Statement regarding damage to Oregon Historical Society - October 13, 2020

October 13, 2020

The following statement was read by Chair Deborah Kafoury during the Oct. 13, 2020 board briefing. Her comments preceded a presentation from OHS Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk and Levy Oversight Committee Co-chairs Diane McKeel and June Schuman.

I want to acknowledge the difficult times the Historical Society and the Levy Oversight Committee have recently faced. I was extremely saddened to hear of the passing of one of our LOC members, Kaeti Namba. Kaeti was a caring community leader and my heart goes out to her mother and family. 

And as we all know, on Sunday night, OHS sustained significant damage. Kerry, I am sure you will give us an update about that during your segment of today’s briefing. 

First, I’m relieved that the damage was limited to what it was and that no one was hurt. But what happened last night made me really angry. 

Historical societies play an outsized role in how a community interprets, learns, processes and interacts with its history. But when histories are told solely through the lens of the dominant culture; when atrocities are whitewashed and lionized; when diverse voices from the past are silenced and erased, we’ve seen the bigotry, harm and narrowness of perspective that can result.

That’s why the Oregon Historical Society is such an asset to our community. OHS, especially recently, has shown us what it looks like to wrestle with a fuller, deeper and more honest account of the history of the land on which we call home today. And that’s especially critical in a state like Oregon, where our history of violence, displacement and discrimination against Indigenous, Black and other communities of color aren’t just remnants of the past, but modern legacies that shape our current day.

Over the last several years, I have seen the historical society make it a priority to lift up communities of color through their culturally specific exhibits and events. I know that people who identify as Pacific Northwest Native Americans use the society’s archives to learn more about their family histories.

I’ve seen OHS increasingly take great care to give historically marginalized communities the platform to tell their own stories to each other and to the wider community. I’ve read your literature that genuinely wrestles with how our ugly past informs our current day. 

I’ve walked the exhibits that give incredible depth to stories about communities that have, despite everything, made Oregon their home through sheer resilience and will. 

Stories that might not have any other venue to be told in Oregon, but are no less central to the Oregon story.

Like other institutions, OHS has worked to respond to the community’s calls for what stories need to be told and heard. More and more, OHS tells the stories that show the human costs of the systemic inequities and broken promises that have fueled the protests our community has seen since late May. Their presence in our community furthers our efforts to hold our history, and ourselves, accountable, and to drive change for a better and more just future.

The acts of destruction perpetrated on OHS were misguided and regressive, and showed little understanding of the invaluable perspectives and stories they allow marginalized communities to tell, and others to hear.

I’m sorry to hear that this took place, but I am grateful that so many of the society’s supporters have already stepped up to help. 

I look forward to seeing the work of OHS continue and grow to help us all learn from our past to create a more equitable future, even while facing setbacks like the damage that happened on Sunday.