About Willamette Falls Trust
Established in 2015, Willamette Falls Trust’s mission is to champion and sustain an exceptional Willamette Falls experience that offers year-round connection to the grandeur of the Falls, historic and cultural interpretation, healthy habitat, public open spaces, and elevates Tribal voices and interests in the Falls and its waterway. As the continent’s second-largest waterfall by volume, Willamette Falls is a place where multiple histories and cultures converge. For millennia, Native peoples have fished salmon and lamprey from the Willamette River and gathered foods and materials from its shores. Twentieth-century industrialization that vitalized the regional economy at Willamette Falls created serious ecological and cultural damage to the area, limiting the domestic resources relied on by Native peoples and early settlers.
In February 2023, Willamette Falls Trust was accepted into the High Line Network, a nationwide community of non-profit leaders redefining public spaces. Today, Willamette Falls Trust is guiding the way to create public access for everyone at the Falls. They are achieving this through inclusive, collaborative efforts with their many partners, including delegated representatives from the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. These official tribal representatives lead through the Trust’s Tribal Leadership Committee to bring healing to this place of power.
Willamette Falls Trust is proud of its focused collaborative efforts and strong commitment to public access, which includes restoration advocacy, deep community engagement, and the promise that all future generations will have a meaningful connection to Willamette Falls.
Rooted in years of culturally responsive community engagement and the perspectives and leadership of the Tribes connected to the Falls, the Trust believes the following four values are central to systemic change that can heal its land, water, and people:
- Multi-generational Impact
- National Level Leadership
- Environmental Justice and Restoration
Inter-Tribal Public Access Project
Willamette Falls Trust, governed by collaborative inter-Tribal leadership, has signed an agreement with Portland General Electric (“PGE”) as a first step to explore restoring public access at Willamette Falls. The vision of the Willamette Falls Inter-Tribal Public Access Project is to honor the history and practice of native peoples and create a shared public space informed by Indigenous-led design. This potential project includes cultural programming, restorative pathways, native plants, first foods and medicines, and gathering areas for many communities. Further, the Trust brings together multiple communities across different cultures and lifeways, with the expertise to ensure that this project will be culturally, environmentally, and economically sustainable for future generations.
The agreement between Willamette Falls Trust and PGE enables the trust to assess a portion of PGE property on the west side of Willamette Falls for a project intended to return public access to a place of deep spiritual, cultural, and historical connection for the region. The Trust is working with public and private partners to raise funds needed to create meaningful public access to the Falls. To date, the Trust has raised over $15 million in contributions and pledges, and $32 million in public funding has been earmarked for a public access project at the Falls.
Willamette Falls Trust is forging a path forward and creating a model for how public spaces not only acknowledge and honor Tribes as stewards of the land for millennia but are led by multiple Tribes and their profound wisdom and perspectives. Inter-Tribal collaboration is leading the way for its unprecedented public project, as many Tribal histories and lifeways come together at Willamette Falls and the region to which it is connected. The Indigenous people's inherency to the lands they have long stewarded is protected by cultural connection, reserved Treaty rights, and sacred fishing and gathering at the Falls.
The Trust honors the Tribes’ sovereignty, acknowledges their autonomy as independent nations, and shares decision-making power for better public service and livable earth, which means including Indigenous voices. The Tribal Leadership Committee is an inclusive Inter-Tribal group for delegates from Tribal nations and Indigenous communities to come together and build a collective vision for Native leadership in shaping public projects in the greater Willamette Falls area. The Trust also has the honor of working day-to-day with Tribal Partner Technical Staff from each of their member Tribes and finds this collaboration to be instrumental in their ongoing efforts in relationship-building and Inter-Tribal collaboration.
In Fall 2019, the Trust formally requested Tribal representation to be appointed to the Willamette Falls Trust Board of Directors to guide the organization and support their philanthropic and programming visions. Its goal was to honor and elevate the Tribal nations that have stewarded the land since time immemorial. As of January 2024, the Trust has expanded its board with representatives of four Tribes. Currently, their Tribal Leadership is composed of representatives from Yakama Nation, Siletz Indians, Umatilla, and Warm Springs, with seats held for other nations with an interest at Willamette Falls, including a seat held for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Nez Perce Tribes.