Experts have stated that even Native Americans in charge of cultural and anthropological affairs for their tribes are sometimes stymied as to what rock art means or even what an image represents. However, Dr. James Keyser, one of the leading experts on the rock art of the Columbia Basin, says that is not the case. Most rock art had a purpose and it is possible to decipher that purpose. He said there is "public" rock art and private. Private art usually depicts visions seen during a vision quest: a power animal, design, etc. Public art could be a shaman's message to all announcing his awesome power, sort of like an advertisement or a warning, or a tribal member painting an event.
This is the best known work of rock art in the Pacific Northwest. It is called "She Who Watches," or "Tsagaglal." She was painted as a warning to those approaching by canoe on the Columbia River that the people of the area were protected by her. Dire things would happen to those who harmed the area's inhabitants. She "watched" over them in all ways, making sure they had enough to eat and clothe themselves, and were protected from enemies. The reddish color is from paint someone used to make a rubbing. Dr. Keyser believes that natural forces over the next 100 years will wear down the work until it is no longer visible.
A photograph of a Columbia Basin tribe, possibly Paiute or Wishram, depicting a lizard. The Columbia Basin tribes' art tended to be lines (stick drawings) of people and animals viewed from the side. The straight red lines are possibly from vision quests. The lines, according to Keyser, are "I was here" marks, usually made by a participant on a vision quest to prove that they were at the site when they were supposed to be. Some popular vision quest sites have many lines on the rocks.
Probably a Chinook design. The Chinook came up the Columbia River from the coast when disease wiped out a great percentage of the tribes around Celilo Falls near the site of The Dalles dam. Their rock art was simple, bold, and looked a lot like what Keyser calls "totem pole" art. This one most likely represents an insect.
This could be a centipede or a stylized lizard. This also is a Chinook design.