Tribal Government & News

Setting the record straight on Willamette Falls

07.28.2022 Willamette Falls
Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy (Smoke Signals file photo)


By Cheryle A. Kennedy

Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chairwoman

For the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Willamette Falls is home. It is the home of our ancestors from the Charcowah Village of the Clowewalla (Willamette band of Tumwaters) and the Kosh-huk-shix Village of Clackamas people.

Today, we are taking steps to honor our ancestors by restoring life at Willamette Falls. We are re-emerging in our traditional role of host and will soon begin hosting visitors at Willamette Falls, just as our ancestors did, for generations to come. 

Lately, some Tribes and individuals connected to the Willamette Falls Trust have been trying to rewrite history through personal attacks on Grand Ronde. They disregard the documented history of our ancestors living and thriving as year-long residents on the banks of the falls. They take cheap shots at our Tribe in the press, disregard our story and try to paint us as “bullies.” These actions are deeply hurtful, damage Tribal relations and distract from the important work at hand.

We know that Willamette Falls holds significance for many Tribes and many people. We also understand that there has been fluidity within Tribes through generations, including intermarriage. However, the history, treaties and geographic ties of each Tribe must be respected. This is the very reason we, the Grand Ronde Tribe, have not made treaty claims in Eastern Oregon, the ceded lands of other Tribes. We respect and honor that history. And we ask that they do the same.

I wish I knew why other Tribes feel the need to attack us in our homelands and fight our actions at Willamette Falls. I suspect, however, that their motivation to disparage Grand Ronde and rewrite history is a thinly veiled power grab to get closer to the Willamette River and the Portland metro area. It comes at a time when deference for Tribal interests is at an all-time high. Normally, we would applaud this newfound awareness and respect for Tribes among elected officials and well-intentioned organizations, but it is damaging when it is manipulated and wielded as a weapon against another Tribe.

Despite this negativity, the Grand Ronde Tribe will persevere at Willamette Falls. We will not be dissuaded, nor will our vision of healing, restoration and revitalization be sidetracked. We have always been accurate and honest in our historical representation of Willamette Falls. For us, it is home. It always has been, and it always will be.

(Editor’s note: This op-ed was submitted in response to a High Country News story shared by Smoke Signals via Facebook.)