Tribal delegation reconnects with Tomanowos, feels impact of meteorite
By Danielle Frost
NEW YORK CITY -- It is said that Tribal members who have interacted with the meteorite Tomanowos are forever changed by the experience.
That saying holds true for Tribal Elder Leonette Galligher.
“This is the coolest thing I have ever seen,” she said, emotion in her voice as she gazed at the 15.5-ton meteorite. “It’s beautiful and amazing that something like this can exist this way and we can claim it as a part of our history. I wish more youth could learn about this.”
Galligher was one of two Tribal Elders selected to make the journey to visit Tomanowos at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and participate in a private ceremony on Wednesday, June 20, with other Tribal members and family. Rick Grout was the other Elder.
Galligher, who grew up on the Yakama Reservation, recalled that her mother had a saying whenever children would misbehave.
“She used to tell us, ‘Be careful or Tomanowos will get you.’ We didn’t even know what that meant, but we listened,” she said.
The Tribe and museum have an agreement that keeps Tomanowos in New York City as long as the museum provides ceremonial access to Grand Ronde Tribal members, as well as acknowledgement of the meteorite’s religious importance.
On Tuesday, June 19, a delegation of employees, Tribal members and family left Portland International Airport on Delta Airlines bound for New York City and Tomanowos. The flight was indicative of the trip with clear skies, a few wispy clouds and mild turbulence.
Tomanowos is believed to be the iron core of a planetesimal that was shattered in a collision. Pulled in by Earth’s gravity approximately 13,000 years ago, it fell from the sky at more than 40,000 miles per hour and landed, most likely, in the southern Alberta region of Canada.
After the Columbia River Gorge was carved in a flood of water, rocks and ice, Tomanowos traveled the hundreds of miles westward, eventually coming to rest outside of what is now West Linn near the Willamette River falls.
The meteorite collected water that the ancient Clackamas Chinooks believed was invested with divine qualities. It became a sacred site for western Oregon Tribes, particularly the Chinooks, who believed it was sent to Earth by the Sky People.
After the Chinooks, along with more than 25 other Tribes, were removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation in the 1850s, their connection to the sacred item was broken. Meanwhile, Tomanowos remained in that location for almost 50 years more, partially submerged below ground level.
In 1902, Tomanowos was “found” by part-time miner Ellis Hughes, who removed it from ceded Tribal land that then belonged to Oregon Iron and Steel Co. The miner, realizing the economic potential of such a find, removed it without permission. It took more than a year to drag the huge meteorite three-quarters of a mile, where he built a shed to protect it. Then, Hughes charged 25 cents for people to view it.
In 1905, by juridical order, Tomanowos was returned to Oregon Iron and Steel and was subsequently purchased by New York philanthropist Mrs. William Dodge for $20,600 after she saw it at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. She donated the Willamette Meteorite, as it was rechristened, to the American Museum of Natural History.
For years it sat in the museum, a major tourist attraction but unbeknownst to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which was undergoing its own battles with poverty, prejudice, Termination and Restoration.
In 1999, the Tribe, citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, sought return of Tomanowos. The museum countersued, asking a judge to declare it the owner. In 2000, the two sides reached an amicable agreement. During Tribal visits, the museum closes early one day to allow for a Tribal ceremony. Additionally, the museum also established an internship program that allows young Tribal members to work at the museum every summer, learning about Tomanowos while living in New York City.
The Tribe has sent a delegation every year from 2001 through ’08, but skipped 2009 because of the national recession. Starting in 2010, the Tribe has sent a delegation every other year.
The 15.5-ton meteorite, which was formed billions of years ago, casts an impressive figure in the museum’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Hall of the Universe, which opened in February 2000. Due to the meteorite’s weight, the center was constructed around Tomanowos.
It was Tribal Council member Brenda Tuomi’s first visit to the meteorite and New York City.
After the ceremony, which involved singing, drumming, ceremonially washing the meteorite, burning sage and placing cedar boughs and personal effects in various crevices, Tuomi said the experience as “amazing.”
“I was a little intimidated to touch it,” she said. “I wondered what the water could do for it and if it could feel our presence.”
Wednesday, June 20, was a hot, sticky New York City summer day. The Grand Ronde contingent quietly walked the five blocks from the NYLO hotel through the bustling streets to the museum’s Hayden Planetarium entrance and were escorted in by security.
There, the delegation visited with museum officials and noshed on a buffet of cheeses, crackers, bread and fruit.
In recognition of the ceremony’s importance, the museum closed early and brown paper was placed on the windows and elevators. Chairs were set up around Tomanowos and the meteorite also was cleaned by museum staff.
