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.Wanda Laukkanen | Writer
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.