Tribal Museum/Education Center Shows the Pioneer Era from an
adapted by Garnet1654 from an article by Stanton H. Patty Seattle Times:
Once, more than 8,000 Native Americans of the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes roamed a wonderland
here on the Columbia River Plateau.
There were abundant stocks of fish and game for the
people. Hillsides were wrapped with lush grasses for their horse herds. Rivers and creeks were cold and clean.
"Life was very good," says Cecelia Bearchum,
75, a Walla Walla tribal elder.
And then, in 1843, the first wagon trains came over
what would be known as the Oregon Trail.
It was the most devastating event in the history of
the three tribes, joined now as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Their original homeland of 6.4 million acres - in
what now are northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington - has been cut to 172,000 acres by broken treaties
and land grabs. Their numbers have dwindled to 2,156.
"So here we tell our story, our way," says
Bearchum as she leads visitors through the year-old Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.
Tamastslikt (tah-MUST-slicked) is the centerpiece
of a Confederated Tribes venture four miles east of Pendleton that includes the Wildhorse Casino, a 100-room hotel,
a 100-space RV park and an 18-hole golf course.
Casino? Golf course?
"Economic development is part of our survival
story," says Debra Croswell, public-affairs manager for the tribes.
Tamastslikt - part museum for visitors, part educational
center for tribal members - covers the other chapters of that story.
A chain of Oregon Trail interpretive centers stretches
along a 350-mile-long corridor through Oregon: the National Historic Oregon Trail Center on the summit of Flagstaff
Hill near Baker City, the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center/Wasco County
Historical Museum in The Dalles, and the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City.
But only the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute tells
the oft-told Oregon Trail story from the Native-Americans' point of view.
"We insisted that this would be the case,"
says Croswell, who is of the Cayuse and Umatilla tribes.
Visitors to Tamastslikt journey through time as they
pass through a circle of galleries labeled "We Were," then "We Are," and "We Will Be."
Recorded voices of elders, native artworks, ancient
artifacts and sometimes startling displays are cues along the way.
Tamastslikt is not about anger or bitterness, say
Confederated Tribes leaders.
"A lot of this is about healing," says Bobbie
Conner, the institute's director. Conner is of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes.
"We focus on what happened, but with pride in
our survival," Conner explains.
"It is said that history is written by the victor.
Well, we were never vanquished - we are still here."
Tamastslikt is a powerful experience for visitors.
It begins as travelers turn off the Interstate 84
freeway near Pendleton to enter the reservation. They pass the busy Wildhorse Casino, then continue along a meandering
country road that points toward the Blue Mountains. Tamastslikt is at the end of the road, a low-profile stone
and wood building blending into a landscape of grasslands and wheat fields.
Tamastslikt's site is intended to set a tempo.
"Slow down, take a breath," says Debra Croswell.
"Then go see things with an open mind."
In the background, as part of the exhibit, you hear
the voices of tribal storytellers and the cry of a coyote.
Coyote. He is a trickster, they say. He can be brave
or foolhardy, considerate or conceited. He is like us.
"Listen. Learn," is the message.
The "We Were" zone depicts the pre-contact
Later, there was a Hudson's Bay Co. fur-trading fort
at Wallula Gap. Then came missionaries.
Visitors hear a church bell ringing - and it continues
to ring. Exhibits tell of clashes between clergymen bent on saving the souls of the Native Americans.
Around a corner is a trench with an assortment of what at first looks to be museum pieces from the
Oregon Trail. Broken pots, a water pitcher, a rag doll, a couch, a luggage trunk.
The story line tells visitors weary pioneers decided
to lighten their loads as they toiled toward the Promised Land.
The objects are what the Indians called "trail
trash," garbage that littered their precious land.
The exhibit journey continues.
The bell still rings.
But Tamastslikt's story ends on an upbeat.
"We are here," the tribes declare. "We
will be here. We will never fade."
Cecelia Bearchum, the Walla Walla elder, beams as
the tour ends.
"I am very glad for what we have here,"
Learn More about the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
-- Tamastslikt Cultural Institute
Trails Project: Educational