The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde finalized their purchase of the former Blue Heron paper mill site at Willamette Falls on Wednesday.
Once home to the Charcowah village of the Clowewalla, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde bought the 23-acre site from Washington developer George Heidgerken. The property is located within the tribes’ ancestral homelands and holds significant historical and cultural importance for the Grand Ronde.
“This is a historic day for the Grand Ronde Tribe and our people,” Cheryle A. Kennedy, chairwoman for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said in a statement. “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 area is part of the lands ceded to the United States government under the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855. Following the treaty, tribal members were forcibly removed from Willamette Falls and relocated to Grand Ronde.
Tribal Council Member Kathleen George said the purchase and reacquiring of the land is a huge celebration not only for the Grand Ronde but for all Oregonians.
“Willamette Falls is the second largest waterfall in the United States by volume and yet most Oregonians have never even seen it and we want to change that. We want to help restore the relationship of Oregonians with Willamette and with Willamette falls,” George said.
Currently, the property has several abandoned buildings and a restoration process will begin immediately.
According to George, partners that helped reacquire the land will be deciding how the property can best be utilized for public use.
“We want to reconnect both our tribe and the people with this river and with Willamette Falls and so we know that whatever vision, whatever direction we go, that that’s going to be an important part of the future for this site,” George said.
The Grand Ronde Tribes have also reacquired land from Rattlesnake Butte in Southern Oregon as well as other properties in Western Oregon.