“Coyote came to that place [around Oregon City] and found the people there very hungry. The river was full of salmon, but they had no way to spear them in the deep water. Coyote decided he would build a big waterfall, so that the salmon would come to the surface for spearing. Then he would build a fish trap there too.”
- Excerpt from Clackamas Chinook Story Coyote Builds Willamette Falls the Magic Fish Trap
THE GRAND RONDE TRIBE: REBUILDING CULTURAL CONNECTIONS AT WILLAMETTE FALLS
Statement from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Tribal Council
Willamette Falls represents many things to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The existence of Willamette Falls on the landscape represents the physical realization of our oral history and stories. Willamette Falls represents home – the home of our ancestors from the Charcowah village of the Clowewalla (Willamette band of Tumwaters) and the Kosh-huk-shix Village of Clackamas people. They are a portion of our homelands that were ceded to the United States Government in 1855 under the Willamette Valley Treaty (signed January 22, 1855 and ratified March 3, 1855) and where our ancestors were forcibly removed from to the Grand Ronde Reservation.1 The historical and cultural connection between the Grand Ronde Tribe and Willamette Falls is defined by our ties to this place persisting through generations through forced removal of our tribal members and our own termination by the United States Government.
There is a shared history of tribal connection to the area based upon the respect of a guest-host relationship. Our ancestors welcomed guests to Willamette Falls and today we honor that same relationship.
Keowewallahs, alias Tummewatas [Tumwater] or Willhametts. This tribe, now nearly extinct, was formerly very numerous, and live at the falls of the river, 32 miles from its mouth, on the right bank. They claim the right of fishing at the falls, and exact a tribute from other tribes who come hither in the salmon season (from May till October).
-William A. Slacum- Observations made in 1837 as an Agent of the US Military.
A few tribes have tried to suppress the cultural history of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde at Willamette Falls. However, the Grand Ronde Tribe remains committed to working with our partners at the federal, state, local and tribal levels to address the issues surrounding this sacred place.
The completion of the fishing platform and the ceremonial fishery at Willamette Falls is a monumental step in an on-going cultural revitalization that the Tribe has worked hard to nurture. This fishery and the construction of this platform is the realization of a vision put forth by our tribal leaders who fought for Grand Ronde’s restoration. It allows us to exercise our relationship to Willamette Falls by maintaining the Grand Ronde Tribe’s connection with its historical homelands and its resources. It is reconnecting our community to our ancestral homelands through a cultural practice that others are trying to deny us. The Grand Ronde Tribe remains steadfast in strengthening our cultural connections throughout all of our ancestral homelands and we will continue to celebrate that work.
FISHING SCAFFOLD CONSTRUCTION
In 2018 the Grand Ronde Tribe received a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands to construct a fishing platform on state lands at Willamette Falls. The scaffold allows the Grand Ronde Tribe to safely harvest ceremonial fish at Willamette Falls at the time of year when our ancestors historically took the first fish from the Falls. The Tribe has taken ceremonial fish at the falls for the past three years.
BLUE HERON PROPERTY
The Grand Ronde Tribe was blessed with the opportunity to purchase the Blue Heron property at Willamette Falls. The Tribe has a deep history as the caretakers of the Falls and the reacquisition of the Blue Heron property is a coming home for the Tribal community. The vision for this site is a vision that reconnects the Grand Ronde Tribe to its homelands, assures cultural access by tribal members to the falls, restores a landscape that has been damaged from industry, and explores economic development opportunities.