Tribal members visit Tomanowos
By Michelle Alaimo
Smoke Signals photographer
NEW YORK CITY -- Tribal Cultural Youth Activity Specialist/Tribal Artisan Travis Stewart asked a Tribal group gathered in the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Hall of the Universe at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City how many were there for the first time on Wednesday, June 22.
Almost everyone raised their hand.
Of the 23 Tribal members at this year’s 16th private ceremony with Tomanowos held at the museum, it was the first ceremony for 18 of them.
This year’s delegation from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde was one of the largest ever. In addition to Stewart, attendees included Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno and his wife, Liz; Tribal Council members Jon A. George and Chris Mercier; Tribal Chief of Staff Stacia Martin; Public Affairs/Publications Administrative Assistant Chelsea Clark; Tribal Elders Alan Ham, Dan Ham, Louise Coulson and Jennie VanAtta; Little Miss Grand Ronde Kaleigha Simi and her mother, Shannon Simi, and Kaleigha’s brother, Dominik Briant; Junior Miss Grand Ronde Isabelle Grout and her mother, Genifer Grout; Veterans Special Event Board Junior Queen Amaryssa Mooney and her grandmother, Tribal Elder Susie Lash; Angela Fasana, her husband, Ariah, and daughter, Cheyanne; Tribal Elder Barbara Steere and her son, Doug Steere; Jordan Reyes; and this year’s museum interns, Justin Fasana, Michael Reyes and Jonathan Tasa.
The ceremony was led by Stewart and opened with drumming and singing by him, George and Justin Fasana.
George gave an invocation in which he thanked employees at the museum for taking care of Tomanowos. Stewart introduced the Tribal youth who are interns at the museum and they each recited part of Tomanowos’ history.
Justin Fasana told facts about Tomanowos, such as it weighing 15.5 tons and that it originally was about 21 tons, but lost about six tons from rust and erosion that caused the craters in its surface.
Michael Reyes explained how the meteorite became part of Grand Ronde’s history, landing in what is now Canada 13,000 years ago, and then being transported by the Missoula Floods to the Willamette Valley, where Tribal ancestors venerated it. The Clackamas Chinooks dipped spearheads in the water that pooled in the meteorite’s craters, investing it with divine qualities.
Tasa told the history of how it ended up in New York City. It was “discovered” in 1902 on land owned by Oregon Iron and Steel Co. and was eventually sold to New York philanthropist Mrs. William Dodge, who donated it to museum.
The museum has been the meteorite’s home since 1906. In 2000, the museum and Tribe entered into an agreement that allows the Tribe to conduct an annual private ceremony with Tomanowos in exchange for letting Tomanowos remain in New York City.
Justin Fasana added that on behalf of all of the interns that they are happy to participate in the ceremony and be in the presence of the meteorite.
Tribal Council Chair Reyn Leno said it was great to see everybody and to see the meteorite. He talked about how he was part of Tribal Council when the Tribe made its original Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act claim, and negotiations and an agreement were worked out. He added that it was his first trip to New York City and to the ceremony.
Leno said it is great to be part of a Tribe that gets to recover its heritage and that the membership needs to know what that means to recover culture as opposed to the many that lose it.
“It’s part of our culture regardless if we’re in Grand Ronde or if we’re here in New York City,” he said referring to Tomanowos.
The ceremony followed. Tribal members cleaned the dust and dirt from Tomanowos with rose hip water and wiped it down with cedar boughs, both of which were brought from Grand Ronde.
Stewart said that it was time for Tribal members to say whatever prayers they have, to spend their own personal time with Tomanowos and to leave gifts, including 100-year-old wooden prayer beads that George gave to everyone to leave for the meteorite. The ceremony ended with an ancestors’ song and then Stewart joked that it was “selfie time.”
After the ceremony, George, Martin, Clark, Shannon Simi, Briant, Dan Ham, Lash, Genifer Grout and Royalty members carried the cedar that was used to clean Tomanowos several blocks from the museum to the Hudson River to release it into the river, returning the energy from Tomanowos to the water. George sang a prayer song as each person tossed a piece of the cedar over a pier railing into the river as the sun set.
Because it was the first ceremony for most who attended, there were many thoughts and feelings. Chairman Leno said that the meteorite is an “amazing” thing that people don’t realize until they visit and really look at it and make that connection and see Tribal people performing a ceremony that connects them. No matter how far away Tribal members are, they are still connected to Grand Ronde and the meteorite is connected to Grand Ronde people, he said.
Coulson said it was quite an experience to be there and that she was glad she attended.
VanAtta said what’s amazing is that everyone has an idea of what they think the meteorite will look like and it didn’t come close in her case. She said she thought it would have sharp edges, but it was smoother with holes in it and that it was “kind of amazing.”
During the ceremony, Dan Ham said he was thinking about how when he was the age of the interns, the Tribe was terminated and that if someone would have told him back then that he’d be going to New York to see Tomanowos he would not have believed it.
From a youth’s perspective, Mooney said she thought New York was fun and since it was her first trip to a large city, it was a good experience. She said the meteorite was “cool” to look at and it was overall a fun trip.
On Thursday, June 23, a breakfast with the Tribal delegation and museum staff took place at the museum, followed by a behind-the-scenes tour where the Tribal contingent viewed some of the Grand Ronde artifacts in the museum's collection, such as baskets, fish hooks, an elk antler purse and a stick game.