Don't mess with the Clackamas Indians. They think the Willamette Meteorite was sent to them by the Sky People and, as a sacred object, it shouldn't be bought and sold, and guess what? The rock couldn't find a buyer at Bonham's this Sunday. The hair on my neck is standing on end.
Born and raised in the Willamette Valley, I wondered if I'd feel some kinship with the rock myself. Last week I went down to Bonham's to see if it spoke to me. The item up for auction was a small chunk chopped off the crown of the Willamette, the main body of which still resides at the American Museum of Natural History. Since it's only a (football-sized) chip, and there are more chips, up to twenty, in other collections, it's hard to see what the controversy–or the 1 million dollar auction estimate–was about.
The American Museum of Natural History shaved off a piece of the Willamette to expose to view the inner crystalline structure. I was moved more than I expected to be by the beauty of the meteorites on display. Many were chock-a-block with peridots. The Willamette's exposed surface looked like burnished steel, carefully considered, as if an artist had spent months marking the surface just so: truck it down to Chelsea, throw it in a gallery, and one of those "new collectors" might actually pay $1 million for it.
But no one would bid it up more than $300,000 this past Sunday. The owners of the Willamette chunk, and of the large (and whole) Brenham Meteorite, which also didn't sell, are keeping a stiff upper lip. Said Philip Mani, an owner of the Brenham, "We are in the process of putting together a plan, and we have a number of inquiries from people expressing interest."
Darryl Pitt, who traded the American Museum of Natural History a rock from Mars for the Willamette chip, may be relieved that the auction is over; now he can stop responding to questions about the Indian's claims on the Willamette.
Last week, Siobahn Taylor of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which includes the Clackamas, remarked: “We are deeply saddened that any individual or organization would be so insensitive to Native American spirituality and culture as to traffic in the sale of a sacred and historic artifact.”
Pitt argued that a portion of the meteorite was simply changing hands, but despite how he was portrayed by some media, he was sympathetic towards the the tribe. "I'm saddened by their being saddened."
The Clackamas might be thinking to themselves, "well, who's saddened now?"