Hanford Reach: In The Atomic Field > Oral Histories

My name is Irene Cloud. I’m full blood Wanapum; I was born here, at Priest Rapids.

I was born on top of that hill. My mother was very young when she had me; she must have been around sixteen years old. And it was in April, the month they’d gather roots; they used to go up on top of that hill, on horseback. My mother went up there on horseback; they didn’t want to leave her at home, in case the baby came. So I was born up there... And my grandmother, she went looking for willows, way up there; she found willows and cut them, weaved a board they could put me in. My mom came down on horseback, with me on there.


In them days when I was born, which was 1931, my grandparents, grandfathers, grandmothers, they all rode horses. They must have been in their sixties and seventies.

And in my younger days, our dad would disappear; we didn’t know where he went. He went with my cousin to rodeos, he was a rider: a bareback rider. We finally found out where my dad was; we brought his saddle home, his chaps, and everything. He was a rodeo man; that’s how he earned his money.



What did it look like, before the dam was built? Oh, it was a beautiful place; Indians living there. It was very clean, where I was born; peaceful. Nobody bothered us; nobody told us to move into the reservation. I remember… It was beautiful.

We had a corrale with horses in it, built out of railroad ties; a big old garage to store Tuli mats. ‘Cause when spring came, they’d tear the winter lodge down and store all the poles, and everything, into that garage.

The government never did take the land away from us, where our home was. So it’s still a ceded land; it’s still Yakama land.

1957 is when they told them that they had to move. 'Course they didn’t ask them, “Can we build a dam here?” They just told them, “We’re going to build a dam here.”

But we came back.

When I was a teenager, and sitting on my rock for the last time, I knew that that ground was going to be covered with water. Which it is, now…

But we came back. We came back, every spring.


My grandmother told my dad, “I think you guys better move somewhere where there’s school; I hear that they’re gathering up kids and sending them to boarding school, cause there’s no school near here.” So we moved. I started school at ten years old, and I never spoke English. I learned my English in one year, in the first grade. I don’t know how I did it.


My mother used to listen to one program, “Queen for a Day;” she used to listen to that on the radio, when we moved to the Valley. The name of the town, it’s “Grandview.”

My grandmother, she only had two sons, and she really treasured the family. And she wanted us to have education, didn’t want us to be sent away. A lot of children got sent away to boarding schools, and some were mistreated. And she heard about it. And she didn’t want us to go nowhere.


I had to quit school in my eleventh grade because my dad broke his back, working. And my mother, she said, “All my life I worked; we never had anything free given to us.” So I told her, “I’m going to quit school and to go to work. I can finish school later.” So I went to work in a cannery. My mom and my aunt, they said “What do you do, in a cannery?” And I said, "There’s all different positions." So they went and got on; we had two paychecks coming in... We would work all summer, and get our clothes with that.


I married in '54, and at that time they were relocating Indians, trying to send them away where they [could] go to school or get jobs, in big cities. And my husband had just got out of the service. I said, “This could be a way to see another big town.” So we relocated to Los Angeles. I had two children then, a boy and a girl. I wanted to stay there, but I could not stay away from my parents... We came back, when the dam was up, finished.



My mom used to tell me how she moved from White Bluffs. They had lived at White Bluffs when she was very young. She left there when her mother died; she died right there, at White Bluffs.

I always think about that, whether it was from all that, nuclear... that, poison stuff. I don’t know; I’m not sure... I don't really know whether that was what my grandmother, my mom's mom, died of.

She couldn’t walk anymore. The only way she walked, was crawling... My grandmother; my mom’s mom. I only knew her by her Indian name.


There was people living there, in the Hanford Area. They had farms, and cows... Before they brought the nuclear in. Where White Bluffs is, a lot of Indians lived that way; in Hanford, and White Bluffs, along the Columbia River...

I try to teach the little ones, now, but they have English-speaking parents, so... But yes, we’re teaching them now. I’m going to record some of the stuff that I know, so the children can learn from it, how to carry themselves...