In recent years, in the State of Oregon, there have been some positive signs that the state has finally accepted that there are Native people, with history, in this state. The state legislature passed a law that helps to make Tribal history an essential and vital part of the state’s public education system (SB13). The project funds, now being dispersed, will help to produce Native American curriculum which will be used in our schools as soon as two years from now. This is a positive step forward that is applauded by all tribes and educators in the state. It is vitally needed because, for a century and a half, education about Native people has only involved a history of the Oregon Trail and that of Lewis and Clark, neither of which offer true native history, but instead history of “Indians” from a white American and pioneer perspective. And, even though there is curriculum available, and has been for at least 14 years (Indians in Oregon Today 2004), none of those previous produced tribal-based curriculum are being taught in public schools. (Grand Ronde has been successful with their curriculum in the Willamina area. 4th grade link, 8th grade link)
And, from 2008 to 2014, there was a lot of programming throughout the state by the nine federally recognized tribes, as part of the Oregon Sesquicentennial, 150 year anniversary of Oregon statehood. The tribes, divided in two groups, eastern and western Oregon initiated the Gathering of Oregon’s First Nations pow wows in Salem, had huge public events along the Columbia, create a film, Standing Strong, the story of the Western Oregon tribes, and installed a permanent monument to the Tribes of Oregon, in the State Capitol park; the nine tribal flags situated outside the circle of State Flags on the western side of the Capitol building (which the Oregon Capitol Foundation has a website about). The monument commemorates the fact the the Tribes of Oregon are tribal sovereignties, and enjoy a government-to-government relationship with the state, and have representation in the State Capitol at the Legislative Commission for Indian Services. The tribal flags monument has been standing for at least 7 years for all to enjoy. (It has also been recreated at the University of Oregon.)
So it is surprising that, despite all the positive momentum towards Native curriculum, and the government to government relationship the tribes enjoy with the State of Oregon, that the Oregon State Capital Foundation, located in and about the capitol, has created an event commemorating the 159th year of Statehood that appears to ignore any Native history or heritage programming at all.
The event will feature these attractions: (https://www.facebook.com/OregonCapitol/)
-Covered wagons on display
-Live costumed historic interpreters from Oregon’s Champoeg State Park
-Performances by the Oregon Old Time Fiddlers Association
-Original State Constitution on display
-Photo opportunities with the Gold Pioneer, Dr. John McLoughlin, wagons and more!
-Birthday cake, while supplies last
-Activities for the entire family
-Live period music
-Why I Love Oregon essay exhibit
As you can see, none of the attractions are tribal in nature. This seems unconscionable today. Did the foundation not get the memo? Are they completely unaware that tribal people existed and have been a part of statehood since before statehood. Do they not know that Tribal people were a part of the culture of early “Oregon” territory, and that the tribes helped the earliest pioneers, and many tribal people worked for these settlers in trade exchanges, helped these people build fences, plow fields, grow crops, take care of their animals, and build farms. That if it was not for Native people, many of the early pioneers would have died, not knowing what to eat or how to survive the harsh winters. And, that many tribal chiefs allowed these “Bostons,” American settlers, to settle on lands the tribes owned, and live in peace, if they were respected in kind.
They likely do not know that Native people also suffered the consequences of too many settlers by losing their lands, dying of newly introduced diseases, and engaging in wars with the United States to save their people from the newcomers. That all of the land was claimed away from the tribes, and many tribes were not paid for 100 years, and some never getting paid for their homelands. That some tribes were forced to gave up cultural places that existed for more than 15,000 years, when Celilo Falls was inundated, in order to expand the hydroelectric resources of the United States, and help California grow as an economy. That even the salmon peoples of Oregon had to give up their rivers when dams were built throughout Oregon, devastating the salmon runs, perhaps forever.
That, regardless of all of the negative consequences of American pioneer settlement and United States policies of expansionism and Manifest destiny, Native people still became part of the fabric of the state, attending state fairs, being a part of parades during the Fourth of July celebrations, and become a large part of the migrant labor force in areas like the Willamette valley helping make Oregon an agriculture force in the west. Many tribal names were taken and adopted for Oregon’s cities, counties, and natural attractions. Native people worked in canning, in timber, at the Kaiser shipyards, and participating in all areas of Oregon, as best they could since statehood. And, many tribal parents were made to sacrifice their children for years, to Indian Boarding school programs (Chemawa in Oregon) which held these children captive while they were forced to learn not to be Indians, and instead learn a trade to participate in the American economy. That despite attempts to completely terminate the tribes, eliminate tribal culture, steal tribal children, and remove all tribal ownership of the land and its resources, there are today nine federally recognized tribes with growing economies that make a significant contribution to Oregon.
Perhaps this is an “Oh Yeah!” moment, but the Foundation’s event portrays nothing of the culture, growth, and development of the state, and instead harkens back to a time some 30 or 100 years ago when people still believed that all Indians live in tipis on the reservation, that we are all drunks and second class citizens who were never part of the state until casinos appeared.
Its about time that organizations that are located in and about the capitol, inside of, and part of the halls that so recently passed our new Native education law, got the message that tribal people are a part of Oregon, have always been a part of Oregon, and, that its not appropriate to plan an event that suggests to all Oregonians that this is “your” history and heritage, when a giant chunk of that history and heritage is completely missing. The tribes are not the sons and daughters of the pioneers, and tribal history and heritage deserves to be represented alongside of that of the Pioneers. Perhaps, its appropriate that the first class to use the Oregon Native curriculum should be our state legislators and foundation folks at the State Capitol.
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.