Grand Ronde tribe reclaims Willamette Falls, as work begins to tear down Oregon City mill

Posted on in category Positive News

We’re watching history being made as the Grand Ronde tribe reclaims Wilamette Falls! Read on!

Original article by Jamie Hale of the Oregonian

After a private blessing and a prayer, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde invited gathered media to watch as an excavator tore into a wall of the old, abandoned paper mill that the tribe says has stood on its ancestral grounds for too long.

The tribe held a symbolic demolition event at the old Blue Heron Paper Mill at Willamette Falls on Tuesday, representing a small step toward removing the industrial site and returning it to Indigenous hands.

Chris Mercier, vice chair of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council, said the tribe has been trying to reclaim as much of its traditional homelands as possible. The acquisition of the land at Willamette Falls represents the biggest step in that direction, he said.

This site here is of deep historical and cultural significance,” Mercier said at Tuesday’s event. “The fact that we’ve actually purchased it and own it now is kind of a dream come true for many of us and many of our tribal members, because our roots run deep here.”

The land around Willamette Falls was once home to the Clowewalla and Kosh-huk-shix villages of the Clackamas people, who ceded the land to the U.S. government under the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855 before being forcibly removed and relocated, according to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

For generations, the falls were also frequented by residents of other Indigenous villages around the area, including the Chinookan peoples of the lower Columbia River, who today are represented by several different tribal bodies.
The Grand Ronde call Willamette Falls “tumwata,” which is the Chinook jargon word for waterfall, and refer to the river as “walamt.” Every year, members of Oregon tribes visit the waterfall to harvest lamprey – a prehistoric eel-like creature that has been caught there for thousands of years – along with salmon and other fish.