Meteorite mission: Tribal members visit Tomanowos in New York City

07.01.2014 Michelle Alaimo Culture, People, History

By Michelle Alaimo
Smoke Signals photographer
NEW YORK CITY -- The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City entered into an agreement in 2000 that allows the Tribe to conduct an annual private ceremony with Tomanowos, the 15.5-ton Willamette meteorite that was found in 1902 in modern-day West Linn near Willamette Falls.
The 14th private ceremony with Tomanowos occurred on Monday, June 23, at the museum, which has been the meteorite's home since 1906.
The ceremony was led by Travis Stewart, Tribal Cultural Youth Education specialist, with Tribal Council member Cheryle A. Kennedy providing the invocation.
While Tomanowos has a spiritual and cultural tie to the Grand Ronde people, Stewart said that he's noticed how everyone is drawn to Tomanowos, referring to museum visitors who gather around it.
Tribal youths Shane Thomas and Scott Hedenskog, who were chosen for this year's summer Internship Program between the Tribe and the museum, recited a history of Tomanowos.
Every year, two Grand Ronde youth are chosen for the internship program and Stewart served as their chaperone for the first half of the three-week internship. Chris Bailey, Youth Education's high school lead, will serve as chaperone for the second half.
Thomas and Hedenskog spoke about the meteorite's impact with Earth more than 10,000 years ago and how glacial melting and ensuing flooding transported it to the Willamette Valley, where its resting place became a sacred site for the Clackamas Chinooks. They also spoke about Tomanowos' cultural significance to them.
Following the youth, Tribal Historian David Lewis talked about the history of the Clackamas people. He said that Tomanowos has a very powerful presence and it is awe-inspiring that Tomanowos has been around for hundreds of generations of Grand Ronde people.
Kennedy said that she was glad to be in New York City with her cousins, Tribal Council member Kathleen Tom and Tribal Elder Laura Lund. She said that "Tomanowos is on exhibit at the museum to speak for us."
Kennedy said that the meteorite has a longevity, along with the Clackamas people. She said she sits back and reflects upon what her ancestors did and it gives her strength and hope to move forward and find ways to resolve issues. She also added that she decided that she needed to come back for the ceremony to renew and refresh.
Tribal Council member Denise Harvey was attending her second ceremony. Her first time was in 2005 when she served as a chaperone for Tribal young women who were interns that year.
Harvey said the ceremony is very touching and meaningful, and she's very fortunate to come again.
Tom said she was glad to see the young men and hoped that they learn about the Tribe and their families. She also said that "it's such a blessing to be here today" and every year that she has attended the ceremony it gets even deeper.
Tribal Elder Richard Fenwick thanked everybody for the opportunity and added, "The souls of my ancestors thank you for this opportunity." He said that the ceremony was intense and all his ancestors' souls came out.
Lund said she thought the ceremony was wonderful and it brought to mind a lot of her own history and her ancestors and how they struggled to survive.
Fenwick and Lund were the two Elders randomly picked from a drawing to attend the ceremony this year.
After Tribal members had their opportunity to speak, they participated in cleansing Tomanowos with rose hip and Labrador tea as Stewart sang and drummed a prayer song.
Non-Tribal visitors, such as a few members of the museum staff who were invited to the ceremony and other Grand Ronde staff in attendance, were offered a chance to speak.
Merrily Sterns, vice president of Institutional Advancement at the museum, said it has been an honor to have a relationship with Grand Ronde for 14 years.
Also at the ceremony were Tribal Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor; Public Affairs administrative assistant and Tribal member Chelsea Clark; Tribal Attorney Rob Greene; and Dr. Jonathan King, former keeper of the Department of Africa, Indian Ocean and Americas at the British Museum in London, England. King is currently a research fellow with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in England.
On Tuesday, June 24, the Grand Ronde delegation met with museum staff at the museum for breakfast and then Fenwick, Lund, Clark and the interns went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum's anthropology collection and viewed numerous Native American artifacts.
While that was happening, the rest of the group met with museum representatives and King to discuss the Summers Collection, which is stored at the British Museum and contains artifacts from Grand Ronde.
The Tribe has been trying for years to get the artifacts returned and the meeting was to make a commitment to continue working together with the British Museum for joint research, internships and if not the return, then at least a possible loan of the Grand Ronde artifacts that are part of the Summers Collection.
Even though King no longer works for the British Museum, he said he is still involved in the effort because he believes it is very important.