Two-day summit takes deep dive in to Grand Ronde history and culture

10.31.2018 Danielle Frost Culture, People, History, Events, Tribal Employees

By Danielle Frost

The two-day Grand Ronde History & Culture Summit has become a popular annual event.

Approximately 250 participants immersed themselves in the Tribe’s historical relationships and places and cultural practices during the sixth summit held Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 24-25, in the Tribal gymnasium, Tribal plankhouse and Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center.

The summit began in 2013 as a means to help remedy the fact that the histories of Oregon’s Tribes had not been properly documented and told by the peoples most affected by them.

This year’s event included presentations and small group workshops from Tribal staff and other experts, focused on building and maintaining partnerships through projects to encourage cultural awareness of Native American people and places.

The summit opened with drumming and singing of “stankiya,” which is one of the oldest names the Tribe has for coyote. Participants included Cultural Resources Manager David Harrelson, Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier, Youth Prevention Manager Nicole Estrada-Hewitt, Cultural Education Specialist Flicka Lucero, Public Affairs Administrative Assistant Chelsea Clark, Cultural Education Coordinator Jordan Mercier, Chinuk Immersion Apprentice Santiago Atanacio, Interpretive Coordinator Travis Stewart, Recreation Specialist Harris Reibach, Cultural Education Specialist Brian Krehbiel, Cultural Protection Specialist Nicolas Atanacio, Tribal youth Nokoa Mercier and Prevention Coordinator Cristina Lara.


“Changes are being made here,” Bobby Mercier said. “Our children will never know a day when these things didn’t exist. … It is good to see so many Tribal people, government and schools represented.”

Several Tribal Council members attended Wednesday’s sessions, including Vice Chair Chris Mercier, Secretary Jon A. George, Lisa Leno, Kathleen George and Steve Bobb Sr. Past Tribal Council Chairwoman and key Restoration figure Kathryn Harrison attended both days.

This year, attendees had the opportunity to attend part of the summit at Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center, view the “Rise of the Collectors” exhibit that showcases 16 items from the Summers Collection and interact in smaller groups with hands-on activities and discussions.

The keynote speaker Wednesday morning was noted Lewis and Clark College history and Indian Law instructor Stephen Dow Beckham. He has also served as an expert witness in many Tribal land-use cases.


His presentation gave an overview of those who collected more than 200 years’ worth of language, culture and history of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and its antecedent Tribes.

“Some of us, like me and many of you, are new arrivals in this land,” he said. “But some of those new arrivals (in the 18th and early 19th centuries) had great curiosity and collected information on the Elders, which became legacies of the past.”

For example, explorers, fur trappers, early settlers, government officials, linguists and anthropologists investigated and recorded detailed information on Oregon Tribes, Beckham said. Until recent times, much of this information was “captured heritage” and not accessible. Chachalu is in the process of compiling an extensive database.

Beckham discussed the detailed sketches of Native American baskets, digging sticks, canoes and the floor plan of a Chinookan lodge made by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their Corps of Discovery journey in the early 1800s. Although this information was obtained due to colonialism and manifest destiny, it has resulted in extensive information about Tribes that lived in the area at that time.

Charles Wilkes was an American naval officer, ship’s captain and explorer. He led the U.S. Exploring Expedition from 1838-42, which included Puget Sound, the Columbia River, Fort Vancouver and Willamette Falls. At the falls, he documented Tribal fishing using dipnets, platforms and canoes.

George Gibbs was an ethnologist, naturalist and geologist who contributed to the study of the languages of indigenous peoples and published several books on the subject. He was known for his expertise in Native American customs and languages, and participated in numerous treaty negotiations between the U.S. government and Tribes, including serving on the Willamette Valley Treaty Commission of 1851.

Most well-known in the Grand Ronde area was the Rev. Robert W. Summers of McMinnville, who traveled annually to the Reservation between 1873-82 and collected thousands of objects of Tribal culture. Until recently, those remained hidden away from public view at the British Museum.

