Alanna Madden

(CN) — The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians in Oregon are reacquiring land on Cape Foulweather this spring through a $2.01 million government grant and the support of the local community along the central Oregon coast. The acquisition encompasses a unique rocky shore on the popular tourist site, where the tribes plan to conserve the land for its ecological and cultural significance, educating both tribal members and community residents.

The land purchase comes 168 years after the U.S. government set aside 1.1 million acres of reservation lands for the Siletz tribes — a confederation of over 27 bands placed on reservations. The original allotments also included over 100 miles of coastal shoreline, although much of this was lost after the government began taking land away via executive order in 1865.

Cape Foulweather and the surrounding area eventually opened to settlers — often violently — and by the 1940s, the completion of the region’s historic highway brought in businesses for tourists. One example is the Lookout on Cape Foulweather, a gift shop that originally opened as a coffee shop at the cape.

According to Stan van de Wetering, who has worked as the biological programs director for the Siletz for 25 years, acquiring the 27-acre headland was made possible after Lincoln County highlighted the property’s availability. This prompted the Siletz to partner with the county, the Department of Land Conservation and Development and The Nature Conservancy and McKenzie River Trust, the latter of which purchased the property in August 2022 so it wouldn’t sell to a developer.

The Siletz will soon purchase the private property from McKenzie River Trust using the department’s $2.01 million grant awarded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provides funding for coastal zone management programs through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“This NOAA funding source is a highly competitive national grant program,” said Lisa Phipps, a manager for the Ocean Coastal Management Program and the department, in a statement. “To have funding dedicated for this project recognizes the values of this unique habitat at a nationwide level.”

Coastal Habitat Projects coordinator Claire Fiegener for the department’s Oregon Coastal Management Program described the land as undeveloped with natural habitats that are of interest to the Siletz and Oregonians. For instance, Fiegener said the property’s salt spray meadow and Sitka spruce forests support several species, including endangered ones, such as the marbled murrelet. Van de Wetering added there are also culturally important species historically utilized by the Siletz for food, ceremonial purposes or clothing and regalia.

“The roots of spruce trees are one of many basketry materials that are used, and there are other native plant species on the hillside that are not endangered, they’re not listed by a federal state agency, et cetera, but they’re of interest to the tribe,” van de Wetering said.

In the intertidal zone, van de Wetering said, there are shellfish, seaweed and anemones — all of which are used by the Siletz people.

“So, both, there’s interest and expected utilization of various species for traditional, cultural purposes,” van de Wetering said. “And those include both kind of consumptive, you might say, for traditional foods as well as other traditional materials.”

As for planned cultural and traditional activities set to take place on the property, van de Wetering said the Siletz anticipates everything from simple recreational activities for families to having a quiet, private place to enjoy the property’s amazing view.

“You can see gray whales out on the water, other species of whales when they’re migrating,” van de Wetering said, adding that the tribes also hope to someday restore sea otters in places like Cape Foulweather — notably adjacent to Otter Crest Viewpoint — which had sea otters before they disappeared from the Oregon coast.

Siletz elder Dave Hatch, who died in 2016, was a Native environmental activist and cultural heritage advocate who was instrumental in forming the Elakha Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring sea otters to the Oregon coast. In April, Hatch’s son Peter Hatch welcomed the property sale, stating, “We are grateful to have the chance to steward it once again, and thankful to those who made it possible.”

Currently, there are no trails, public access or beach access to the property, and its acquisition will not affect the Lookout, said Fiegener.

Van de Wetering said the tribes also anticipate using the property to educate and provide cultural experiences for tribal members, such as collecting seaweed, shellfish invertebrates and culturally significant plants.

“Not every tribal member is familiar with those activities,” van de Wetering said. “Those kinds of activities are handed down through folks’ families in their personal lives and family cultures. So, we anticipate activities like that, that will be in part educational, and then then we anticipate having somewhat similar types of activities to share what gets used off the landscape and how it gets used with the Lincoln County school system and other members of the public within Lincoln County.”

Van de Wetering said Lincoln County helped a great deal in making the acquisition a reality.

“We anticipate and are interested in continuing that partnership forward and trying to benefit nonmembers of the county by providing educational aspects for uses of the property,” he said.

Lincoln County Commissioner Kaety Jacobson described the acquisition as a paper exercise until she got on the property, noting that it took her breath away. “I’m proud of Lincoln County’s role in preserving this property,” Jacobson said in a statement. “The collaboration that made this possible was tremendous. Personally, I find it especially meaningful that the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians will own that special place. What a great outcome for our community and the nation.”