Photo: Tyler Roemer.

Whose Land Are We On?

Apr 07, 2020 by
Executive Director Brad Chalfant reflects on a long-term vision of where we're working.

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By Brad Chalfant

For the past 25 years, the Land Trust has worked to conserve land for wildlife, scenic views, and for our community. Day in and day out we work to protect, care for, and share the land we call home. We also carry a deep concern for the future of these lands and envision them cared for and protected for generations to come. It’s important to understand we can’t do this work on our own, and, in fact, we take great inspiration from our partners, particularly those who’ve come before us. Foremost among our partners is the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

It’s likely Central Oregon has seen human habitation for nearly 14,000 years. Native peoples in this region include the Wasco, Tenino, Tyighs, Wyams, and the John Day. These tribes and bands built villages along the lower Deschutes and on the Columbia River, near its confluence with the Deschutes. To a great extent, their lives were tied to the seasonal salmon and steelhead runs of the two rivers. Southern portions of Central Oregon (primarily south of Bend) likely saw seasonal usage by the lower river tribes, along with traveling bands of Northern Paiute, Klamath, Modoc, and Mollala.

While 25 years of conservation is a real achievement, it pales in comparison to the tenure of the region’s native people. It’s also clear we’ve not done nearly enough to acknowledge the long-term leadership that indigenous people have provided in terms of land and natural resource conservation. Consequently, the Land Trust is working to better understand the history of the people who came before us, of the land before colonization, of how we came to our current place of power and privilege, of tribal sovereignty and reserved treaty rights, as well as the difficult and unappreciated sacrifices that area tribes have made to protect the land.

Over the last 25 years, our work has drawn heavily from the dream of restoring healthy, wild runs of salmon and steelhead to this arid place we call home. It’s a dream that originated with and has been led by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. It’s a dream for which the Tribes have heavily sacrificed, despite the endless hardships and impediments our culture has thrown and continues to throw at them. Yet, don’t think of this as simply a dream about fish, important as they may be to indigenous cultures or even to recreational fishers. Instead, understand this as a dream of healthy land and water, generations connected to place, and a culture of stewardship. It’s a dream shaped by people whose tenure is measured in millennia and one we’d all do well to learn from.

We’ve much to acknowledge and learn if we aspire to another 14,000 years of habitation here in the Central Oregon. Issues of racism, oppression, and privilege won’t be easily reconciled. Yet, I hope by finding shared values and working together with humility, we’ll find our path forward.

- Brad Chalfant, Executive Director


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