Upon entering the trail network at Chehalem Ridge Nature Park, visitors are welcomed by a tall, slender figure sculpted in metal. Its silver-colored arms stretch down the edges of its body, ending with open hands – a gesture to welcome all visitors to the site.
It is one of the Three Elders, a series of statues created and installed in partnership with members of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR).
Whenever Metro creates a new park, a certain amount of construction funding is set aside for site-specific artwork. In the case of Chehalem Ridge, an advisory committee decided to work in partnership with CTGR to write the call for artists and select an artist.
“This is our tribe’s ceded territory,” explained Bobby Mercier, who served as both cultural advisor and lead artist for the project. “And so, it’s kind of fitting that tribal members get to put our art back in our own place, especially over the tops of our own villages.”
Mercier’s artistic team chose the theme of the Three Elders to tell a story of people’s connection to the land. The stylized forms are minimalistic, though each has a collarbone, a sternum, and a belly button – signified by a round circle that represents a connection to mothers and other ancestors.
“These are not him or her,” he said. “When we say they’re power figures, it’s more of that they’re watching over a place.”
Each figure bears the same expressionless face and sloped forehead.
“Traditionally you would see a lot of our old-timers that come from high-ranking people—their heads would be flattened,” Mercier said. “We put that in our art form to recognize our ancestry, of the ranks that we come from.”
As well as recognizing past generations, the project helped strengthen future generations: Mercier’s son Nakoa was able to participate in an apprenticeship program that Metro piloted during the project. The apprenticeship gives people the opportunity to learn the process of working with government employees to create art for the region.
“I’m very grateful my son was able to be a part of that,” Mercier said during the park’s dedication ceremony. “When you can bring in young people and have them experience that and how to work with [Metro] and how to work with other companies, and see all the different steps they get to go through, so that one day when they’re full-blown artists and doing things, they have all that stuff under their belt, that’s a good [thing].”
The two Merciers and former Grand Ronde staff member Adam McIsaac designed and installed the metal figures.
“Each one of us decided to take one [figure] and put our little spin on one of the traditional stories that come from this area, from our Tualatin and Kalapuya people,” said Mercier.
The second figure stands along the Ammefu Trail – a short detour off Timber Road. It displays three large wapato (arrowhead) leaves on its chest. The leaves recognize the Wapato people in the area and represent the story about the creation of Wapato Lake and how it was dammed by the Frog People.
The third figure watches over the high point of the park, the Mampaɬ Trail overlook, which offers a view of the former Tualatin Kalapuya village. The statue is lined with dentalium, tusk shells that served as the Indigenous peoples’ oldest known currency. This piece continues the traditional story of how Coyote tricked the frogs into letting him drink from their lake by paying them with fake dentalium that he carved out of deer bone. Coyote then smashed the dam to release the water for everyone to drink, creating rivers and streams that still nourish the region today.