Annual History and Culture Summit moves online

10.29.2020 Danielle Harrison Culture
David Harrelson


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals staff writer

Like virtually every other large indoor Tribal event since mid-March, the Tribe’s annual History and Cultural Summit was presented via Zoom this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year’s in-person Grand Ronde History and Culture Summit has been canceled, but I am happy to share however that the Cultural Resources Department of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has worked with some of our partners to offer a number of virtual presentations in place of planned collaborations for 2020,” Cultural Resources Department Manager David Harrelson said in an e-mail.  

The four virtual presentations include “Changes in the Land: Oregon 1800 to 2020,” “The Surprising Adventures of George Gibbs, 1816 to 1873, on the Oregon Frontier,” “Revisiting the Rogue River Wars of Southern Oregon: A Photographer’s Journey and a Tribal Perspective” and “StoryMap: Indigenous Naming of Creeks on Marys Peak.”

The first three presentations were held on Oct. 14, 22 and 26, and the fourth one will occur at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. All videos will be available to view for three months at

To register for the Nov. 18 Zoom event, visit and scroll to the link at the bottom of the page, “Complete Agenda: History and Culture Virtual Summit.”

The History and Culture Summit has been an annual event hosted by the Cultural Resources Department since 2013 that highlights the Tribe's relationships, places and practices throughout its ceded lands. It began as a means to help remedy that the histories of Oregon’s Tribes have not been properly documented.  

The Oct. 14 Zoom event was presented by the Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club, the Spring Creek Project and the Tribe, and featured Dr. Stephen Dow Beckham, a professor emeritus of history at Lewis & Clark College.

The program looks at the changing landscape of Oregon from settlement through the industrialization era to the present, and uses 165 images to convey how different historical periods affected the state’s landscape.

The presentation includes images of Native American fire ecology, the fur trade and emigration with the resulting new diseases and animal de-population, mining, fishing, farming, logging, river and harbor projects.

“Oregon has gone through many different things in the past 220 years,” Beckham said. “The land has remained the same, but its face has changed.”

The Oct. 22 presentation was organized by the Oregon Historical Society and includes panelists Beckham, University of Washington professor Sara Gonzales, Washington State University professor Shannon Tushingham and Harrelson.

George Gibbs traveled to Oregon in 1849 and remained for 11 years to work in Oregon, Washington and California as an ethnographer, linguist and collector of cultural items for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Gibbs was a Harvard Law School graduate and participated in the Willamette Valley and northwest California treaty councils of 1851, and wrote the fishing rights clauses into the 10 ratified Pacific Northwest treaties of 1854 and ’55.     

The presentation includes artwork by Gibbs and his associates, as well as his maps, artifact collections and scholarly publications. Afterward, there is a panel discussion.

The Oct. 26 presentation was organized by the Oregon Historical Society and includes commentary by Harrelson and work by Corvallis photographer Rich Bergeman.

For centuries, southern Oregon was home to a collection of Tribes who remained largely unscathed by white settler migration. But in 1851, the discovery of gold and the opening of Indian Territory to white settlement brought miners and other settlers, which resulted in years of conflicts that culminated in 1856 with the Tribes’ forced removal to the Grand Ronde and Siletz Reservations, creating Oregon’s “Trail of Tears.”

“When you look at these images, it’s a reminder that the ancestors of this place had been there since time immemorial,” Harrelson said. “Our ancestors wanted to stay in their homes. They didn’t want to move to a Reservation. People were force marched to the Reservation under threat of murder. When they arrived, 500 died in the winter between 1855 to 1856. We need to tell these stories to make sure things like this don’t happen again, and to know the full history, even if it is painful.”

During the virtual event, Bergeman visits landscapes where the conflicts began more than 160 years ago, and uses an infrared camera to photograph various images. 

He told viewers that he is not a historian, and before beginning the project he was only vaguely aware of Oregon’s dark history of the Rogue River Wars.

“After I became interested in the project, I tried to find everything I could read about it,” Bergeman said. 

During the photographic presentation, Bergeman discusses the various sites where battles took place. Battles were frequently instigated by gold miners in the area, who taunted the Indigenous people and often started skirmishes out of boredom. In one case, miners got drunk at a local bar and then headed out to burn down a Rogue River village, killing women, Elders and children while the men were away. The next day, the men returned to their village and saw the destruction, then began retaliating against settlers for the murders of their people. 

“These wars were mostly swept under the rug,” Bergeman said, adding that many of the earlier books on the subject were portrayed only from the settlers’ perspective. It wasn’t until the last part of the 20th century that publications written from the Native American perspective were widely available.

The Nov. 18 video will be presented by Grand Ronde Cultural Policy Analyst and Tribal Elder Greg Archuleta and Tribal member Jesse Norton.

In 2018, 10 unnamed creeks on Marys Peak near Corvallis were approved for naming by the U.S. Geological Service, and included words from three different Indigenous languages, which received broad local support and participation. The process was hailed as a success story among naming efforts nationally and served as an example of how Tribes can be engaged and represented.

The presentation will provide an overview of Marys Peak and the 10 creeks through narrative, maps, photos and a video, followed by a moderated discussion panel.  

The Tribe has been hosting a History and Culture Summit annually since 2013. Last year’s gathering was held at Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center and was focused on Chinookan art, with a collaborative carving project by several artists and hands-on activities for attendees.