Giant wooden statue of Indian chief removed last Thursday from Shute Park due to damage from winter storm

PAMPLIN MEDIA GRAPHIC: CHRIS OERTELL - The Chief Kno-Tah statue stood sentinel for 32 years along Tualatin Valley Highway near the east entrance to Shute Park. One week after Hillsboro officials said they'd need to remove one of western Washington County's most recognizable art pieces due to damage from a winter storm, Chief Kno-Tah is gone.

The statue of a giant Native American head stood sentinel for 32 years along Tualatin Valley Highway near the east entrance to Shute Park. But a falling tree smashed into it in February, knocking it from its base and shearing off a chunk of the statue's forehead. The wooden sculpture has been decaying internally for years and was infested with carpenter ants, city officials said.

The statue has launched websites devoted to it, and some supporters raised money in an attempt to help pay for repairs.

But crews removed it early last Thursday morning, June 15, in order to mitigate public safety risks.

"Public safety is our top priority," Dave Miletich, director of Hillsboro's Parks & Recreation Department, said in a statement. "As much as we hoped the statue could be restored, it simply poses too much of a safety risk."

As crews removed it, Miletich said, the statue was so badly rotted that it fell apart once they pushed it over.

"It crumbled into several pieces, which we were able to clean up," he said.

"Because of the great care taken to maintain it, the Chief Kno-Tah sculpture has had a long life," said Valerie Otani, the city's public art supervisor. "But something made out of Douglas fir — sitting outside for 30 years — has a life expectancy."

Some supporters of the statue have said it should be maintained because it is a reminder of the native peoples that lived in the area before white settlers came, but spokespeople for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde say the statue has little cultural significance to Native Americans.

"While we value and appreciate the interest of Hillsboro's citizens in our ancestors, we desire that artwork and interpretation accurate to our people is available for such a purpose," said David Harrelson, the Tribes' cultural resources department manager. "The Shute Park carving does not look like our ancestors or represent our artistic traditions."

Otani said the decision to remove the statue was due to a handful of factors, including the its lack of cultural significance to the Tribes, as well as the potential cost of restoring it.

City officials have said a plaque describing the statue's history will be installed in the park and Miletich said the city will decide on a new piece of public art to bring more "culturally relevant art" to Hillsboro, but no details have been worked out about what that might look like, when it will be installed or whether it will stand on the same space at Shute Park.

"We'll be starting that process very soon," Miletich said.