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Remembering original riverkeepers

On the Refuge

Since we are in the midst of Oregon Archaeology Month (September 16-October 15), it seems fitting to pay tribute to the Atfalati, in whose honor the newly opened unit of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is named. The Atfalati, a subgroup of the Kalapuyas, lived on the floodplains of the Tualatin River, including areas that are now part of the Refuge. Archaeological research on the Refuge has revealed a 2000-year history of human habitation. It is believed that at least 23 Atfalati villages were scattered along the drainage of the meandering Tualatin River. Until farming and urbanization drastically altered the landscape, this area was abundant in the animal, fish, and plant resources these people needed to live.

The Atfalati foraged the Tualatin valley's fields for camas and wapato and hunted deer, elk and water fowl. In the warmer months, they moved around in small family groups to provision themselves for survival. In the winter, they reunited into larger groups and spent time in pit or plank houses that accommodated several families. Annual flooding replenished nutrients to the lands that supported the plants, birds and mammals. Fish were available from the rivers. Camas and wapato were two of the most important plant foods. Camas bulbs were dug out of the soil. Wapato was found in wetlands and along lake shores. Its fleshy roots were dug by loosening the soft mud with the toes. Wapato Lake, which was drained for agriculture by farmers, was once an abundant source of this plant. Joel Palmer noted in 1854 that the settlers' introduction of roaming swine and the enclosure and cultivation of land for livestock and farms drastically reduced the camas fields and the presence of large game animals, with dire consequences for the native peoples.

A few relics are the only material evidence of the existence of these people. Arrow heads, stone bowls, and other tools and artifacts have been unearthed by farmers over the decades. As with other Indians across the nation, diseases brought by European trappers and settlers decimated the population. It is estimated that by the mid-1800s, up to ninety percent of the region's native people were wiped out by disease; and of these less than 100 Atfalati remained. In 1855, the remnants of the Willamette Valley bands signed agreements giving up their way of life and the Atfalati went to live on the Grande Ronde or the Siletz River Reservations. Today the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde own one of the most successful casinos in Oregon. Present-day Atfalati on the Grande Ronde number about 20, (www.accessgenealogy.com).

The American Antiquities Act was passed and signed into law 100 years ago on June 8, 1906. All forms of irreplaceable national heritage resources (natural, scientific, and archaeological) have been protected under this act. When you visit an archaeological or historical site, state and federal laws prohibit damage or removal of artifacts. One nearby place to visit is the Plank House at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. This is a replica, as exact in construction and furnishing as possible, of the great plank houses of the Chinook Indians and you can learn fascinating details about their way of life at this site. There will also be a fall celebration and BirdFest on October 14-15 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). This year's Oregon Archaeology Celebration includes events for all -scholars or families, hands-on or lecture. To see a copy of the calendar, go to www.oregonheritage.org. Another site, Archaeology for the Public, is at www.saa.org/public.

The Atfalati Unit of the Refuge is located along Highway 99W between Sherwood and King City. Look for the signs to the entrance. When you take a walk along the trails toward the Tualatin River or the woods, visualize the life of the Atfalati who lived here so long ago. The landscape had to be so different from what we see today. They did not have Himalayan blackberries, English ivy or Scotch broom. They had beavers and muskrats, but no nutria (a large water rodent from South America). Refuge staff efforts to restore native vegetation and the natural cycle of flooding from the Tualatin may someday give us a replica of the landscape the Atfalati lived so comfortably on for thousands of years before us.

You are invited, dear reader, to our Annual Meeting on Saturday, November 4, at the Sherwood Senior Center. We are planning an especially entertaining program by the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project, good food and fellowship, as well as a "state of the refuge" review, and a brief business meeting. You can always find us on the web at: www.friendsoftualatinrefuge.org. Or leave a message at 503-972-7714.