After almost 20 years of pursuing the collection’s return, Tribal collections staff received the green light for a loan. The “Rise of the Collectors” exhibit at Chachalu features 16 items from the Summers Collection. A return of the entire collection would take an act of the British Parliament to accomplish.

“Summers had great interest in Native American peoples, but he was also very nosy and would push himself into peoples’ homes,” Beckham said.

Summers also took advantage of the Grand Ronde peoples’ poverty by convincing them to sell or trade the artifacts and heirlooms in order to feed their families.

The Chachalu exhibition is the first time any of the collection has been displayed publicly.

“These artifacts have never been exhibited anywhere else,” Beckham said. “The Summers Collection is very extensive and we hope in future years more loan objects will be coming.”

Other Wednesday morning presentations included speakers on Tribal landscape burning practices, culturally important plants, and the enduring legacy of Native Americans in the post-industrial landscape of Willamette Falls.

Although industrial development in the 19th and 20th centuries destroyed almost all archeological evidence of the Native American fishery and regional trade center at the falls, an excavation of the historic Oregon City Woolen Mill in 2015 uncovered stone tools and other belongings of the first residents of the falls. Carbon dating showed these artifacts to be 1,300 to 1,400 years old.

The excavation was led by Heritage Research Associates archeologist Rick Minor.

“I had a lot of confidence that there would be archeology on this property and we found it,” Minor said. “People don’t know this history because it has been blocked out by industrial use.”

Wednesday afternoon sessions surveyed Tribal lifeways in early education, media in cultural identify, first foods, an archeology field school overview, as well as weaving, beading and a Chachalu tour.

A dinner at achaf-hammi was held Wednesday evening.

Henry Zenk, a linguistic consultant for the Tribe and author of “Chinuk Wawa as Our Elders Teach Us to Speak It,” spoke about indigenous place names of the Grand Ronde region on Thursday.

Zenk said that the Tribes that signed treaties leading up to the founding of the Grand Ronde Reservation spoke eight distinct indigenous languages, which all came with geographic naming. Most of this knowledge was lost after the forced relocation to Grand Ronde, with the exception of the Yamhills and Tualatins, speakers of the Northern Kalapuya language.

The language is represented by the earliest extensive linguistic record by Albert Gatschet, a government linguist who visited the reservation for two months in 1877. He wrote down hundreds of Northern Kalapuya names, which included 26 names from Grand Ronde and the surrounding area.

“We are fortunate to have as much as we do on the Northern Kalapuya,” Zenk said. “With naming in an oral culture, you don’t have a map with fixed points that is good for all times.”

Among the names that endure today is Chachalu, which means “place of burnt timber.” Zenk said this was likely due to monumental forest fires in the Coast Range.

Other Thursday sessions discussed oral literature, digitizing the Summers collection, Marys Peak ethnography and a presentation from Leah Golubchick, internship coordinator with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

She spoke about the summer Grand Ronde Youth Internship and the Willamette Meteorite, known as Tomanowos.

The Tribe and museum have had an agreement since 2000, which keeps Tomanowos in the museum as long as it provides annual ceremonial access to Tribal members, as well as acknowledgement of the meteorite’s religious importance.

Every year, the museum closes early one day to allow for the Tribal ceremony. Additionally, the museum established an internship program that allows young Tribal members to work at the museum for three weeks every summer, learning about Tomanowos and living in New York City.

“The internship with Grand Ronde is one of the most important things we do because it is extremely unique,” Golubchick said. “It does everything we try to teach in a three-week block. … The interns do an amazing job.”

Some of the final presentations were delivered by Tribal Deputy Press Secretary Sara Thompson, who discussed the use of multimedia and the Internet to get the Tribe’s stories out to a diverse audience, and Tribal Geographic Information System Coordinator Alex Drake.

The summit wrapped up after 4 p.m. Thursday with closing remarks from Cultural Resources Department Manager David Harrelson.