Wild Peace Sanctuary is located in Seal Rock, OR on the Central Oregon Coast, and the land we now steward was once hunting grounds for the Native Älsé people, who passed through here at different times of the year. The community now known as Seal Rock was originally called Seal llahe. "Illahe", from the language of the Älsé people, means country, land, ground, earth, region, district, soil, or the place where people reside. The Native Älsé referred to themselves as the Wusitslum, meaning "the people who inhabited the lands along the central coast".
The Älsé/Wusitslum were coastal and riverine people, wealthy in the dentalium shells used by many tribal people internationally as a trade item. They hunted seals for their meat and wore clothes made from seal skin. They established a couple of dozen permanent villages along the coast and deep into the valley, separated into homesteads for seasonal use, and based around the need to return throughout the year to hunt and gather food, and other materials. The spectacular rock formations that Seal Rock is known for were an important hunting area, being breeding grounds for the Stellar Seal and sea lion colonies. At that time, the entire Aboriginal land base of Oregon consisted of around 20 million acres stretching from the Columbia to the Klamath River, and from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean.
In the late 18th century, before any contact with the European trading vessels, the Älsé/Wusitslum people are estimated to have numbered between 3,000 and 5,000, though within a couple of decades of the arrival of the Europeans, approximately 75% to 90% of their population had been decimated due to the introduction of small pox, tuberculosis, and other foreign diseases, through contact between the coastal tribes and the trade ships, and the further influx of European settlers. As American pioneers to the Northwest Territory continued their settlement of western lands, a piece of legislation known as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, established a new policy for treatment of Native tribes on the frontier, stating as follows:
"The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in the property, rights, and liberty, they never shall be invaded, or disturbed, unless in just, and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace, and friendship with them."
This paternalistic federal policy prevailed for around half a century in an attempt to facilitate a peaceful settlement of the ever-expanding territories of the United States, until 1848 when Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act, promising title to large parcels of land in Oregon to U.S. emigrants. Under this Act, about 2,500,000 acres of tribal lands in western Oregon were claimed by settlers and gold miners, the most prized of which were colonized through violence and murder, which included the burning of tribal villages in an effort to exterminate the Native people and profit from the land they had stewarded for thousands of years.
In the years that followed, a number of agreements were made with western Oregon tribes, which led to the ceding of the majority of Native land, largely through force, in exchange for a permanent coastal reservation. In 1855, as President Franklin Pierce signed an Executive Order recognizing the establishment of a coastal reservation, known as the Coast Reservation or the Siletz Reservation. This happened during a period of open warfare between the European settlers who were violently opposed to the creation of a permanent reservation in western Oregon, and the Natve tribes, through the end of 1855 and into the first half of 1856.
This period was followed by the brutal relocation of many of the interior valley and southern coastal tribes in the bitter winter of 1856, as army troops marched them from their homes through the mountains to the reservation. People were marched barefoot on what is known as western Oregon's "Trail of Tears", suffering starvation, disease, and violent mistreatment along the way. Upon their arrival, the 28 tribes and bands that had been "thrown together under the iron rule of the U.S. Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs," as Charles Wilkinson writes in, "The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon", suffered even further from overcrowding, unfamiliar habitat, and increasingly hostile settlers still opposed to the concept of allocating land for the Native people of western Oregon.
In a further assault on the rights of the original stewards of this land, an Executive Order known as The Homestead Act was passed by Congress in 1865 that utterly violated the 1855 Treaty promising a permanent reservation. The Coast Reservation was reduced by 191,000 acres and a “use and occupancy only” policy was issued for Native tribal members. As soon as this new executive order was issued, more settlers began to rush in and evicted, often violently, many Native families from their traditional homes, farms, and lands.
Over the next 20 years, several congressional and presidential acts reduced the size of the Coastal reservation further, until by 1900 only about 5 square miles remained in tribal hands. By the early 1950s, 99% of the land base in the original agreement made between the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and the U.S. government had been withdrawn, and in 1955, the government officially ended recognition of the Siletz Tribe through a federal policy known as termination, liquidating what little remained. The Tribe’s official dealings with the U.S. government were also terminated, meaning that they were no longer able to receive any federal benefits at all.
In 1973, the Siletz Tribe formed a nonprofit organization in order to be able to provide social services to their tribal members. After years of lobbying by tribal members, the Siletz Restoration Act was finally passed in 1977. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz became the first tribe in the state of Oregon and second in the United States to be fully restored to federal recognition, and in 1992, the Tribe achieved self governance, giving them control and accountability over their tribal programs and funding. Today the Tribe occupies and manage a 3,666 acre reservation located in Lincoln County, Oregon, of which Seal Rock is no longer a part.
“I wondered what it was like to live without that weight on your shoulders, the weight of the murdered ancestors, the stolen land, the abused
children, the burden every Native person carries.”
David Heska Wanbli Weiden