The private ceremony began with an honor song and drumming performed by Interpretative Coordinator Travis Stewart, Cultural Protection Specialist Chris Bailey and Historic Preservation Program temp Nicolas Atanacio, Tribal intern Kaleb Reid and Public Affairs Administrative Assistant Chelsea Clark.
Other Tribal members in attendance were Tuomi, Galligher, Grout, Tribal intern Payton Smith and Chief of Staff Stacia Hernandez.
Family members and significant others at the ceremony were Ron Tuomi (Brenda Tuomi’s husband), Tim Hernandez (Stacia Hernandez’s husband), Michael Baranski (Clark’s husband) and Faith Hayes (Grout’s partner).
“I am glad everyone made it out here,” Stewart said. “This is almost the 20-year anniversary of doing this, but our connection goes back more than 10,000 years. In time, if we learn to listen to this history, it can come back to us. … There has been a lot of discussion about whether we should have Tomanowos here or in Grand Ronde. No matter what, it is important for our people to come here and listen to it. We want people to get a chance to interact with it.”
After the introduction, the meteorite was washed with rose hip and princess pine-scented water while cedar boughs and personal effects were placed inside and on it. Atanacio lit the sage and soon the area around the meteorite took on the smell of a forest with the sounds of Tribal drumming in the background.
As the ceremony progressed, some attendees climbed the meteorite as a part of the cleansing process to ensure all of it was covered by the water. After the ceremony was complete, the delegation walked several blocks and placed the boughs in the Hudson River. Atanacio, Bailey and Stewart sang and drummed. A crowd of onlookers gathered, watched and listened as the sun set on a warm New York day.
Part of the interns’ duties is to educate the public about the significance of Tomanowos, so with some encouragement they spoke with those who had gathered around.
It is Bailey’s fourth time to New York City to participate in the ceremony and help supervise interns.
“It’s fun to see the kids get this experience outside of what they are used to,” he said. “Every year, it is a group of much different personalities and a whole new adventure.”
Smith and Reid’s duties of greeting and educating museum visitors of all ages from all over the world about the Tribe and the meteorite are no easy task for teens used to living in small communities back home.
“For many visitors from other countries, Spaghetti Westerns may be their only experience with Native Americans,” Bailey said.
“Some people don’t even think Indians exist anymore,” Stewart added.
Smith, 16, said being a museum intern was “the coolest thing I have ever done.”
“I really enjoy learning about the science behind the meteorite and cultural side,” he said. “The idea of seeing and knowing we had a meteorite is fascinating. Standing by it is just jaw dropping.”
Smith said the most challenging aspect of being a museum intern is learning to talk to strangers.
“We supply the Tribal side of the story as well as what makes the meteorite look the way it does,” he said. “We are learning how to interact with various age groups.”
Being from the small town of Rainier, Smith said adjusting to life in the big city is a bit of a culture shock.
“But everyone is really friendly,” Smith said. “I wasn’t expecting that. And there are a lot of people. My favorite part is being in the hall of meteorites or just coming in here where Tomanowos is at. We have learned a lot about the universe.”
Reid, 17 and a Willamina resident, said he appreciates the opportunity to soak in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.
“I like all of the food and exploring the city,” he said. “It’s definitely different than Willamina and I am learning what I can about the meteorite and getting in depth at the museum.”
Reid encourages other young people to apply for the New York internship.
“Give it a chance, it’s pretty amazing,” he said.
Eighteenth year of partnership
On Thursday, June 21, the Grand Ronde delegation was welcomed back to the museum for a private breakfast of fruit, sausage and egg frittatas in the Astor Turret.
The Grand Ronde delegation included Brenda and Ron Tuomi, Grout, Stacia and Tim Hernandez, Galligher, Smith, Reid, Baranski, Clark, Atanacio and Stewart.
Breakfast attendees from the museum included Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Strategic Planning and Education Lisa Gugenheim, Communications Senior Vice President Anne Canty, Senior Vice President Ann Siegel, Earth and Planetary Sciences Curator Denton Ebel, General Counsel Sheree Carter-Galvan, Associate Director of Visitor Services Larry Spain, Senior Manager of Museum Learning Melanie Cohen, Associate Director of Foundation Support Kim Thompson-Almanzor, Assistant Director of Government Relations Danielle Mazzeo, Senior Director of Education Mariet Morgan, Strategic Planning and Foundation Support Director Emily Summerhays, Public Programs and Exhibition Education Director Bella Desai, Director of Foundation and Government Relations Angela Stach, Manager of Middle and High School Programs Leah Golubchick, Development Associate Jeamir Diaz, Cultural Anthropology Educator Marissa Gamliel, Vice President of Institutional Advancement Camille Coley and Manager of Government Relations Caitlin Miller.
