my dad and told him about this and we sat down and wrote a big paper about everything I didn’t like about the video and what should be changed.”
The result: Fort Clatsop received a grant to remake the video, A Clatsop Winter Story, which plays every 30 minutes during visitor hours at the fort.
“It tells the story of Lewis and Clark and the expedition, but through the eyes of the Clatsop, which is a side that not many people hear very often,” Charlotte said. “I think it ended up pretty accurate, more or less, and I know that the fourth-grade classes in Clatsop County do go and watch the film every year.”
The story is told through the eyes of Charlotte’s great-great-grandmother, Celiast Smith, the daughter of Clatsop Chief Coboway. Celiast would have been 4 when Lewis and Clark journeyed to the area. In the video, Roberta, Charlotte’s mother, portrays Celiast as a grandmother telling her grandchildren about Lewis and Clark. Charlotte plays Celiast as a child.
Charlotte and her sister, Lorraine, also served as models for their ancestors in a 60-foot-long mural in Seaside (on the corner of Broadway and Holladay streets) depicting scenes of early Native American life.
The Clatsop-Nehalem tribe, like many Native American groups, is not formally recognized by the United States government. 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.
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. Along the way, they camped and shared songs, dances and stories with other local tribes, including the Grand Ronde, Quinault and Chinook.
They started the journey at Celio Village on the banks of the Columbia River in Central Oregon, with 12 to 18 people at any one time in the canoe. They paddled down the Columbia, using a trailer to go around the dams, and continued on the water to Vancouver, Wash. From there, Charlotte and her canoe family towed the canoe to the Makah Indian Reservation on Neah Bay at the very northwestern tip of Washington state, then paddled on the waters of Puget Sound eastward to the Swinomish Tribe’s home.
At the end of the journey, said Charlotte’s father, Richard, she stood up before some 10,000 people, introduced her tribe’s canoe family, Ne-awahanna Yahanetty (Spirit of the River), and talked about the issues in maintaining Native American culture.
So many people, he said proudly, told him that his daughter “has so much courage.”