Tribal Government & News

Tribe buys Blue Heron Paper Mill site

08.15.2019 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Culture, History
The 23-acre Blue Heron Paper Mill site in Oregon City is now owned by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde as of Thursday, Aug. 15. (Photo by Timothy J. Gonzalez/Smoke Signals)

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

OREGON CITY -- The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde once again owns land at Willamette Falls for the first time since its antecedent Tribes ceded the area to the federal government in the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, the Tribe finalized its purchase of the 23-acre Blue Heron Paper Mill site from Washington developer George Heidgerken.

The Grand Ronde Tribal Council voted to purchase two properties in Clackamas County, including the Blue Heron Paper Mill site, on July 10 and approved a supplemental budget of $17 million to acquire both properties. The Tribe purchased the Blue Heron site for $15.25 million, according to the Clackamas County Recording Office.

A second property, which includes 1.5 miles of land that borders the site and Willamette River, is scheduled to close at the end of August.

The Blue Heron property is within the Tribe’s ancestral homelands and holds significant historical and cultural importance to the Tribe.

“This is a historic day for the Grand Ronde Tribe and our people,” said Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy in a press release. “Since 1855, the government has worked to disconnect our people from our homelands. Today, we’re reclaiming a piece of those lands and resurrecting our role as caretakers to Willamette Falls – a responsibility left to us by our ancestors.”

The site was once home to the Charcowah village of the Clowewalla (Willamette band of Tumwaters) and the Kosh-huk-shix village of Clackamas people, who were forcibly removed from Willamette Falls and relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation in the 1850s.

The purchase is a continuation the Tribe’s reconnection with the falls. In October 2018, the Tribe successfully built a removable platform at the falls, which allows Tribal members to traditionally fish using dipnets. Tribal fishermen returned to the falls in May and caught the first fish from the platform.

Tribal members also return to the falls annually to harvest by hand Pacific lamprey, a traditional first food.

The Grand Ronde Tribe has been working with various local, regional and state partners throughout the sale process to shape the future of the property, said Deputy Press Secretary Sara Thompson in a press release. Tribal representatives met with some of those partners at the site during a private meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

The Tribe has worked with regional government Metro and the Willamette Falls Trust on the Willamette Falls Riverwalk Project and established a cleanup plan with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Hernandez said that the Tribe has initially committed $3 million to clean up the property, which has been used for numerous industrial purposes since the 19th century.

The Tribe placed the property under a purchase and sale agreement in May and the Aug. 15 closing concludes a three-month purchase and due diligence process.