My 2009 dissertation Termination of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde: Community, Politics, Identity was completed at the Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon after about six years of work. For the first few years I was studying tribal history and finding sources of where to find records. I was writing drafts of subjects and chapters and learning how to write a dissertation. There were umpteen drafts and a lot of mistakes on my part but I kept at in and found the energy to continue despite all of the personal issues I faced. During this time my wife and I had two kids, lost one to an ictopic pregnancy, were raising three other kids, and had innumerable health problems. I went nearly blind and could not work for at least 6 months until I had an eye removed, and my wife had several operations. The problems seemed to continue and some of them seemed insurmountable. Yet we continued and both of us graduated from UO with graduate degrees.
In the midst of research and writing, I got a job at the Grand Ronde tribe as manager of the Cultural Department. For the next five years I dealt with numerous problems as entrenched employees worked to ruin my career. There seemed to be no help for these issues and I survived, a bit jaded and traumatized, yet I continued to worked for a few hours each day to write and edit the dissertation. In late 2008 I decided to just end it. It was not complete, but at some point everyone just has to say, its done enough. One adviser, Rennard Strickland, advised me that the “dissertation is not the final product of our work, we will do so much more afterwards, just get it done, enough.”
The final draft in the final year were about 100 pages too long, so I had to drop 100 pages of repetition. The final product was over 400 pages plus extensive appendices making it about 500 pages in all.
Then my committee was in shambles. One member was gone from the university and unreachable, having health problems. Another had a stroke and was also unreachable. I had to replace two committee members. I found replacements in the History department Jeff Ostler and from OSU, Deanna Kingston. The other members were Phil Young and Lynn Stephen was my chair (Deanna and Phil have since passed). The debate over me graduating was intense, and I think I was on the edge of not finishing but I think the importance of what I had done in the dissertation was very apparent. So I completed the defense in in March and graduated, for the final time.
Since I completed, I have been able to mine the dissertation for all manner of history of the tribe. The first product was an exhibit on tribal termination at the Lane County Historical society museum. later I used the termination pieces to fill in content for several of the tribes exhibits, which I curated. Then I was able to used many pieces for the tribe’s history documents. cribbing short paragraphs and rewriting I was able to make the tribe’s history better and more accurate than before. The histories appeared in numerous media packets, handed out throughout the United States, as well as at the tribe, in the newspaper, in innumerable tribal correspondences and statements.
Then I was able to use my research skills, acquired while doing the dissertation research, to develop the tribe’s research collections, add much more content, and provide a framework for the archives that are now a part of the museum. I trained staff and took staff to the National Archives, and helped many people who had no research background to learn the skills needed to do their jobs. They are still employed at the tribe today.
Many of my studies were about worldwide models of indigenous sovereignty. I used my experience studying these models to help develop a concept of sovereignty for the tribe which I followed. I don’t think everyone really understood this, and still don’t. But this all helped me to advise Tribal council and the legal department on various issues. I studied language acquisition models from Hawaii and New Zealand, and I was able to step right into advocacy roles for the language programs at the tribe.
In my time I was able to accomplish a lot at the tribe directly related to my dissertation studies. I might not be the culture keeper like some people at the tribe, but I found to right argument, the support, the money and the staff to complete the task. There is something very important in what I did while there. I felt a duty, a responsibility to complete the development of the culture programs. The tribe had given me a lot and I felt a need to return in kind, which I did.
Today, I am engaged in developing my professional consulting business, Ethnohistory Research, LLC. Much of this work is also built on the back of my dissertation work. I have branched out into other research areas, ethnobotany, education, curriculum, history, archives and archaeology. The content of the dissertation is still very relevant to studies of the tribe. In it I found a way to be critical of the histories written about the tribe. I found innumerable mistakes in history. I found that most of the history that we all accepted as written, is completely wrong. And this led me to look closely at these understandings and develop something better. The notion of decolonization was also very important, yet still not understood by the tribe. It may take another generation before people are ready to decolonize. These subjects I continue to work on. In the dissertation I set a framework for understanding the concept and how tribes may begin to implement it. The dissertation is available from Proquest. Let me know what you think.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.