The Battle for Canemah Bluff!
[Scroll down for the story of Metro's culpability in the looting of Native American sites on Canemah Bluff, the cutting of 200 fir trees for regional salmon restoration projects, and the destruction of Canemah Cemetery Road and the wilderness setting surrounding Canemah Pioneer Cemetery.]
The Battle for Canemah Bluff
Essay published in Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon's Sesquicentennial Anthology, A Merging of Past and Present Oregon Voices and Stories, edited by Matt Love (Nestucca Spit Press, 2009)
“Over my dead body!”
The words explode in my brother’s brain. He’s landed a new advertising client, a developer who plans to cram 136 cookie-cutter houses onto 41 pristine acres of Canemah Bluff, and he wants me to hire on as copywriter.
“But—but—” he sputters, groping for a handle on my rage. His client’s a nice guy with a sterling reputation who builds quality homes. Besides, development is inevitable, so why not do it right?
“Because it’s wrong!”
I see our ancestors turning over in their graves at the south end of the bluff, in Canemah Pioneer Cemetery. Cap sees the names of brothers Absalom and Joseph on a plaque in front of a fence built to keep snot-nosed brats from tumbling off the cliff.
It’s March 27, 1997. Already sharpening my arguments, I ask when the public debate will begin.
It’s practically over. The historic review board signed off after voting to remove its chairman, who opposed the development. The planning commission’s final hearing is April 15. I can read about “Canemah Ridge” in the April 4 MetroSouth section.
“Final! Why weren’t people informed?”
Rhetorical. Ever since the Oregonian balkanized Portland’s suburbs, news of one community rarely trickled into another. I live across the Willamette River in West Linn, covered by MetroSouthwest. I drive to Oregon City to pick up the paper.
“Canemah, from as far back as I can remember, was this funky little sleepy burg,” muses Cap, “the great-great-grandnephew (one “great”) of pioneer boat-builder Absolom (Absalom) Hedges.” He’s also billed as “a Portland advertising executive” and “ally” of developer Don Oakley. No mention of their business connection.
“We’re living in the 1990s, not the 1890s,” blusters former Oregon City mayor Howard Klemsen, another Oakley ally. “If you want history, go to England. If you want newer history, go to New England.” This from Canemah’s self-appointed historian.
I know Howard from his years as caretaker of Canemah Pioneer Cemetery. I stop by his place on the bluff. He says the subdivision will strengthen the tax base and bring in a better class of people.
Wouldn’t it be better left natural? When voters approved the 1995 bond measure enabling regional authority Metro to buy greenspace, Canemah Bluff topped the wish list.
Metro approached Oakley, but no deal. Besides, Oakley is going to spiff up the cemetery. Put in lights and running water. Pave an asphalt parking lot. Build a concrete maintenance shed and restrooms. All this in exchange for a deed to the cemetery road.
Howard descries the damage done by bikers who broke headstones after chugging a few too many beers, and Satanists who burnt offerings, drew cabalistic symbols in the dirt, and once tried to dig up the body of Sam Barlow’s second wife, Elizabeth.
But he sees nothing wrong with trashing the wilderness surrounding the oldest American cemetery west of the Rockies, blasting outlandish rock formations, draining wetlands, and obliterating a narrow bedrock and gravel road that had morphed from deer trail to wagon track before the 1830s.
He’d rather steer visitors through the streets of a sterile subdivision to a plumbed and electrified enclave surrounded on three sides by cheesy houses.
On April 10, Planning Manager Tamarah DeRidder conducts a walk-around for planning commissioners and the media. I show up with a placard that reads DON’T DESTROY CANEMAH! in big red letters.
“Why the road?” I plead, hand cupped in supplication, as Oakley glances back. This thin slice of time is caught by photographer Samantha Hoff and splashed across the front page of the Oregon City News.
DeRidder rushes up. “No ex parte contact!” Too late.
