Canoe ride on estuary

Guy Capoeman skippers the Dragonfly, the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes’ cedar dugout canoe, at the estuary near the Ne-ah-coxie site with his daughter, Ilia, and tribal members Charlotte and Lorraine Basch.

Turning the page on Clatsop County’s complicated history with native peoples, on May 5 the North Coast Land Conservancy transferred ownership of the historic site of Neacoxie village to the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes.

This transfer means so much to so many people: the ongoing preservation of the Necanicum watershed and Seaside estuary, the strengthening of community relationships and partnerships, the formal stewardship of land in Seaside by tribal people for the first time in generations.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen an outpour of support, excitement and curiosity in response to the transfer. As an indigenous woman who grew up in Seaside with family ties to the Clatsop-Nehalem, and as an enrolled member of the Puyallup Tribe, this transfer also signifies the opening of a door to a new era of tribal representation and community healing.

Growing up on the Oregon Coast, I was lucky to have never felt outcast or looked down upon. Never once did I experience overt racism or discrimination for the color of my skin or the lineage of my family. I did, however, feel the constant pressure of ensuring that my family, my ancestors, my individual existence as a native woman were never forgotten or misinterpreted.

I did anxiously sit through “informational” videos or casual conversations prepared to hear variations of the sentence, “There are no Native Americans here anymore, they are all extinct.”

In a county which takes its name from the very people who once occupied and cared for the land in numbers greater than we can imagine today, my education and communal interactions consisted of surprisingly little information on our community’s rich tribal history. But today, things are different.

Today, I hear about Clatsop County youth reaching out to local tribes to conduct school history projects. I read informational signage referencing the historic and ongoing presence of Clatsop and other tribal people in our community. And, I get to walk the trails at Neacoxie knowing that my ancestors who once called that place home see their people as the primary caretakers of their land once again.

More than that, native and nonnative youth growing up in our community today will never know a Clatsop County without the public representation of tribal people.

Almost one year ago exactly, our relatives to the north, the Chinook Nation, purchased Tansy Point near Warrenton — the site where in 1851 several independent tribal nations of the lower Columbia River signed treaties with the United States government, only to later be unratified. So many promises made at that site were broken and forgotten, but with that land once again in tribal ownership, the shared history of that place will live on.

Our relatives ownership of our shared treaty grounds makes me proud and gives me hope. These feelings are rekindled today with the transfer of Neacoxie, and the outpour of positive response.

One of the promises made on that August day in 1851 was that the Clatsop Tribe would, “be at liberty to occupy, as formerly, the fishing grounds at the mouth of the Neacoxsa Creek, whenever they wish to do so for the purpose of fishing.”

Neacoxie was promised to the Clatsop people nearly 170 years ago. Today, indigenous people are regaining some of their most culturally significant lands — Clatsop-Nehalem in Seaside, Chinook at Tansy Point — creating a synergy and support of our tribe’s mutual interest to protect and care for the lands that matter most.

Today, I am proud to not only be a Clatsop, Nehalem and Puyallup woman, but I am also proud to be part of our Clatsop County community. Today, we are coming together, no matter our differences, to make things right for both past and future generations.

Charlotte Basch is Clatsop-Nehalem and an enrolled member of the Puyallup Tribe.

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