Archeology has always been like a double-edged sword piercing the heart of Native American culture. One such culture largely affected by this study was that of the Chinookan-speaking people living along the Columbia River. During the late 40’s and 50’s when the digging of Native American artifacts was legal, most Chinookan village sites were subject to plunder. Amateur archeologists swarmed the river in search of artifacts. Organized digs sponsored by the Oregon archeological society were open to any layman interested in paying the 25 cents per ft. to dig, and keep what they find.
In a publication known as Screenings, artifacts dug at these sites as well as others were written about. This pamphlet, which was printed monthly, became a venue for the men and women digging these artifacts, to share with others there finds. It also served as a mini ethnography as native people began writing about their lives along the river and sharing stories told to them by their ancestors.
Screenings held stories as well as artifacts from the Columbia River. One such story told by a Bay Center woman named Mertil Woodcock, tells how Owl brought fire, a gift from the sun to the river people. In this story Owl is fearful for his life. All the other birds of the forest have made significant contributions to this world, but owl had not yet done so. Eagle was aspiring to kill him for this laziness. Owl aware of eagles plot decides to kill him first by way of bow and arrow. One night while owl was shooting his flint tipped arrows into the rock bank he made a spark, which kindled into a fire. Owl in his haste to return to his roost before daylight does not notice the flame and leaves. The next day the fire surrounded by owl prints was found by some native hunters. Thus owl is known as the one who brings fire to the people.
In my power figure” the one who brings fire”, Owl is grinning and clutches the arrows that caused fire, forever transforming the way of life.