I’m wound tighter than Paganini’s E string when I enter the Carnegie Center on John Adams Street to face the Oregon City Planning Commission. Thoughts are on my grandfather, Joseph Eugene Hedges, who, with novelist Eva Emery Dye, saved Dr. John McLoughlin’s house after forces of righteousness condemned it for having once served as a brothel. His spirit rises in me as I speak.
“A subdivision on this site is an abomination to anyone who loves the beauty of Oregon and the Willamette River.”
A smirk. A raised eyebrow.
“Eventually the area is going to be developed,” says Cap. “It should fall into the hands of someone who could do it justice.” Again he fails to mention his financial stake.
“It will be a wonderful development, bring a fine grade of people, nice homes, walking trails,” says Howard, ignoring the agreement his son Scott, as president of the Canemah Cemetery Association, signed with Oakley on June 11, 1996, deeding the road in exchange for five thousand dollars up front, and 13 thousand after title is conveyed.
Commissioners rubber-stamp DeRidder’s recommendation.
The Oregonian‘s MetroSouth reporter, Dennis McCarthy, plays up the family feud: “The controversial proposal even pitted brother against brother.” Older brother Joe, patriarch and preacher of familial harmony, is distraught.
The Oregon City Commission meets May 7. I throw myself into contacting every soul I can think of who might sway the five men holding Canemah’s fate in their hands.
Governor Kitzhaber begs off. It’s a local land-use issue. Representative Darlene Hooley’s hands are tied. No federal involvement, land or dollars. Metro Executive Mike Burton needs a willing seller. He’ll write a letter saying Metro is interested. Oregonian columnists Steve Duin and Jonathan Nicholas ignore my calls and letters.
Cultural Resources Director June Olson of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has no standing on private land, unless bones are disturbed. Local tribes didn’t bury their dead. She’ll write a letter mentioning village sites.
May 7 rolls around. I plunge in. “Plop this development down on top of Canemah and you might as well turn the Clackamas County Historical Museum into condominiums and the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center into a hamburger stand.”
I wave the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which mandates protection of scenic and cultural resources. City attorney Ed Sullivan says Goal 5 protections are “advisory” under a new ruling by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission: If it’s not in the City Code, it’s not binding. The change was proposed by Oakley’s attorney, in his role as vice chairman of LCDC.
Cap talks of breathing new life into sleepy little Canemah. Again, no mention of personal gain. Howard Klemsen submits a letter for the record. I enter letters from June Olson and Mike Burton. The latter speaks to the fact that Oakley was unwilling to sell.
Commissioners turn a deaf ear to Chief Johnny Jackson of the Cascade-Klickitat Tribe, and to Michael Jones of the Cascade Geographical Society, both of whom say the development will wipe away thousands of years of native culture.
My parting shot: “Do any of you care?”
Commissioner Jack Lynch, face flushed, clenches his fists and shoots back: “We care about Canemah as much as you do!” He moves to approve the subdivision.
I vow to carry the fight to the Land Use Board of Appeals, despite a new state law written by homebuilders and rushed through by the Republican majority: If your appeal is deemed “frivolous,” you’re liable for the developer’s legal fees. LUBA referees tend to be land use attorneys employed by developers.
The following night, on KBOO’s The Talking Earth, I preach Canemah and read poems about brother Joe’s escapades growing up in Northeast Portland and Lake Grove. Host Walt Curtis tapes the show so I can spring a surprise. The next morning, I learn Joe died of heart failure the night of the hearing. He was 62.
To prepare my appeal, I need a copy of the city’s final findings. DeRidder assures me I’m on the mailing list. While I wait, I canvass Canemah. Indignation has turned to resignation. Oakley has his permits and his financing. It’s over.
Cascade Geographic’s Michael Jones tells me DeRidder is known for pulling fast ones, so I drive to City Hall. It’s July 3. The findings were mailed June 20. She fumbles in a file drawer and pulls out the mailing list. My address is wrong. So is Michael’s. She blames the “errors” on student help.
The LUBA deadline is July 10. Too little time. I spend my Fourth of July, sunup to sundown, writing an impassioned article for the Oregonian. Op-ed Editor Glen Davis accepts it.
