Grand Ronde mischaracterizes tribal history at Willamette Falls
In your recent article, "Willamette Falls Trust apologizes for harming tribes," there was a mischaracterization of the tribal history and relationships to the Falls of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. Pamplin Media inadvertently advanced a false narrative that the Grand Ronde Tribe is the only tribe with historic, cultural or legal interests in Willamette Falls, and that other tribes only visited with their permission and sufferance.
This could not be further from the truth. Many different Indian bands and tribes stewarded and made use of the Falls for thousands of years, including the ancestors of our four tribal nations. Willamette Falls was an Indian gathering place, similar to Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. Our Tribes met there to harvest, trade, visit and even intermarry.
The Indians who were signatories to the ratified 1855 Treaty of Kalapuya were removed to the Siletz Reservation and the Grand Ronde reservation. Indians at the Falls who came from the east were removed to several reservations, but preserved in three other ratified 1855 treaties their rights to continue to fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places, however distant from those reservations. Although our ancestors came from many places, we are now identified by the reservations they were moved to: Siletz, Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakama and Grand Ronde.
These Treaty Tribes work together on issues of mutual interest on the Willamette River and at Willamette Falls specifically. Recent examples include the cleanup of the Portland harbor Superfund site, Portland General Electric FERC licensing processes and the Willamette Falls Locks Commission. Even more recently, Congress recognized the interests of these tribes, not just Grand Ronde, in protecting salmon and restoring ecological balance to the Willamette River in and around Willamette Falls.
The Grand Ronde Tribe's strategy of exclusion of our Tribes insults the history of our Tribes, especially after our Tribes banded together, at their request, to support the Grande Ronde Tribe's reestablishment in 1986 through Congress. We stood with the Grande Ronde Tribe in its time of critical need. Sadly, not long after correcting a historic injustice to the Grand Ronde people, they chose to disrespect our effort through a significantly funded media campaign designed to remove our histories at the Falls.
Your editors should have done additional investigation when the Grand Ronde Tribe declared its intent to exclude other tribes, claiming that "other tribal" representation on the Willamette Falls Trust Board would somehow "undermine" Grand Ronde. This claim stands far from the truth. Our collective efforts have always made us stronger in the protection of natural resources.
Conversely, the Willamette Falls Trust Board strives to understand the complex nature of Willamette Falls and are interested in inclusion and collaboration to share the full story.
Our past, as well as our future, are united by Willamette Falls. The Willamette Falls should be protected for the natural and cultural resources it possesses, our shared history it represents, and should be restored and enjoyed by all rather than subject to commercial development for any one entity's gain.
This opinion article was submitted by Delores Pigsley, chair of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians; N. Kathryn Brigham, chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; Raymond Tsumpti, chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and Delano Saluskin, chair of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
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