Indigenous artifacts flow from museum to Confederated Tribes
Next month is designated as National Native American Heritage Month. In honor of these Indigenous Peoples in November, let us talk about those that once lived (and still do live) in the Tualatin Valley.
Oregonians might believe that the Tualatin culture was like that of the Chinookans of the Columbia River, but this idea is not exactly true.
Historians today believe it is important to work with Indigenous Peoples experts, to note the individualities of all the First Nations. This will educate and provide more accurate information and will also create awareness that diversity is a good thing!
Dr. David G. Lewis is an ethnohistorian, an expert in the Kalapuyan cultures and a descendant of Chief Santiam of the Santiam Kalapuya. He is is very active in recovering lost tribal histories of Western Oregon. He believes that "the true history of the tribal nations of Oregon has never been told. Many history books have ignored the tribes or presented only general information about them. I know there is a great volume of information that exists in archives and I am slowly uncovering it."
Lewis continues: "I use archival documents to write new histories of the tribes that correct erroneous perceptions of who the Kalapuyans were, as a people who thrived in the Willamette Valley for a very long time, as long as 10,000 years."
The Tualatin, or Atfalati band, were part of several Kalapuyan language groups of Oregon. Tualatin was the name given in the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855. They were part of a larger network that traded and intermarried with the Chinookan and Tillamookan tribes, and later with European trappers and traders. They lived mainly in several dozen towns or "winter encampments" along lakes fed from local rivers, stretching from the Portland Hills south to Wapato Lake at Gaston, from the Willamette River west to the Coast Range.
Lake people, they gathered wapato (a wild tuber) from wetlands and camas (a lily bulb) from oak savannahs. They traded these two food staples, along with acorns, many types of fish and game, leather goods, basketry and stone tools.
Many scientists do not consider agriculture to be a part of indigenous cultures. On the contrary, David Lewis teaches us that "people were going back to the same fields over and over again, every year for hundreds of generations." They gathered at family plots and practiced seasonal burning of savannahs. Controlled fires kept the soil rich for future growth. According to Lewis, "Kalapuyans were stewards to the valley for at least 50,000 generations."
Tualatins also practiced head flattening — which distinguished the leader class —pierced their ears and wore beaded jewelry, made out of seeds, dentalium shells and other wealth resources.
According to local historian Ginny Mapes, author of the newly updated book The Tualatins, "Artifacts from the ancient Atfalati have been uncovered showing achievements of an early people who flourished in their way of life in the land."
As curator of the Washington County Museum, I can say that the majority of our indigenous collection includes mortars and pestles, which farmers often plow up in their local fields. It is very difficult, however, to determine definitively whether our arrowhead collections are truly Tualatin. We try to refer local collections to Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde for repatriation.
Next month, take some time to be inspired to study this incredible history. Recognize that the land we live on today was never ever empty. Indeed, it was filled with a rich culture of people who should be remembered and understood — for who they once were and for who they are today.
Liza J. Schade is curator of the Washington County Museum, which recently moved back to the Portland Community College Rock Creek campus.