My appeal, “A Sacred Place,” appears on July 11, the day Joe’s headstone is installed. People wander in, and the “Save Canemah Cemetery Society” is born. I open a bank account, crank out a news release, and connect with land use attorney Mark Reeve, whose name was given me by Mary Kyle McCurdy, attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon.
Our line of attack: The self-appointed, unincorporated cemetery association lacks authority to sell the three-quarter-mile-long road. The road splits Oakley’s property down the middle. No road, no subdivision. On July 17, Mark fires a shot across Oakley’s bow.
Oakley’s attorney, a rising star at a lofty Portland law firm, the one that represents the Oregonian, drops out, possibly because my article blew the whistle on his conflict of interest. I picture the publisher and the senior law partner breaking bread at the Arlington Club: “Now, Fred, about this unpleasantness....”
A week later, Glen Davis prints a diatribe by an Oakley associate, and won’t let me to set the record straight. He sends me a form rejection letter with the salutation “Dear Mr. Hedges,” days after telling me my piece generated more calls and letters than any op-ed article of the past month. I petition his boss, Bob Caldwell, who tells me he doesn’t wish to—steady yourself—”turn the editorial page into a debate forum.”
Former Lake Oswego city attorney Jim Cox, after reading my article and hearing me on KBOO, sends a check and offers his pro bono assistance. While I bring him up to speed, my wife, Scottie, scans Oregon Revised Statutes for cemetery law.
She lands on a dandy. ORS 97:440 says cemetery property can’t be disposed of without a hearing before the board of county commissioners, preceded by publication of newspaper notices for four consecutive weeks and the posting of notices on the property.
Things turn ugly. Neighborhood children run from me. Rumor has me dumping radioactive waste on the bluff. Oscar Geisler, keeper of the cemetery keys, locks his gate and leaves his shades drawn. I catch him backing out of his garage. A burly man tails me to the cemetery. Every 20 feet, no-trespassing signs threatens me with prosecution.
I place “Joseph Hedges Speaks from Canemah Pioneer Cemetery,” a poem fashioned after Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, at the grave of my great-grandparents. The burly man reads it over and over, and asks to keep it. His daughter is working to protect an old cemetery. I never see him again.
His replacement, six-five and built like a splitting maul, packs heat in a shoulder holster. He stays a respectful distance behind, but my flesh still crawls.
On August 1, the attorney for Oakley’s Cascade Communities, Inc. fires back, branding my claims “frivolous under the facts,” the same conclusion LUBA’s referees would draw. “Finally, if you and/or your clients take any further actions to misrepresent, disrupt or delay my client’s lawful right to develop their land, my client will exercise all available remedies against you, your client and all members of Mr. Hedges’ ‘Society’ for any and all damages caused.”
Blow me down!
Another big spread in the Oregon City News. Most of the front page of the West Linn Tidings. A lengthy op-ed piece in the Tidings. Jim Hyde’s feature story on KPTV. I’m winning the media battle, but losing the war. Time is running out.
“The project is approved, the appeal period is past, and construction will begin in the fall,” Oakley tells the Oregon City News. “He (meaning me) has no basis. He thinks he has some basis, but his efforts really have no significance to me.”
An epiphany strikes at three in the morning: June Olson! Oakley can’t move his heavy equipment up Canemah’s narrow, sharply angled streets, so he’s convinced the Oregon Department of Transportation to let him build an access road to the bluff from the ODOT gravel yard on 99E. The bluff may be private, but the south slope is public!
I phone ODOT archaeologist Hal Gard, who agrees to conduct a shovel probe of the proposed right-of-way—and to involve the Grand Ronde tribes. Oakley asks June to approve his access road. She says yes, on one condition: He must agree to a legitimate archaeological survey of the entire bluff. This sets construction back a year.
A second epiphany hits in the wee hours: The road and the cemetery are one tax lot, indivisible without due process! The agreement signed by Oakley and Scott Klemsen states, “Upon request, Canemah agrees to deliver to Cascade documentation evidencing the authority of Canemah to enter into this agreement and convey the Cemetery Road in accordance with the terms herein.”
