Tribes celebrate Rattlesnake Butte near Junction City

Tribes celebrate Rattlesnake Butte near Junction City

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. - Chants and drum beats of blessing filled the air Friday at the base of Rattlesnake Butte.

"If these trees could talk to you, I'm sure they would have some very interesting stories to tell you," said Cheryl Kennedy, "and so the day - this returning of the land to us - there aren't words."

Kennedy, the chairwoman for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said she is overjoyed to accept conservation stewardship over the 97-acre butte from the Nature Conservancy.

But the story doesn't start here.

In the 1850s, her ancestors were driven from these lands, Kennedy said.

"Everything was taken from us, even our identity," she said.

Kennedy said the return of the butte to its original owners is a win-win.

"It's a signal to us that the sentiment of people, the conscience of people coming through," she said.

And it is a promise to the creatures the Nature Conservancy calls some of the very first inhabitants of Rattlesnake Butte.

"This is to the best of our knowledge the last remaining rattlesnake population on the west side of the Willamette River," said Dan Bell from The Nature Conservancy.

"The balance of life is so delicate that when we can revive a species and it flourishes, that represents us flourishing as well," Kennedy said.