Hillsboro officials have made up their minds about the fate of Chief Kno-Tah, one of the city's most iconic works of art.
For fans of the wooden statue, it isn't good news.
In a statement released Wednesday, June 7, the city said the statue was so badly damaged by a winter storm earlier this year that it would need to be removed. Crews are expected to dispose of the statue before the end of the month.
A falling tree smashed into the statue in February, knocking it from its base and shearing off a chunk of the statue's forehead. The hollow wooden sculpture has been decaying internally for years and is infested with carpenter ants, the city said.
"I think it's really sad," said Geoff Zerbe, who stopped by the park last Saturday. The city held a gathering at the park June 10 to collect photos and stories about the statue for posterity. "I see both sides of the situation, but it's sad. It's a cultural landmark for Hillsboro, for better or worse. It's a bit of a time capsule, it's been around for 30 years."
Hillsboro resident Delia Rascon watched tin 1986 as the statue was carved and said it should have lasted for decades to come.
"It was a pretty big deal when they brought it here," she said. "It's sad to see it go. I don't understand why this wasn't better taken care of. There are wooden structures older than this that have survived."
Otani said the decision to remove the statue involved a handful of factors, including a statement from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde that the statue posed no cultural significance to tribal members. That, coupled with the damage and the cost of possible restoring the statue, led officials to remove the statue.
"Public safety is our top priority," said Dave Miletich, director of Hillsboro's Parks and Recreation Department. "As much as we hoped the statue could be restored, it simply poses too much of a safety risk."
'Not ready to say goodbye yet'
Some longtime supporters of the statue say they aren't ready to admit defeat just yet.
Orenco resident Dirk Knudsen said the decision to remove the statue is shortsighted, adding the city may face legal action from residents if the statue is destroyed.
"I love the city of Hillsboro very much," he said. "I care deeply about the parks department, but I'm not happy with the decision, nor are a lot of other people."
Knudsen said that the statue was donated to the "people of Oregon," not to the city. Knudsen said a lawsuit might be brought against the city in order to save the statue.
"I'm not sure that they have the right to remove it," he said. "I would caution the city to not destroy a valuable piece of art that they may or may not have the authority to destroy."
Knudsen has led the charge to save the statue. He set up an online fundraising site for the statue, which was later scrapped by the city. Knudsen has also worked with Harvey's Marine, in Aloha, which has offered to take the statue off the city's hands, repair it and erect it near its own iconic statue of a large anthropomorphic rabbit.
"I'm not ready to say goodbye yet," he said. "I think we need more discussion. He can stand a little bit longer. He can go down in August just as easy as he can in October. Let's take some more time."
Knudsen said the statue was never meant to represent the local Atfalati tribe that once lived in the Hillsboro area.
"It represents all indigenous people west of the Rockies," he said. "I appreciate the Grand Ronde's letter, but it wasn't meant to represent a single group."
Knudsen said the statue represents a time in Hillsboro's history that is quickly disappearing.
"There is a struggle for the heart and soul of the city," Knudsen said. "Is it all about new housing and Intel jobs or is there still a love for the older things that had people tied here? This comes at an interesting time, when growth in Hillsboro is at a rate that can rival any city in the country. That's bringing in new people that see it one way, and older families that see it the other way."
No date has been set for the statue's removal, but Knudsen said when it happens he plans to attend.
"There are people who want to be there at the end," he said. "We want to hold a vigil at the end. There are people who feel strongly about him."
John Howard and Christopher Oertell contributed to this article.
By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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