Apparently the attorneys for Cascade and Canemah, while bandying “cemetery law,” never actually bothered to read ORS 97:440. They are, in fact, breaking the law.
On October 8, 1997, the news breaks: Oakley has sold to Metro!
“David Hedges had nothing to do with my decision to sell whatsoever,” says Oakley.
“It’s always good to have a cheering section in your corner, but this was a piece of property that’s been on our list from the beginning,” says Burton. “And it would have been on if David Hedges was there or not.”
No matter. Canemah Bluff is safe. Or is it? In the fall of 2007, I take family to the bluff for a picnic. We find a large area, stripped of vegetation, where a group of men pick up and compare objects we can’t identify at a distance.
I call Metro. Did you conduct an archaeological survey before clearing? Did you hire an archaeologist to monitor the work? Did you inform the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde?
No, no, and no.
My heart is heavy.
In April, 2008, with no public process other than a pack of lies, Metro chain-sawed some 200 doug firs on Canemah Bluff. In the process, they chewed up and spit out the cemetery road.
Metro needed the logs for its salmon habitat restoration projects. The road was declared “historically insignificant” by none other than Scott Klemsen, son of Howard. Metro accepted this convenient disinformation as fact. No one else was consulted.
Removal of the overstory destroyed a thriving ecology, hanging countless ferns, mosses, and lichens out to dry, and spelling the end of hordes of frogs, salamanders, snakes, snails, worms, and insects. Such considerations as the stunning beauty of the wilderness setting, and the primeval integrity of the pioneer cemetery, were swept aside.
Despite my detailed presentation of evidence that pointed to violations of Oregon laws and land use regulations by public officials, the Oregonian washed its hands of the whole affair. Without bothering to visit the site, the local reporter regurgitated Metro’s press release. Top editors downtown shrugged and yawned.
Metro plans to create a post-glacial theme park, so folks can see how Canemah Bluff looked after Bretz floods stripped the topsoil and carried it upriver to French Prairie and Lake Labish. “White oak savannah” is the technical term.
Unfortunately, future generations won’t know how the bluff looked to Native Americans who lived there over millennia, or to the trappers, missionaries and settlers who passed through in the early 19th century, or to those of us today who value these cultural connections.
To paraphrase Blutarsky’s lamentation in Animal House, “Ten thousand years of Oregon history, down the tube.”
o o o o o
The one bright spot in the battle for Canemah Bluff was the fact that brother Cap came around to my side before the developer tossed in the towel. He apologized for testifying on the developer’s behalf, and agreed that Canemah Bluff was better left in its natural state.
Eleven years later, when Metro decided to devastate the bluff in the name of “resource management and enhancement,” the Hedges boys rode forth together, six-guns blazing. We lost the second battle, but strengthened our brotherly bond.
Metro, sworn to protect Canemah Bluff, cut down 200 Douglas fir trees for its salmon restoration projects around the region. To accommodate heavy logging equipment, they widened, graded and straightened Canemah Cemetery Road, the region's last extant 19th century wagon road. Prior to 1850, settlers headed south into the Willamette Valley on this road. Prior to that, Hudson's Bay Company fur trappers used the trail, and for many centuries before that, Natives portaged around the rapids above Willamette Falls during periods of high and low water.
Email to Howard Post and Paul Edgar of the Canemah Neighborhood Association, April 24, 2008
Cap and I toured with Jim Desmond and Jim Morgan yesterday. Desmond promised to do a “low-cost” archaeological survey of the bluff, and make a stab at restoring the road, though that would be impossible. The two Jims don’t even comprehend what they’ve done. To them, restoration is simply a matter of smoothing out the marks left by tractors and logging trucks, and adding dirt to the sides. They stare blankly when told that the road once curved gracefully, and rose and fell with the land. Now the road is angled, and the rises and falls evened out.
All the roadside vegetation has been stripped away or chewed up. The Jims wax over the native plants they hope will start sprouting in the spring of 2009 . . . but when asked the fate of the trademark wall-to-wall carpet of sword ferns and moss, they shrink, admitting that what we now see, and love, will die without the canopy of firs.
