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News arrow Features arrow Keeping Tcetxo traditions alive

Keeping Tcetxo traditions alive Print E-mail
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
February 19, 2014 09:27 am

 

The remaining members of the Chetco Indian tribe hope people are interested in rediscovering the Tcetxo, a village, interpretive center and memorial being built at the southern end of the boardwalk at the Port of Brookings Harbor to honor the Chetco Indians that lived there.

Members of the Yurok tribe will demonstrate the art of plank-splitting in preparation for the construction of an area to show how the Chetco Indians lived at the mouth of the river named after them, their culture and interactions with the surrounding forests, sea and animals. Demonstrations begin at 1 p.m. Saturday — and people are invited to participate.

The endeavor was developed by the Chetco Indian Memorial Committee and designed by Peggy O’Neal and Larry Watson of Ko-Kwow Arts and Exhibits of North Bend, a firm that designs and builds historic and interpretive centers.

“We’re really, really excited,” said Lynda Timeus, of Brookings, who is almost one-quarter Chetco native and among the local connections for the project.

The idea to recreate a village has been a long time in coming, said Timeus, who taught for 30 years in the area.

“I realized the children had no idea Indian and tribal groups had lived here,” she said. “There’s nothing here that would lead them to believe that. Something needed to be created.”

A Tcetxo village

Tcetxo was one of the main settlements of the Chetco Indians identified in 1935, but leveled by bulldozing in 1960. Test pits excavated in 2011 found shell midden deposits — refuse sites that indicate the former presence of a continuous human settlement — that were later determined to be between 700 and 2,000 years old, about 1,000 years older than originally thought.

In the late 2000s, Timeus and others encouraged port officials to donate a parcel of land where historic Chetco artifacts had been found, proving the villages had existed on the river’s banks. Last spring, a circular concrete bed was poured with a “S” running through it to depict the river.

Since then, the group has been writing grants to continue the work.

The plank-splitting is the next step and involved the felling of a redwood tree on Yurok lands, sawing it to smaller sections and hauling it to the site in Brookings. Saturday, the wood will be manually milled, or split, into 6-foot-tall slabs to make three false-fronted buildings around the circular pad.

Splitting planks

To split a redwood log into planks is no small feat, but many Indian tribes in the Northern California and Southwestern Oregon area used the craft often, as can be seen at various interpretive centers.

A tree is felled, and an axe is used to create a crack near a side. Wedges are hammered into the crack in the tree as it is pried from the tree.

Heavy timbers are used as the support posts in the lodge, with 6-foot-tall planks used as siding for the walls and tied with cedar rope to the posts.

The roof usually is comprised of 20-foot-long planks, with one side of the slanted roof offset from the other and supported by large beams. Roofs were pitched to shed rain, so in this area, they were typically leaning south.

It will take an estimated 1,400 board feet to build the interpretive center here.

A circular hole close to the ground serves as the entrance to the structure.

After they are cut Saturday, the planks will be transported to North Bend to be finished to fit, then brought back to Harbor and erected.

Timeus hopes that happens late this year, but it depends on grant funding the group might be able to obtain. Currently, work that needs to be done is estimated to cost about $150,000.

“It’s one step at a time,” Timeus said.

Interpretive panels will eventually line the walls, and one berm will be left alone to show the artifacts embedded in the wall and exposed when port officials were evaluating damage after the March 2011 tsunami.

Among them were flaked stone tools, cobble tools, shell beads, a clay pipe, a shark-tooth pendant, bone fish hooks, notched sinkers and other artifacts. The middle proved that mussels and rockfish were the primary items on the menu. The natives had used nets to catch fish, smoked tobacco and prepared acorn bread, among other domestic activities.

A statue of Lucy Dick, the last known full-blooded Chetco native from the area, will also be featured. Dick, whose Indian name is lost to history, was among the people rounded up and taken to a reservation near Siletz in 1856. There, she married Chetco Dick, who died during a return visit to Harbor.

Lucy died, in 1940, at the estimated age of 95.

Jedediah debuts

The earliest known contact between the Chetco people and “Euroamericans” occurred on June 14, 1828, when Jedediah Smith camped on the Chetco River.

Pioneer settler Thomas Van Pelt described them in his Indian Wars of Southern Curry County, saying the men “wore no clothing except a robe of deer skins, the women wore a mat of grass or bark split into threads and fastened around their hips and hanging to their knees.

“The natives seemed to be very intelligent, and made no complaints at the encroachments of the white men. Their only weapons were the bow and arrow and large knives ... taken from the drift of wrecked vessels.

“Their cooking was done by roasting in a fire; and fish, acorns, elk and deer meat were the principal source of subsistence. The Indian town consisted of about 40 houses. They were expert canoe men on both river and ocean. Their chief’s name was To-has-ka. They believe in a god and a destructive devil. Old men were prophets and doctors.”

Relations between the two peoples, however, didn’t remain amicable, with massacres occurring in 1853 and the Chetco’s relocation to northern reservations in the Siletz region, near Newport in the ensuing years. The last left in the summer of 1856; the Chetco and Tututni are now part of the Confederated Tribe of the Siletz. 

 

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