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Wallula Stone Repatriation

On Adams’ first visit to Portland’s city hall, he and Mayor-Elect Vera Katz’s office existed out the SW 4th street side of the building. Adams paused to read the plaque, “"Prehistoric Petroglyph (Indian rock carving): transportation and presented by the O.W.R.R.& N Co. to the Portland City free museum in 1910." C.F. Wiegand, Curator."[i]

He noted to Katz that it didn’t indicate that a tribal nation had donated it to the city.

Maybe it was looted by the railroad, Adams joked.

You should investigate it, Katz said.

Passing the Stone each day, in 1995, Adams did some research and found that the stone with petroglyphs carvings -- characters or pictures -- are tribal signs of Native American Indian youths.[ii] His research found the carvings were instrumental in promoting sacred rituals, according to tribal elders who examined it in 1916.[iii] The stone, found on railroad right-of-way land, was moved in 1897 by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Co. from Umatilla ancestral lands, five miles west of Wallula, Washington. It ended up as the rail road’s gift to the city based on the interest of a Portland parks museum curator.

Adams recommended to Katz we return it. He asked the Mayor’s Ombudsman Michael Mills to find out who and how to return the stone to. Acting under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Mills facilitated a two-year project to return the stone to the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla.

The basalt petroglyph boulder became the centerpiece of the newly constructed Nix-Ya-Wii Warriors Memorial of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in Mission, Oregon, on July 26, 1996.[iv]

“Railroaders brought it to Portland in 1910. It has taken until now to correct that mistake. Still, it took six years and a strongly supportive mayor to correct the long-ago mistake. Rightful owners and an appropriate home had to be determined.”[v]

At the City Council, Donald G. Sampson, chairman of the tribes' board of trustees, thanked the city and tried to convey how tribal members feel about the rock and its removal years ago. “Perhaps if we were to go into a cemetery and take the headstone of your mother and father, you could know,'' Sampson said.

Katz apologized on behalf of the city for taking the rock in the first place. “I want to thank you for your patience,'' Katz said. ``I'm glad it's back in the hands and arms of people who will honor it, who will love it.”[vi]



[i] Photo. Retrieved 2018-21-2. [ii] Christ, Janet (July 18, 1996). “City softens stance on selling flood-downed timber.” The Oregonian. Page C2. [iii] Editorial Board (July 30, 1996. "Going home." The Oregonian. Page B6. [iv] Unknown. "To become visible." Retrieved 28-21-2. [v] Editorial Board (July 30, 1996. "Going home." The Oregonian. Page B6. [vi] Thompson, Courtaney (July 27, 1996). “Tribes reclaim sacred Wallula Stone.” The Oregonian. Page B2.

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