Sal Peralta: Event an invitation to lean in and learn

With so much recent controversy over how and whether critical issues related to U.S. history should be taught, I’m glad to live in a community where institutions are open to revisiting their historical mistakes and taking steps to correct them.

On May 6, Linfield University, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Greater Yamhill Watershed Council are hosting McMinnville’s first ever Camas Festival from 1 to 2 p.m. in Linfield’s Oak Grove.

Guest Writer

Sal Peralta maintains an enduring interest in public policy, reflected in a long record of civic involvement. He helped found the Independent Party of Oregon and has long served as party secretary. He ran unsuccessfully for state representative and county commissioner before winning appointment, and later election, to the McMinnville City Council. He shares his home in McMinnville’s Ward 1 with his wife, Tanya, daughter, Bella, and two dogs. In his leisure time, he enjoys playing the violin.

Camas lilies were one of the main food sources and chief agricultural commodities for native tribes, ranging from the Pacific Northwest to Montana. At one time, they were so plentiful settlers coming west on the Oregon trail wrote in their journals that they would mistake the blue camas meadows for lakes in the distance.

The event will honor the work of Linfield faculty and students, Watershed Council staff and community volunteers in restoring legacy camas patches on the college campus and neighboring properties. During the past several years, thousands of hours have gone into restoring areas along the Cozine creek, leading to discovery of some sites that were likely significant to people who lived here prior to Oregon’s colonial settlement.

The festival will also take another step toward making amends for former university president and science professor A.M. Brumback, who, according to the university’s executive board, “engaged in desecration and theft of burial artifacts and human remains from Native American burial mounds in the region.”

The university is in the process of cataloging these artifacts with the intent of repatriating them to the tribes from which they were stolen.

Last fall, the school took a first step toward acknowledging these harms when it worked with the city of McMinnville to rename Brumback Street to Lakamas Lane, Lakamas being the Chinuk Wawa word for camas. This renaming honors both the heritage of this place and community efforts to restore camas along the Cozine and Yamhill watersheds.

The event also gives us an opportunity to think more deeply about America’s history in relation to the tribes, which is not something most of us reflect on very often.

I first learned about the nation’s western expansion in first or second grade, watching a Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock cartoon called “Elbow Room.”

It covered the Louisiana Purchase, bravery of westward settlers, expanding rail system, Sacagawea and even “fights for property rights.” But it did not explain how the French came to “own” the land in question when it was already inhabited, or what happened to those who were summarily displaced.

I never learned in public schools about the court cases brought by Native tribes from 1823 to 1831, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that members of native tribes could not own land. The ruling was based on the “doctrine of discovery,” a 15th century idea that European monarchies used to justify claiming “heathen” lands in the name of Christ. Living in Yamhill County, the shunting aside of Native American tribes is also hard to ignore. The evidence is all around us.

Fort Yamhill, just a stone’s throw from Spirit Mountain Casino, enabled local militias to keep watch on the Confederated Tribes of  Grand Ronde after Gen. Phil Sheridan left with his garrison to fight in the Civil War.

Prior to moving here in 2002, I had never heard the term “Confederated Tribes.” That term was coined in the period between 1855 and 1857, when the US government forced an array of tribes in Western Oregon and Northern California — more than 30 tribes speaking more than a dozen different languages — to relocate to Grand Ronde.

On the longest of these marches, the Rogue River Trail of Tears, the Shasta and Rogue River tribes were forced to march 263 miles in 33 days from Klamath Falls to Grand Ronde.

The mistreatment of Oregon tribes continued well into the 1980s.

In 1954, the federal government passed Public Laws 587 and 588, which terminated federal recognition of all tribes west of the Cascades and seized their land. It incorporated some of the land into national forests and sold the rest to timber companies and land speculators for $1 an acre.

Reservations like the Klamath, originally more than 1 million acres, were reduced to a few hundred acres of remnants.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde did not have tribal recognition restored by the federal government until 1983, at which time 9,811 acres were returned. The last element of the restoration was completed in 1986.

None of us today is responsible for things our ancestors have done. But we are responsible for finding ways to live up to our ideals, recognize where we have fallen short, and work to remedy the injustice where we can.

By those measures, all of us can be proud of the inaugural Camas Festival. We improve as a society, and develop more resilient communities, when we lean into the truth of our history and learn from it.


Tom Hammer

Promoting more critical theory. How's that been working out for Oregon?


Truth is a good thing....