Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde signs treaty with BLM, Nature Conservancy making tribe equals in management of Table Rocks
Signing her name with a beaded pen made especially for the occasion, Cheryle Kennedy on Saturday brought her people nearly full circle on a rocky path that began 158 years ago to the day.
The chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy that places the tribe as equals in future management of Upper and lower Table Rocks.
It was on Sept. 10, 1853, at a spot near lower Table Rock where Kennedy signed the agreement on Saturday, that her ancestors signed a treaty with Uncle Sam ceding much of their land in exchange for peace.
“This is very personal to us, very connected to us,” Kennedy, 63, reminded the roughly 100 people gathered for the ceremony.
Indeed, her great-grandfathers were Chief Bogus and Chief Louie, both of whom signed the 1853 document. Unfortunately, the hoped-for peace did not come. In February and March 1856, the Indians were forced to march from their temporary reservation at the Table Rocks to the new Grand Ronde reservation. eight tribal members, including one of Kennedy’s great-grandfathers, died during the 263-mile journey.
“When the treaties were signed back in the 1850s, we became invisible people in our own land,” Kennedy said, noting Saturday’s agreement gives them a long-desired connection to their homeland.
Joining Kennedy in signing Saturday’s historic document was Ed Shepard, the BLM director for Oregon and Washington, and Russell Hoeflich, Oregon director for The Nature Conservancy.
The BLM now manages 1,280 acres of the Upper and lower Table Rocks, while the conservancy has 2,789 acres, with conservation easements on nearly 800 more adjacent acres.
The BLM has designated its acreage as areas of environmental concern because of the rare plants and creatures found only there.
“It’s interesting the difference 158 years can make,” Shepard said, noting that difference is highlighted by the fact the federal agency, the tribe and the nonprofit private conservancy are working together to preserve a very special place.
“It makes sense the three groups come together to sign this memorandum today,” he said. “Each of us have our own vision, yet we all recognize and accept the Table Rocks’ demand that we work together.
“This new partnership will help us care for and enhance the Table Rocks for generations to come.”
Hoeflich spoke of the rich cultural and natural heritage of the two rock plateaus known as the islands in the sky.
“The conservancy and the BLM have been involved only for a short period of time, only about 30 years,” he said of the immediate area. “We have come to appreciate the iconic nature of it.
“But we are always feeling a sense of connection, of deeper roots to the place,” he added. “I feel today we are finally going to have an opportunity to have a deeper, more enriched connection to the land than we have ever had before.”
He recalled in the 1980s there was talk of building subdivisions on the Table Rocks. Local residents, including the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, prevented that construction, he said.
“People united to protect the Table Rocks in a way that allows us to be here today,” he said, later adding that the agreement “gives me a lot of confidence and hope the future is in great hands.”
For 25 years, the BLM and the conservancy have provided guided tours atop the Table Rocks, which are now visited by some 40,000 people annually.
Saturday’s agreement will seek tribal input on everything from using traditional tribal fire management practices to exploring the potential for ceremonial hunting on BLM-administered lands.
“The tribe will be working with the BLM and Nature Conservancy, sitting down at the same table and discussing ways to move forward on the management of these areas,” said Dayne Barron, the BLM’s Medford District manager. “Together we will come up with management approaches that meet all our objectives and needs.”
For tribal elder Jolanda Catabay, 60, whose great-great-great-grandfather was Umpqua Joe, who signed the 1853 treaty, Saturday was a watershed moment. her great-great-grandmother was Indian Mary.
“It’s like coming home,” said Catabay, who sang the national anthem before Saturday’s ceremony.
Although she had been having problems with her voice recently, she said there was no way she would have missed the event.
“Had I not come, I know my grandmother, who has passed, would roll over in her grave and haunt me,” she said. “She would have said, ‘Your great-great-grandmother expects you down there.’ I was so happy I got to come.”
Kennedy, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in business administration, also felt the tug of those who came before.
In 1996, she brought her grandmother Pauline Warren, who was 93 at the time, to the Table Rocks at her request, Kennedy recalled.
“She looked at it and said, ‘I just wanted to see this place one more time,’ ” Kennedy said, noting her grandmother died a few months later.
“She was telling us that her father was one who was driven from this place,” she added, noting he was 9 years old at the time.
The point, she told the crowd, many of whom were tribal members, was that their ancestors had envisioned their people would one day return to the Table Rocks.
“I do not speak lightly when I say I am thankful for those who helped carry out the vision that this land be set aside and maintained so it is brought back to what it used to be,” she said. “When we do that, we not only heal the land but we heal ourselves.
“Creator had sent you all here to make sure these things were carried out. it was not a whim, nor was it a coincidence. In your hearts, the seed was planted long before you knew it.”
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