|September 5, 2013
Coming Full Circle at Kerr Dam
Eneas Vanderburg and Vance Home Gun visit during the tour of the Kerr Project. (courtesy photo)
POLSON — Eneas Vanderburg was 9 years old when he attended the dedication ceremonies for Kerr Dam in 1939.
On August 19, as part of a tour of the Kerr Project works, Vanderburg was joined by other Tribal Elders, Tribal Council Members, and those interested in the hydroelectric facility, for an up-close look at the assets the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes intend to acquire in 2015.
“As long as I have been on the Reservation, this is the first time I have been here at the dam,” Vanderburg said. “I’ll remember this day, it’s perfect.”
Margaret "Muggs" Friedlander takes a break from walking around the facilities. (courtesy photo)
Margaret “Muggs” Friedlander was a young girl during the years that the Kerr Project was being constructed, but memories of the time are forever burned into her mind.
“I was only 4 and a half years old when my dad came back to tell us that my uncle Joe Mathias was crushed by these rocks,” Friedlander said. “For me I’ve never wanted to come back, there was so much sadness. But today I thought I’d go see what they are doing and if it is good.”
Energy Keepers, Inc., the tribal corporation tasked with managing the acquisition of Kerr Dam organized the day. First the group gathered at the power house shop, then made their way to the dam itself, where they walked along the top of the concrete arch dam overlooking the spillway gates. Looking up at the towering, steep cliffs, the group was reminded of those who lost their lives building the dam, and how challenging the structure was to build, especially back in the 1930s.
Lawrence Kenmille looks out from the top of Kerr Dam. (courtesy photo)
“They used hand shovels, and wheelbarrows to move all that rock,” said Tony Incashola, director of the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee. “Now this kind of work would be easier with the kinds of machines we have, but back then, it would have been difficult. Today we are reminded of the respect we have for the Tribal Members who gave their lives to build this dam.”
The entire Board of Directors for Energy Keepers, along with Tribal Council Members Lloyd Irvine, Ron Trahan and Carole Lankford joined the group in addition to Kootenai Culture Committee Director Patricia Hewankorn.
Brian Lipscomb, CEO of Energy Keepers, Inc. explains some of the dynamics of hydroelectric power generation to the group. (courtesy photo)
After a lunch of sandwiches and iced tea, the group was escorted to the powerhouse, where they witnessed the large turbines at work producing energy.
“This affects the Tribal Membership in a huge way,” said Lloyd Turnage, CSKT Tribal Member, and journeyman operator and maintenance person at the Kerr Project for the past 28 years. “The more people see the process and become familiar with what the Tribes are trying to accomplish, it’s a positive thing.”
A clear, warm August day, looking up through the canyon, large hawks circled, and visitors standing at the viewing platform far above the dam waved down to the group.
Tribal Council member Ron Trahan along the walkway of the power house. (courtesy photo)
“I am really glad I came here today,” said Kootenai Culture Committee Staff Member Gina Big Beaver. “It’s really exciting, and it’s always nice to spend the day with elders and hear what they think. I thought it was a great day.”
Currently the Tribes are awaiting the decision, expected this spring, by an independent arbitration panel to determine the amount for purchasing the assets in September 2015. Energy Keepers continues to move forward in preparation of the date, hiring and training personnel, and focusing on details for taking over a major hydroelectric facility such as the Kerr Project.
“Today is important for many reasons,” said Energy Keepers CEO Brian Lipscomb. “First of all, this is a sacred place for our community not only because there are families who lost loved ones here, it’s also an important cultural resource for the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people. Today the dam stands as an important opportunity for the Tribe. With our acquisition of the Kerr Project, we will be the first Tribes in the United States to own a major hydropower facility, but more importantly, we will be regaining control of our own resources and determining our own future. In addition it is an incredible business opportunity for the Tribes. ”
The Kerr Project power house. (courtesy photo)
Dustin Shelby, current operator trainee at the dam, helped his Grandmother Muggs Friedlander get into her vehicle after the tour.
“I guess there are a lot of things you have to think about,” said Friedlander. “I wonder about the workers to run this type of business. It would be good if it’s a success, if our people can run it. Right now though, here is my grandson.”