The End of the World

removal to the reservationIn 1856, after a decade of pitched battles and skirmishes in southern Oregon and along the Columbia River, General Joel Palmer began removing the tribes of western Oregon to a permanent reservation called the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. That removal was the end of the world, and the beginning of another world for the tribes. This new world was full of enemy tribes, 27 or more in all, and  where everyone had to learn to share significantly less resources.

The tribes were from very different environments. SW Oregon is fairly high and arid in some areas. Very hot summers and more hunting and gathering than fishing.  The Grand Ronde valley can be hot in the summer but its much more temperate and much closer to the coast and subject to coastal temperature changes.  Then for the tribes they had left their resource areas, places they had know for many thousands of generations. They had developed technologies and knowledge of the landscape, they knew when certain plants were ready for harvesting by reading the land and following the seasons. This all changed.

The reservation was a bounded 60,000 acres next to the coast range. There was a valley floor and many began working in agriculture and ranching, but the valley proved to have thin soils and so not good for subsistence. So many people went hungry subsisting on the few allocations of beef and flour they could get from the government and what they could forage from the forest. many people great hungry and ill from their dietary changes and forced living situations. they could not escape into the valley during the winter like they usually did and had to learn to live through the harsh winter in a coastal range climate.

_20120213_0002 -- G.R.I.R.O.T.


There was extreme poverty, hunger and over half of the population died of illnesses and trauma by 1900.  From the original 1200 people at the reservation in 1857 there were about 400 remaining in 1900.

In 1887, the Federal government hatched a plan to give every tribal individual a piece of property and sell the rest to white settlers. This was the Dawes Act which inculcated the notion of blood quantum into our societies. In this one act  the collective tribes of the United States lost millions of acres of land, about 30,000 at Grand Ronde alone. In addition was instituted a virus of blood quantum philosophy which continues to work its way through tribal societies eliminating tribal descendants. This combined with the notion that we have individual land ownership and not part of a collective sharing of the land further has caused degradation of our tribes. As a collective with community rights, tribes have a better ability to withstand the various pressures to sell parts of the reservations, but after 20 years when the individuals got their fee-simple titles to their allotments, they began selling off their properties piecemeal. By 1935 we had about 400 acres remaining of the original 60,000 acre reservation. The government stepped in and instituted a rehabilitation program, which included Indian Conversation Corps, Cannery development, buying back land for allotment, building houses, building the governance hall, 4H programs to help children learn to raise animals, and some other assistance in agriculture for land owners. There is a film about the program Rebuilding Indian Country. Pay attention to the sections on canneries and fishing in the Columbia, and cattle ranching, those are the Oregon Tribal industries that were instituted.


One hundred years after the reservation was formed, the federal government terminated the western Oregon tribes in 1954. The tribes at Grand Ronde lost all federal services and were forced to sell their allotments and the majority had to move away to Salem or Portland where they could find work. They received $35 each for their share of the remaining portion of the lands and resources of the reservation. That was an end to the world and the beginning of another world; the final act in the work of the United States to colonize all Indian lands in western Oregon. The new world was fraught with poverty, abuses and illness as most people could not afford to live anywhere but the poorest areas of town and Indians in the 1950s were subject to racism and discrimination just like other ethnic minorities.

In 1983, after a decade of hard work the tribe was restored and we have undergone a rebirth. The tribe continues to work to restore itself in many ways, this too could be considered the end of one world and the beginning of another world. This began the reversal of the attempt of the government to eliminate the tribes forever and the beginning of self governance for the tribe.

The cycle is colonization, and gradual takeover of the rights and resources of the worlds’ indigenous peoples. Every half century or so another event happened to take resources from the people and give it to the colonizers. The next event like this for indigenous peoples will likely be sometime around  2030. At that time we will be seen as not needing further federal aid and efforts will begin to eliminate that aid, and our protected status.

Indigenous people are used to their worlds’ ending and beginning anew, this is why we were not surprised nor shocked when the recent economic decline occurred in 2008.  The tribes are survivors and adapters. through our very long history on this land, a history that predates that of Europe and most of western civilization, we have lived and adapted to all manner of changes. Still the ability to adapt does not make the situation any better, nor excuse those who work to eliminate us.



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