“It’s always very special to me to meet new members of the delegation and to welcome you to the museum every year,” Gugenheim said in opening remarks. “I know it is a significant investment of your time. This is our 18th year of the partnership and is very special to me since I am one of those who helped forge it.”
She also thanked past Tribal Council Chairwoman Kathryn Harrison for the partnership.
“This was very much her vision and I am proud to be a part of that,” Gugenheim said.
Tuomi said she was “a little humbled” to be standing there.
“Over the years, Grand Ronde has been able to work hand in hand to provide educational opportunities for students that teach them valuable skills they can take into the real world,” Tuomi said. “Last night at the river, Kaleb and Payton had the opportunity to share with complete strangers what we are doing there and I can’t wait for them to share with our youth and other Tribal members.
“It is said that Tomanowos leaves an impact on those who visit and that is very true for me. It was awesome to stand and touch it. I will always remember that. The creator gifted us with Tomanowos and because of you we get to continue these ceremonies. Our Tribe is very thankful for that.”
Gugenheim congratulated the Tribe on the recent re-opening of the Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center.
“We appreciate the invitation to come and visit and look forward to doing that soon,” she said. “I also want to acknowledge the 34 years since Restoration. It is such an incredible story of what the Tribe has gone through and its strength today.”
After the breakfast, Clark gave gifts of cedar rose, sage, chocolate and beaded necklaces to museum officials in attendance. In exchange, they gifted delegation members with museum souvenirs.
“Thank you for the gifts, friendships and partnerships we have here,” Coley said.
When the gift exchange was complete, the delegation was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, which included the experimental planetology labs and the chance to handle pieces of the billions-of-years-old meteorite collection.
While in the city from Tuesday, June 19, to Friday, June 22, delegation members had the opportunity to visit various cultural, historical and popular New York landmarks.
On Tuesday, despite jetlag from the time difference and a long flight, some delegation members visited Times Square and experienced what the saying “the city that never sleeps” really means.
After dinner at a Greek restaurant, the group visited a Yankees and I Love New York store to purchase souvenirs before taking in the sights and sounds of the city at night.
Tim and Stacia Hernandez took in a Yankees-Seattle Mariners game on Tuesday, where Tim, a Tribal police officer, described the crowd as “fairly calm.”
“We sported our Mariners’ gear and only had a few hecklers,” he said. “We haven’t had problems with anyone at all.”
On Wednesday, most delegation members toured the Statue of Liberty, gift shop and rode the ferry past Ellis Island.
“The excitement down on the town last night was fun, but it is really special to be this close to the Statue of Liberty,” Galligher said. “It’s exciting to be seeing something like that. I know people who come to our country are impressed by her.”
Tuomi said she didn’t think she would ever see the Statue of Liberty in person.
“It’s pretty exciting, but I always imagined it to be bigger than it actually was,” she said.
Atanacio spent the day with Bailey and the interns at the museum and ate New York City pizza.
“The canoe room at the museum is amazing,” he said, referring to the 63-foot canoe suspended from the ceiling. “And the pizza I had was awesome.”
The seaworthy Great Canoe is one of the museum's most popular artifacts, according to its website. It was carved in the 1870s from the trunk of a cedar tree and features design elements from different Northwest coastal Tribes.
The group also toured the 9/11 Memorial, where more than 2,600 people lost their lives when the World Trade Center’s twin towers were attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
Today, the area has been completely reconstructed and One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the United States, reaching more than 100 stories. The memorial is next to it and honors the lives of those who were lost. It includes eight of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center. The names of every person who died in the terrorist attacks of Feb. 26, 1993, and Sept. 11, 2001, are inscribed in bronze around the twin memorial pools.
“I remember watching the attacks on TV so to see this in person after almost 17 years was amazing,” Grout said. “What they have done in that time is very inspiring.”
“It was so different and beautiful,” Galligher said. “It was really cool to look out and see how big everything was, too.”
After breakfast on Thursday, some members of the delegation headed on a long New York City subway ride to Coney Island, where they took in the sights and sounds of the historic boardwalk.
At JFK Airport early Friday morning as the group waited for the flight back to Portland, Atanacio recalled some highlights of the trip, but one loomed larger than the rest.
“It was definitely the ceremony for sure,” he said. “It just means so much that I got to be here for it. Nothing competed with that.”
Galligher echoed those sentiments.
“Seeing the meteorite was amazing,” she said. “I never thought I would see anything like that. It was very impressive.”