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Rural Oregonians overwhelmingly snub 1850 Donation Land Act

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The Bulletin

In 1850, Congress passed the Donation Land Act which granted free land to white settlers  in Oregon as a way to encourage Americans to go west. The act ushered in a wave of migrants and carved Oregon up into plots of land, largely at the expense of Native American tribes.

A survey that gauged Oregonian’s perceptions on the Donation Land Act revealed that rural people view the act as unfair in larger percentages than people living in urban areas.

According to the survey, 77% of people polled in rural areas said that the Donation Land Act was not fair to people who were not white. For the same question, 70% of people in urban areas also responded that the act was not fair. The percentages were even higher in Oregon’s suburbs, where 80% of people said the policy was unfair.

The online survey was conducted by the independent, nonpartisan Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. It polled 1,584 Oregonians and had a margin of error of 1.5% to 2.5%.

Jermayne Tuckta, an archivist at the Museum at Warm Springs, finds irony in the numbers.

“It’s interesting that a lot of rural people would find this unfair because they are the ones who benefited from the Donation Land Act the most,” said Tuckta, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Tuckta said the difference between rural and urban attitudes could come down to which side is more exposed to Native American issues on a daily basis. People in urban areas do not regularly see the impacts of the Land Donation Act on Native Americans, he said.

“Those in the rural areas probably often run into tribal members who are looking for places to gather edible roots,” said Tuckta. “So people in rural areas are seeing first hand the cause and effects of what the land donation act did.”

Tuckta said Native Americans often ask permission from local landowners to dig for roots on private property, common situations that bring the two sides in direct contact. Improving relations between Native and non-Native peoples may have changed attitudes toward historic events and policies, he said.

Now when tribal members venture off the reservation in search of edible roots they are finding more hospitable landowners.

“When my grandmother was younger they would try to gather the edible roots in the Shaniko area. The landowners of that generation weren’t as lenient or nice toward tribal members,” said Tuckta.

“But today that has changed. This new generation of landowners are open, as long as they know we are not out there leaving trash or anything and we are just out there to gather our roots.”

This generational change of heart towards the needs of Native Americans is reflected in the survey, said Tuckta

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