They continue to damage the road and the cemetery surroundings, despite their promise during our tour week before last that they would hold off doing any further work. There are now two formal parking areas beside the cemetery gate, complete with boulders, that were put there within the past week, at the request of Scott Klemsen.
I tried to talk with Oscar yesterday. Instead of his usual friendly, down-home self, he aggressively spouted slogans about “progress,” such as, “This isn’t 1888, this is 2008,” an echo of Howard Klemsen’s arrogant and stupid statement, “[This is 1997, not 1897.] If you want history, go to England. If you want newer history, go to New England.”
From all reports, (Scott) Klemsen approved the destruction of the road, and asked Metro to put in the parking lots, without informing or asking approval from his board [and failing to abide by Oregon law regarding changes to cemetery property]. He convened the board on Tuesday to rubber-stamp what he had done.
In response to my direct question, Desmond said they don’t need historical documentation. I think the most important thing we can do is to pin them, and the cemetery association, to the wall with their lies.
o o o o o
[As you read the following account, keep in mind that pot-hunters were free to pick cultural sites on the bluff clean for almost a year between the time I first reported looting and Metro’s mad scramble to cover its negligence.]
Find hints at rich Native past
Article in the Oregonian on August 4, 2008
OREGON CITY—Restoration efforts along the Canemah Bluff recently uncovered Native American ceremonial sites and artifacts that may shed new light on Northwest tribal culture and history.
Metro crews clearing brush and invasive trees from greenspace overlooking the Willamette River revealed what appear to be ovens, burial sites, stone markers and a variety of artifacts, some from distant locations, according to tribal officials. Exact locations and descriptions were withheld to protect the artifacts.
Chiefs of the Klickitat and Cascades peoples examined the site and found evidence that their ancestors — traditionally associated with the Columbia River basin — did more than pass through the area.
“We looked there and found precious stones that did not belong there, stones that came from the eastern part of Oregon,” said Johnny Jackson, hereditary chief of the Cascades. “Many people get sick, get tired; their health would give way and they would never make it back. So they would be put away along the trail.”
Though there is no question that people of the Klickitat and Cascades frequented the area now in the south part of Oregon City — every year Canemah Bluff would host between 30,000 and 60,000 members of various tribes to trade for camas plants or the right to fish at Willamette Falls — not everyone is convinced that the possible burial sites are associated with the Columbia River tribes.
Erik Thorsgard, the cultural protection coordinator for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which oversees the area and has been consulted on the ongoing restoration work, said that if there are grave sites tied to either the Klickitat or Cascades peoples, the burials would have been done with the permission of the resident Tumwata.
“If one of their people died on the bluff, they would have petitioned the Tumwata to allow the burial,” Thorsgard said. “And if the Tumwata gave the go-ahead, the burial would have adhered to Tumwata traditions and ceremonies.” He added that since the Columbia tribes’ “ancestral lands are far away, it is outside their purview to claim these lands.”
Thorsgard is the great-great-great-grandson of Lall-bick, also known as Oregon City John, who was the head of the Tumwata Band of the Clalli-walla People, the tribe that ceded the land to the U.S. government in 1854.
Thorsgard, who visited the area recently, confirmed that there are “very important cultural sites” on Canemah Bluff, but he and other tribal leaders declined to describe them in detail. “When people find out that there are burial sites and other sites of significance, they come and disturb the site,” Chief Wilbur Slockish of the Klickitat said.
There are no current plans for archaeological excavation, but Native leaders will be consulted if that changes.
All three Native officials said that regardless of whose remains are on Canemah Bluff, there is no question that different tribes used the area. They called the notion that tribes lived within geographic boundaries a cultural misunderstanding.
“It is folly trying to put us in geographic boxes,” Slockish said. “Like the white people have summer homes and winter homes, our people would move around following the food and the seasons.”
Jackson said, “The idea of the state is a white man’s concept.”
Thorsgard said that despite more than 150 years of relations, there are still many European American misconceptions about Native culture.
