Evergreen donates slice of Tomanowos to the Grand Ronde Tribe
By Danielle Frost
Smoke Signals staff writer
MCMINNVILLE -- It’s only 4.5 ounces, but a sliver of the sacred meteorite Tomanowos returned to the Grand Ronde Tribe has huge cultural significance.
The meteorite slice was repatriated by Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in a ceremony at the museum’s theater on Friday, Feb. 22. Those gathered watched in silence as Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy accepted the piece in a red cloth-lined box from Evergreen Museum Collections Manager Lydia Heins.
“I want to express my sincerest appreciation for the return of Tomanowos,” Kennedy said. “It is a spirit helper and has healing properties. It is a great, great thing to have this piece back. The story of Tomanowos is a story of hardship, endurance, survival and victory. From the heart and soul of the Grand Ronde people, we give sincere thanks and gratitude to have this piece back.”
The ceremony opened with singing and drumming by Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier, Cultural Protection Specialist Chris Bailey, Historic Preservation Technician Nic Atanacio, Interpretive Coordinator Travis Stewart and Cultural Collections Specialist Nick Labonte.
“We chose the song, ‘Traveling With Our Ancestors,’ after thinking about this meteorite and what it has been through to come back home,” Mercier said.
Evergreen Museum Interim Executive Director John Rasmussen said that although meteorites have “great significant value” to the museum, the cultural value to the Tribe outweighs it.
“This is a significant day for us,” Rasmussen said. “This piece of the meteorite has special meaning to our friends in Grand Ronde.”
Kennedy and Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr. gifted museum officials with beaded necklaces to thank them for the return of a piece of Tomanowos.
“Words cannot be put into this,” Kennedy said. “Meteorites contain answers to the universe. We are a spiritual people and believe this came from Creator.”
The piece became part of Evergreen’s collection in 2006 after being purchased at an auction by Yamhill County resident Del Smith, founder of Evergreen International Aviation & Space Museum. Before Smith purchased the fragment, it was part of the Macovich Collection in New York City.
The first piece of Tomanowos to come back home was a 2.2 pound fragment repatriated by Willamette University in April 2006.
According to Grand Ronde Deputy Press Secretary Sara Thompson, it is estimated that 100 fragments of Tomanowos exist in private and institutional collections.
Tomanowos the traveler
Tomanowos fell from the sky more than 10,000 years ago and came to what is now West Linn by way of the Bretz Floods. Clackamas Chinook Tribal peoples, who lived in the area, believed the meteorite was invested with divine properties and frequently visited it for ceremonial purposes.
In 1906, a New York philanthropist purchased Tomanowos for $20,600 and shipped the 31,000-pound meteorite by train to New York City, where it was donated to the American Museum of Natural History, where it still resides 113 years later.
In November 1999, the Grand Ronde Tribe filed a claim for the meteorite, citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. In 2000, the Tribe and museum reached an agreement that keeps Tomanowos in New York City and allows annual ceremonial access to Grand Ronde Tribal members.
In 2012, a slice of Tomanowos was auctioned off for $2,000 in New York City by meteorite collector Darryl Pitt. He obtained his pieces of the meteorite in 1998 when he traded the American Museum of Natural History for a half-ounce piece of a meteorite from Mars. The trade occurred before the Tribe staked a claim to Tomanowos.
The Tribe is currently planning an exhibit, “Witness,” about Tomanowos at its Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center, scheduled to open in spring 2019.