Tribe honors numerous employees who helped build Willamette Falls fishing platform
During a two-hour ceremony held Wednesday, Nov. 7, in the Tribal gym, Tribal Council members and General Manager David Fullerton thanked all employees who contributed to building the Willamette Falls fishing platform that was completed on Oct. 23.
Employees recognized included those who actually did the physically taxing and dangerous work, as well as those who supported them and those who remained behind in Grand Ronde to ensure government processes and services to Tribal members continued uninterrupted.
Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George opened the ceremony with a blessing in which he called Oct. 23 a “significant, historical day” for the Tribe and expressed gratitude that after 135 years Tribal members can return to their ancestral ways of fishing at the falls.
After employees ate lunch that included a sandwich bar, potato and macaroni salads, cookies and soft drinks, Fullerton thanked the packed gymnasium for a “tremendous day and tremendous turnout.”
“We really wanted to bring all of our staff together to celebrate the significant accomplishment of erecting our fishing platform at Willamette Falls,” Fullerton said.
Canoe Family singers that included Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier, Cultural Resources staff member Nicholas Atanacio, Cultural Resources Manager David Harrelson, Interpretative Coordinator Travis Stewart, Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George, Recreation Coordinator Harris Reibach, Cultural Education Specialist Brian Krehbiel, Cultural Education Coordinator Jordan Mercier and 6-12 Tutor Vincent Chargualaf appropriately sang and drummed “The Salmon Song.”
Harrelson gave a history on the Tribe’s connection to Willamette Falls, dating back to pre-contact times when the Clow-we-walla and Clackamas controlled harvests at the important Native trade center. He also displayed a recently discovered photograph of Willamette Falls taken between 1883 and 1887 that shows a fishing platform still being used by Native Americans for subsistence fishing.
“What is so significant about this photo is that it is the earliest known photographic record of the falls with a fishing platform in it,” Harrelson said. “That’s 30 years after people were removed to the Reservation in the 1850s. That is a whole generation later and yet there are still Indian people out at the falls.
“The people of Grand Ronde are the people of Willamette Falls, and the people of Willamette Falls are the people Grand Ronde.”
Fullerton said understanding the history of Willamette Falls helps Tribal employees understand why the Tribe put such an effort into building the fishing platform, as well as understand Tribal member connections to the falls area.
A video created by Deputy Press Secretary Sara Thompson showed the progress of building the platform and included drone footage taken by GIS Coordinator Alex Drake and underwater GoPro footage of a sturgeon being caught in a dipnet.
“That three-minute video represents three weeks of work,” Fullerton said.
Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy told employees how happy she was to know that a fishing platform had been constructed and the Tribe had overcome numerous obstacles, from getting fishing and hunting rights restored by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife to Portland General Electric revoking permission to access the fishing platform site.
“What a joy it is to see you all here today,” Kennedy said. “My heart feels very glad, proud, thankful and blessed that we have a group of individuals who share our vision, who believe in what we’re doing and will put themselves at risk in order to fulfill the goals of this Tribe.
“So I stand here today, very humble to be a part of all of this … to know that the blood that flows through my veins is attached to Willamette Falls, as many of you as well.”
Kennedy also reminded employees about how the Tribe had to sacrifice its hunting and fishing rights in the 1980s to secure state support for its Reservation Plan.
“We were held hostage by the state,” Kennedy said.
Fullerton recognized a slew of employees who helped, including Tribal Attorney Rob Greene, Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Biesack, Procurement Manager Larry Leith, Procurement Supervisor Kevin Mueller, Lead Shipping & Receiving Clerk Nathan Rolston, Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Hernandez, Executive Assistant Barbara Branson, Deputy Press Secretary Sara Thompson, Realty Coordinator Teresa Brocksen, Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier, Maintenance Supervisor Andrew Freeman, Career Development Case Worker David DeHart, Nutrition Program Manager Kristy Criss-Lawson and Lead Cook Kevin Campbell, as well as Tribal Council members and Youth Education, Silviculture and Cultural Resources employees.
Fullerton and Tribal Council members Kennedy, George, Jack Giffen Jr., Kathleen George, Steve Bobb Sr., Denise Harvey, Lisa Leno and Michael Langley presented Pendleton blankets to the main workers who were at the falls everyday installing the fishing platform. Those employees included Fish & Wildlife Program Manager Kelly Dirksen, Aquatic Biologist Torey Wakeland, Biologist Brandon Weems, Engineering & Public Works Manager Jesse White, Utility Maintenance Supervisor Joe Loomis, Maintenance Technician Daniel Mooney, Fish & Wildlife Technician Matt Zimbrick, Groundskeeper Nick Kimsey, GIS Coordinator Alex Drake and employees of contractor Chris Scholten Construction in Willamina.
“It took this whole organization to make this happen,” Fullerton said. “Everyone really contributed to this project.”
Elder and former longtime Tribal Council Chairwoman Kathryn Harrison offered to hug and thank those who did the hard work, ferrying heavy equipment and supplies across Willamette River from the Oregon City side to the West Linn side and navigating slick rocks to install the platform. The employees took her up on the offer and each received a hug and heartfelt thank you.
Tribal Council also honored Fullerton with a Pendleton blanket for his work in getting the platform built.
All Tribal employees received a black sweatshirt and can of salmon. The back of the sweatshirt bears an image of a Tribal member dipnetting over the words “Keeping Culture Alive at Willamette Falls.”
“The one thing I will say about our people is that we don’t give up,” Kennedy said. “That seed has been planted in you all as well. It was planted in me that we have to move forward. This is the future of our children. That is why we do this, for our children so they will know who they are. That they will be able to, with pride, say, ‘I’m a Grand Ronde Indian.’ ”