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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 9, 2002 - Issue 56


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Two Will Honor Ancestors by Walking Miles in Their Shoes

GRAND RONDE, OR - Today, February 23, two members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde will follow the footsteps of some of their ancestors, retracing the 1856 forced march of 325 Native Americans from Table Rock near Medford to the reservation in Grand Ronde.

Steve Bobb, a Vietnam veteran, and Brent Merrill, editor of the tribal newspaper, Smoke Signals, are walking to commemorate one of Oregon's little-known "Trail of Tears" as they raise money for a veterans memorial at tribal headquarters.

Bobb and Merrill's walk begins on the same date, Feb. 23, that the U.S. Army forced the band of Southern Oregon tribal members to march 263 miles through rain and snow to resettle in the Grand Ronde valley.

Plagued by illness and a murderous outlaw who stalked the band during the march, the group reached the reservation on March 25, 1856, after 33 days on the trail. Indian agent George H. Ambrose coldly summed up the event in his diary: "Started with three hundred and twenty-five Indians. Eight deaths and eight births, leaving the number the same as when we started."

Bobb and Merrill hope to tell the story of today's descendants of those Native Americans -- a confederation of at least 20 disparate tribes which were forced to make a home together in a strange land.

"We're so much more than a casino," Merrill said. "We're a community and a family."

Tribal elders such as Merle Holmes, who lives in Grand Ronde and has collected many of the written histories of the Trail of Tears, said he often imagines the hardship endured by his ancestors. After surviving war with gold-seekers and homesteaders, epidemic disease and starvation, the remaining Native Americans were rounded up and herded north to the Siletz and the Grand Ronde reservations to make room in the Rogue River Valley for settlers.

"Our people had a deep attachment to the land and their way of life," Holmes said.

Holmes is descended, on his father's side, from members of the Kalapuya tribe, one of five large tribes that make up the confederation. The others are the Umpqua, Rogue River, Chasta and Molalla tribes. "The weather was so terrible I don't understand why they didn't wait until spring," Holmes said

Bobb and Merrill hope for good weather and health during their journey. They plan to walk north on Interstate 5, averaging about 20 miles a day, taking about 13 days to arrive home in Grand Ronde.

The two will pack cell phones and energy bars and will be outfitted in rain gear and tennis shoes They are mindful that their journey will be much easier than that of their ancestors but hope to honor all tribal members as well as veterans.

Supporters have raised more than $200,000 toward the $300,000 veterans memorial. Supporters have pledged anywhere from 10 cents to $1 a mile on the walk.

The memorial, which Bobb designed, depicts a man and a woman in Native American dress, reaching for the sky. Tribal officials plan to dedicate it on Memorial Day 2003.

Names of tribal and nontribal veterans from the Grand Ronde, Willamina and Sheridan areas will be inscribed on four black granite pillars.

Bobb said he hopes to meet members of different veterans organizations along the way, and Merrill said he is looking forward to walking through his hometown of Eugene.

Unlike the journey of so many years ago, every step will bring the two closer to home.

Grand Ronde Tribal Homepage

Grand Ronde, OR Map

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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