Willamette Meteorite Agreement

Part of Hall of the Universe.

The Museum recognizes the spiritual relationship of the Grande Ronde Community to the Willamette Meteorite.

June 22, 2000

The American Museum of Natural History and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon today signed a historic agreement that ensures access to the Willamette Meteorite, a world famous scientific specimen at the Museum, by the Grand Ronde for religious, historical, and cultural purposes while maintaining its continued presence at the Museum for scientific and educational purposes. The agreement recognizes the Museum's tradition of displaying and studying the Meteorite for almost a century, while also enabling the Grand Ronde to re-establish its relationship with the Meteorite with an annual ceremonial visit to the Meteorite.

The agreement reflects mutual recognition of and respect for the traditions of both the Tribe and the Museum. As part of the agreement, the Tribe agrees to drop its claim for repatriation of the Willamette Meteorite and not to contest the Museum's ownership of it. However, the agreement also stipulates the Meteorite would be conveyed to the Tribe if the Museum failed to publicly display it, except for temporary periods for preservation, safety, construction and reasons beyond the reasonable control of the Museum. Also in keeping with the agreement, the Museum will place a description of the Meteorite's significance to the Clackamas in the Hall of the Universe, alongside a description of the Meteorite's scientific importance.

Officiating at the announcement and signing ceremony, which took place in the Museum's Rose Center for Earth and Space and beside the 15 1/2-ton Willamette Meteorite, were Ellen V. Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, and Kathryn Harrison, chair of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council.

"I can't begin to tell you how much this means to us," said Kathryn Harrison, Grand Ronde Tribal Council chair. "Since the termination of our tribe by the federal government in 1954, we have worked hard to gather our people together to share our unique and important past. This agreement goes even further because it looks towards our future. I consider it one of the outstanding milestones we've reached for our tribal members."

"It is an honor to sign this historic agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, " said Ellen V. Futter, president of the Museum. "This constructive resolution demonstrates the Tribe's and the Museum's enlightened and progressive approach to discovering the opportunities that lie within our traditions. Our agreement reflects mutual respect and understanding and signals new possibilities for an ongoing and fruitful relationship, and I am pleased to announce that the Museum will establish a new internship program for Native American young people with tribal members of the Grand Ronde as its first participants. It has been a privilege and pleasure to work with our friends in the Grand Ronde."

The largest meteorite ever found in the United States, the Willamette is believed by scientists to be the iron core of a planet that was shattered in a stellar collision billions of years ago. The Meteorite crashed into Earth's surface thousands of years ago traveling at more than 40,000 miles per hour. The Museum purchased the Willamette Meteorite in 1906 and since then the unique scientific specimen has been on almost continuous display at the Museum and viewed by millions of visitors from around the world. The Willamette Meteorite is the centerpiece of the Cullman Hall of the Universe in the Museum's recently opened Rose Center of Earth and Space.

Known as "Tomanowos" to the Clackamas, who lived in the Willamette Valley before the arrival of European settlers, the Meteorite is revered by the Clackamas and their descendants. According to the tradition of the Clackamas, Tomanowos has healed and empowered people in the Willamette Valley since the beginning of time. The Clackamas believe that Tomanowos came to the valley as a representative of the Sky People and that a union occurred between the sky, earth, and water when it rested in the ground and collected rainwater in its basins. The rainwater served as a powerful purifying, cleansing, and healing source for the Clackamas and their neighbors. Tribal hunters, seeking power, dipped their arrowheads in the water collected in the Meteorite's crevices. These traditions and the spiritual link with Tomanowos are preserved today through the ceremonies and songs of the descendants of the Clackamas. Beginning in the 1850s, the Clackamas, along with more than 20 other tribes and bands from western Oregon and northern California, were relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation in Oregon. Today, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, a federally recognized tribe, is the successor to the Clackamas Tribe.

Growing out of discussions with the Grand Ronde, but separate from the agreement, the Museum also proposes, in keeping with its mission of scientific and cultural education, to establish an internship program for Native American young people. Such a program, which the Museum anticipates developing in consultation with the Grand Ronde and others, would facilitate an open and reciprocal exchange of information and expertise between Native Americans and the Museum and would have the following general purposes:

  1. to foster Native Americans' sharing a deeper understanding and appreciation of their customs, traditions, and history with the Museum community and the general public;
  2. to share with Native Americans information from Museum collections and research about their history, and help to restore their ancestral traditions;
  3. to share Museum expertise in archaeology and anthropology to advance ongoing study by Native Americans of their culture and traditions; 
  4. to cultivate scientific knowledge and appreciation of the local environments of Native American tribes; and
  5. to assist in the dissemination of learning on these and related matters between and among Native Americans, museums, and the general public.

The Museum's internship program is expected to have tribal members from the Grand Ronde as its first participants.

Also attending the signing were Anne Sidamon-Eristoff, the Chairman of the Museum Board of Trustees; Ed Pearsall, Tribal Council Secretary; and June Sell-Sherer, member of the Tribal Council.

Over one million people from around the world have already visited the Rose Center for Earth and Space, universally hailed as an architectural, scientific, and educational triumph since it opened to the public on February 19, 2000. The Rose Center comprises the Cullman Hall of the Universe, the Hayden Planetarium, and the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. The American Museum of Natural History, since its founding in 1869, has been one of the world's preeminent institutions of scientific and cultural research and education.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde was formed in 1856 when the federal government forced member tribes to cede their ancestral lands in the valleys of Western Oregon and relocate to a reservation in Oregon's Coast Range. Member tribes included the Kalapuya, Molalla, Chasta, Umpqua, Rogue River and Clackamas, as well as other smaller bands and tribes. Grand Ronde leaders are committed to building self-sufficiency and turning things around for tribal members and the Oregon communities in which they live. The Grand Ronde own and operate Spirit Mountain Casino, the most successful casino in the Pacific Northwest, and have developed other tribal enterprises in construction and environmental management, real estate investment and inventory logistics services. Its Spirit Mountain Community Fund has given more than $9 million to non-profit organizations since 1997, making it Oregon's eighth largest charitable foundation.