By Adrienne Crookes
I read with interest Boyd Allen’s Oct 26 article titled “Homeless issues converge,” which was about the homeless problems in Brookings, and on port property. I take issue with Skyler Windham’s remark that port property is on Tolowa sacred ground.
On a video filmed near the Chetco Indian Memorial, he identifies himself as a member of the Tolowa tribe from northern California, and he shouts that “the land here is the historical heritage of my people.” Windham is in error of his claim at best, or he is shamelessly lying.
In the video, Windham asks for the homeless man to be removed and threatens that “tribal courts will be involved in this.” Now I am curious as to which tribal courts he is talking about since the port has never been the Tolowa’s historical territory.
Port property is where two historic Chetco Indian villages once stood (one on each side of the river). In March 2011, repair work following tsunami damage led to the discovery of Chetco Indian artifacts during drilling, confirming thousands of years of Chetco occupancy of the site. This historic site at the mouth of the Chetco River is the Chetco peoples’ ancestral homeland (hence the name, Chetco River).
The Chetco people are the earliest known inhabitants of the Brookings-Harbor area. The people of Chit-xu and eight other Chetco group villages lived along the Chetco River, and between the Winchuck River to the south, and Whaleshead to the north. They lived on this river for thousands of years before being forcibly removed to the Siletz Reservation in 1856. They were incorporated into the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, and are still affiliated with this reservation.
There are thousands of Chetco Indian descendants who live in Oregon and throughout the nation. The Chetco Indians may share a language with the Tolowa and other neighboring groups, but they are culturally and historically unique. They are certainly not an extinct people, nor are they an interchangeable extension of any other tribal group, as have been unsuccessfully claimed in the past.
Locals reported that at the port meeting on Oct 23, Smith River Rancheria tribal council member Jeri Lynn Thompson accompanied Windham to the meeting and was part of his mob. They were there to bully and intimidate, and to force their will on the port commissioners. They wanted to use the Chetco Indian Memorial as a tool to get their way and stormed out in protest when the commissioners would not cave to their unreasonable demands.
The Tolowa Indians of northern California never claimed territory within, or historical connections to Oregon, until recent years. Now they want to rewrite history and claim someone else’s territory as their own to suit their own nefarious purposes.
Adrienne Crookes is president of the Chetco Historical Memorial Project.