Tribal Government & News

State reaffirms Grand Ronde fishing platform decision

SALEM – Oregon Department of State Lands Director Vicki Walker reaffirmed her decision to allow the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to erect and use a fishing platform at Willamette Falls on Monday, Nov. 26.

Walker originally granted permission to the Grand Ronde Tribe on Aug. 31, but the Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs Tribes and Portland General Electric asked Walker to reconsider her decision.

“I have thoroughly reviewed the issues in each of these appeals,” Walker wrote in her decision letter. “(I have) made site visits of the area by both land and boat, met with PGE legal staff and consultants, met with Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde legal staff and consultants, reviewed independent analysis … and reviewed the department’s file on this matter. I have determined that the department’s decision … be affirmed.”

“We are overcome with joy,” Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said in a statement released on Tuesday, Nov. 27. “Our ceremonial fishing platform restores an important cultural practice for the Grand Ronde Tribe, our community and our fishermen.

“In the early 1980s, the Grand Ronde Tribe was fighting for federal recognition from the United States government. Now, 35 years after our Restoration, our ceremonial fishermen are able to conduct our ceremonial fisheries from a fishing platform at the heart of our ancestral homelands, Willamette Falls.”

After receiving state permission to build the fishing platform, the Grand Ronde Tribe also faced objections from Portland General Electric over the location of the platform, which the company claims is its land. The state and Tribe disagree.

After Portland General Electric revoked Tribal access to the fishing platform site on Sept. 21, Grand Ronde Tribal members and staff started ferrying supplies and equipment across the Willamette River from the Oregon City side of the falls to the West Linn side.

The fishing platform was completed on Oct. 23 and Tribal members dipnetted from it on Oct. 25, but did not catch any of the 15 ceremonial salmon approved by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in 2016.

Meanwhile, PGE filed an Oct. 12 intent to appeal with the state Land Use Board of Appeals, objecting to the city of West Linn’s decision not to regulate the fishing platform structure. The board, which was created to provide consistent interpretation of state and local land use laws, is not expected to rule on PGE’s appeal until early 2019.

Walker modified the Tribe’s permit slightly since a petroglyph was previously discovered on rocks that are part of Willamette Falls. Because of that, if the Tribe wishes to relocate or alter the installed base plates using a ground-disturbing method, it must contact the State Historic Preservation Office before proceeding.

However, attaching the platform deck and structural components to the existing installed base plates and using the site for the fishing platform will not be considered “ground-disturbing activities.”