The Oregon Country Fair Board of Directors has voted unanimously not to raise the highly contentious "story pole," which Native American groups have continually objected to over the past year.
Siletz tribe member Autumn Depoe-Hughes has called the wood-caved pole "an abomination," and in recent months, Native American groups have documented their efforts to urge OCF not to raise the pole.
The decision comes after a previous Board vote in April to raise the pole despite objectsion. At that time the story pole was approved 8-2, with the added caveat that an informational display be added that would address concerns about whether the story pole is '"Culturally Inspired Art or Cultural Appropriation." The display would also allow people to provide feedback.
Last week, OCF told WW they still planned to raise the pole, despite continued pushback from Native American groups.
After WW published a story on the controversy, the OCF held another Board vote Monday night and unanimously overturned its previous decision. Every member voted not only to not raise the pole—but to not allow it onto OCF property.
OCF has declined to comment further, but did release the following statement the same night:
“Fair friends and family,
We’d like to announce the official revised decision by the Oregon Country Fair Board.
-Ritz Story Pole Motion-
The board adopts the following statement:
In April 2016, after a long process and much dialogue, the Oregon Country Fair Board of Directors approved moving forward with the installation of the Ritz Sauna’s story pole. Now a year and a month later that decision has continued to ripple out, bringing back additional feedback that now needs to be taken into consideration.
The Board of Directors offers apology for the distress our actions regarding the story pole have caused to those Native Peoples and members of our family who have been affected by this process. We reiterate the Fair’s commitment to a continuing dialogue with Native Peoples in our community and beyond. We will continue to foster and support artistic and creative expression as we are a community built upon the appreciation of art and the handmade.
Communication, compassion, and respect are essential to healthy communities. As we carefully examine and consider matters of cultural appropriation and the freedoms necessary for artistic expression, we recognize the complexity involved. We are grateful to everyone who has engaged in this essential conversation and to those who have provided input to the Board of Directors. It is our hope that a healthy dialogue will continue.
With respect and compassion for all involved, the Board of Directors rescinds the April 2016 vote regarding the installation of the Ritz Sauna’s story pole to no longer allow it to be displayed on the Oregon Country Fair property.
Thank you for your patience and support.
-Oregon Country Fair”
The Ritz Sauna, the group who's responsible for building the pole, sent this statement to WW:
We are sorry for all the distress that the discussion about our art piece, “Working Together”, the Ritz Story Pole, has generated. We were specifically asked by the Oregon Country Fair management not to engage or respond to the misinformation being generated recently in social media. We did as we were asked and made no public statements or social media posts since mid-April.
The installation of the Story Pole was approved twice by the Oregon Country Fair Board over a period of several years after archeological surveys were completed and letters were sent to Oregon tribes for comment. No official concerns were expressed at that time.
We were assured that the Oregon Country Fair continued to support the installation of the Ritz Story Pole. But, without our input or inclusion on the public agenda and in violation of agreements and processes that we had engaged in good faith, the Oregon Country Fair Board determined by a unanimous vote on May 1st that our art piece could not be raised as planned or displayed on OCF property. Ritz staff learned that the Board planned to take this action only six hours before the meeting.
The Ritz Story Pole, owned by the Ritz Sauna, has been in the public realm at the Oregon Country Fair for 5 years. Hundreds of Fair goers have carved on the pole and thousands have run their hands over the intricate carving, visiting each year to see the progress. “Working Together” is in final preparations for installation and currently remains in safe storage.
This art piece is our design inspired by native art of the Northwest Coast. We have readily acknowledged the source of our inspiration, made no claim that it was designed by native carvers, made it clear that the figures on the pole relate to the Ritz story and history, and have not now or ever expect to benefit financially.
The Ritz Sauna and Showers will operate at the Oregon Country Fair 2017. We are grateful for the support we have received over the years and through this controversy. We have heard the concerns and will be responding accordingly. We desire a more inclusive and transparent process and will continue to honor and encourage civil dialogue about the intersection of art and culture.