“It is very frustrating,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that while not everyone got along, a member of my tribe could walk from here to the Plains states to hunt buffalo; go from Canada to California and recognize all that he came in contact with as relatives.”
Katy Barber, a professor of history at Portland State University, has studied extensively the tribes of the Columbia River region. She said she hopes that discoveries at Canemah spark discussion and education. “There has been great misunderstanding about what it was like,” she said. “Tribal territory was anywhere you had kinship networks allowing
you to pass through a region to gather food.”
Jim Desmond, director of parks and greenspaces for Metro, which bought the 40-acre site in 1997, said that restoring the land to what it was like 150 years ago is one of the agency’s main goals. “With its cultural history, its rich forest, the view of the river, Canemah truly is a unique site, and we want it restored and protected.
Metro is involved with an effort to get the bluff listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to its significance to Native Americans, it was one of the first settlements in Oregon and has a pioneer cemetery with graves dating to the mid-1800s.
Desmond said that even if Metro develops the site, it won’t be a full-service park with playgrounds and other recreational areas.
“At most what we would do is put in some nature trails, building on the trails that are already there, and maybe some signage. And when we get to the point we’re ready to start working on the trails, we will be in contact with all groups that have an interest in the site, including the tribes and the neighbors.”
Desmond added that by working with the tribes, Metro could develop a trail system that steers people away from sacred sites so they remain undisturbed.
o o o o o
Metro puts positive spin on Canemah Bluff fiasco
Op-ed article rejected by the Oregonian
On August 4, 2008, the Oregonian ran an article about the discovery of archaeological sites and artifacts on Canemah Bluff . Having grown up knowing and appreciating Canemah’s cultural history, I was dismayed to see the article riddled with distortions and fabrications engineered by Metro officials.
I have a deep interest in Canemah. My great-great-uncle, Absalom F. Hedges, staked his donation land claim there in 1844, and five years later platted the settlement. His brother Joseph, my great-grandfather, joined him in 1852. Many of my ancestors are buried in the pioneer cemetery on the bluff, just upriver from the Falls of the Willamette.
In March, 1997, my brother Cap called to tell me that 136 houses were about to be built on Canemah Bluff. I immediately launched a campaign to persuade the developer to sell his land to Metro — something he had already refused to do. I hired a land use attorney, and got The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde involved.
Responding to my inquiry, Metro Executive Mike Burton wrote, “In the event that the owner ... wishes to discuss the sale of the property to Metro, whether permits are granted or denied, we would be happy to enter into such discussions.”
Six long months later — with permits and financing in hand, and construction set to begin in a few weeks — the developer suddenly became a “willing seller.” On October 7, Metro announced that it had bought the 39 acres (41 minus the two acres comprising the cemetery road), vowing to preserve the land in its natural state.
In September, 2007, my wife and I took son Andrew and family to Canemah Bluff for a picnic. We found a large section stripped to bare ground, with a huge mound of brush and small trees at the center. We witnessed three men picking up, comparing and pocketing objects — obviously artifacts, given that between 30,000 and 60,000 Native Americans camped there during annual spring and fall salmon runs for more than 10,000 years.
I called Metro and asked three questions: Did you conduct an archaeological survey prior to clearing the site? Did you hire an archaeologist to monitor the project? Did you inform The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde? The answer to all three was “No.”
I tried to impress the seriousness of the situation on Metro project manager Jim Morgan. He promised me that he would report what I’d seen to his superiors. He assured me that Metro would take steps to prevent further looting. When asked if Metro planned any additional clearing, he said that “two or three” mature fir trees would be removed to assist struggling native white oaks.
In April, 2008, Metro launched a full-scale logging operation after telling the Canemah Neighborhood Association that 30 trees would be cut. What the Oregonian described as “clearing brush and invasive trees” actually involved the felling of some 200 Douglas firs. Destroyed in the process was the canopy that protected native flora and fauna.
The cemetery road, one of Oregon’s last extant pioneer wagon tracks — enchantingly narrow, gracefully curving, gently rising and falling — had been widened, straightened and graded to accommodate heavy equipment.
