Ancient Kalapuyan canoe repatriated to the Tribe

05.12.2011 Dean Rhodes Culture, History

The Grand Ronde's Canoe Journey exhibit currently showing at the Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill in Salem includes a Kalapuya shovel-nose river canoe, arguably one of the oldest Native canoes ever found in Oregon.

Today, thanks to a unanimous vote of the board of the Heritage Center, the canoe has been repatriated to the Grand Ronde Tribe.

"Our institution is the combination of Mission Mill Museum and the Marion County Historical Society," said Peter Booth, executive director of the Heritage Center.

"Our new mission is to assist the Willamette Valley community in preserving its heritage and history. We've done several projects with other cultural institutions in telling aspects of their stories. In that spirit, we have desired to reach out to the Grand Ronde community and assist their Cultural Resources Department and the Tribe in general in preserving their heritage, which is very important in the overall history of our valley.

"One asset that the museum has had has been the historic Kalapuya shovel-nose river canoe. The board realized that the Grand Ronde community could better tell the story that the canoe represents than the Willamette Heritage Center could.

"We very much value all our partnerships with all our community friends and leading among those relationships is the growing relationship between the Willamette Heritage Center and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. We hope that this gift assists the Tribe in developing their museum plan."

The canoe, undated but probably pre-European contact, has been owned by the Willamette Heritage Center since it was donated in 1980. The donor said it was found when the riverbank washed away in a flood on the Santiam River near Tangent, according to the museum's description.

Last year, Kathleen Tom, with Tribal Council blessing, joined the new entity's board of directors and expressed the Tribe's interest in the canoe.

At the opening of the current Grand Ronde canoe exhibit, The Willamette Heritage Center repatriated the priceless canoe to the Grand Ronde Tribe.

 "It's a privilege to do it," Booth said at the time.

"We, as indigenous people, look at time in a different way," said Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy to the group at the exhibit's opening. "We incorporate the past, the present and the future in everything we do."

The Tribe "forged a partnership" with the Willamette Heritage Center, Kennedy said, "to bring back a culture that many thought was gone."

She thanked many, but "especially the children, because they're the ones who will carry this forward."

The canoe exhibit runs at the Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill through May 30, when the Kalapuya shovel-nose canoe will come to Grand Ronde and be maintained by the Cultural Resources Department.

"Future plans," said Tribal member David Lewis, manager of the Cultural Resources Department, "are to create an interpretive display around the canoe located at the Governance Building."