On a walk-around while logging was underway, a staff botanist explained that 80 trees (the true number, 200, surfaced later) were being removed as part of a project to restore the white oak savannah which existed after post-glacial flooding ran its course — not, as Jim Desmond, Metro’s director of parks and greenspaces, claimed in the Oregonian, “to what it was like 150 years ago.” When my great-grandfather arrived 156 years ago, the bluff was covered with old growth firs, with only a scattering of white oaks.
I was horrified to learn Metro was having the logs trucked to regional salmon habitat restoration projects, with a couple of stumps going to the Metro Zoo. Does this explain why the number of trees grew from “two or three” to 30, then to 80, and finally to 200? Morgan admitted as much to my brother Cap.
Metro did all this with virtually no public process. The only local residents with more than a week’s advance notice were members of the Canemah Cemetery Association, a self-appointed, unincorporated, volunteer board whose sole interest is maintaining the cemetery grounds.
In 1997, the board sold the road to the developer for $5,000, no strings attached, and the promise of $13,000 once the development was completed. This time, in return for signing off on Metro’s incursion into land deeded exclusively for cemetery use (cemetery and road comprise a single tax lot), they asked for, and received, two unsightly parking areas surrounded by boulders at the once-pristine cemetery entrance.
Metro built the parking areas, and did additional clearing, after Desmond assured me that further work on the project would be temporarily suspended.
Desmond and Morgan stated that the road — which predates the Oregon Trail and was in use by Native Americans for thousands of years — had “no historical significance.” Their source? Scott Klemsen, president of the cemetery association, whose late father, Howard, the previous president, declared in 1997, “If you want to see history, go to England. If you want to see newer history, go to New England.”
Failing to consult experts, ignoring testimony from Native Americans at the 1997 public hearings, overlooking numerous newspaper accounts — even disregarding the historical marker at the entrance to the road! — Desmond and Morgan plowed ahead.
The claim that “Metro is involved with an effort to get the bluff listed in the National Register of Historic Places” glosses over the fact that the idea was proposed by Native Americans from the Cascade Geographic Society, who were unaware of the “brush clearing” until I phoned them on May 7, the day before a post-logging neighborhood association meeting.
Another assertion — that “Erik Thorsgard, the cultural protection coordinator for (T)he Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which oversees the area ... has been consulted on the ongoing restoration work” — falls on a sharp sword in light of the fact that it was I who tipped him off. He also entered the picture after the bluff was cleared and logged.
Not once did Metro officials reveal that clearing crews had “recently uncovered Native American ceremonial sites and artifacts,” as they now claim. How recently? On May 8, just prior to the neighborhood association meeting, Cap and I accompanied members of the Cascade Geographic Society on a tour. They spotted sites obvious even to untrained eyes — some which had sat exposed since the previous September, or even earlier.
Desmond admitted during our late April walk-around that Morgan had failed to inform him of my report of looting. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. This means that for seven months or more, Metro did nothing to prevent further looting. Now Desmond has the impudence to state, “With its cultural history, its rich forest, the view of the river, Canemah truly is a unique site, and we want it restored and protected.”
I tried to interest editors at the Oregonian — including Executive Editor Peter Bhatia and Managing Editor Therese Bottomly — in setting the record straight, but was met with a collective shrug.
Such negligence and ineptitude on the part of public officials must not be allowed to go unchallenged. People have a right to know when officials lie, and then attempt to put a positive spin on imponderable actions.
As one Canemah resident wrote, “(W)hat I see going on is an effort by ... Desmond to (protect) his people, whitewashing everything that has happened. He wants to defuse ... you and take any of your comments out of the picture and away from any discussion.”
The fir trees, the ferns and mosses, the magic of the road, the wilderness ambiance of the pioneer cemetery, are gone forever. Canemah Bluff is irrevocably altered.
We who value Oregon’s irreplaceable cultural heritage — not to mention competent, open and honest government — need firm guarantees that misconduct of this magnitude won’t be repeated.
[Stay tuned for further developments. D.H.]
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