Lewis, David, Termination of the Confederated tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, Dissertation, 2008. (Pre-final Draft, 2007)
This policy of forced termination is wrong, in my judgment… The special relationship between Indians and the Federal government is the result instead of solemn obligations which have been entered into by the United States Government- Richard Nixon
This chapter explores the historical events around restoration of the western Oregon tribes, in particular the Grand Ronde Reservation. I also discuss effects of termination on tribal members and tribal society. Contemporary challenges for tribal members seeking to restore their identity are discussed. The Grand Ronde situation is related to the theories of indigenous scholars working to understand the process of the restoration of tribal societies.
The restoration era for Oregon tribes encompasses the period from approximately 1969 to the present. Regardless of the apparent economic and political success of the tribes now, all tribes in western Oregon are undergoing a sequence of restorations. At the Grand Ronde Tribe, economic and political developments have taken the foreground in its restoration. These are followed by social services and cultural restoration. The tribe is in a precarious dance of economic development and the organization must continually balance services to Tribal members with economic development for the organization. This negotiation will likely continue for many generations, as tribal members slowly restore what once was commonplace in their lifeways.
The restoration of the Grand Ronde tribe was being worked on for over a decade, beginning in 1972. Some oral histories state that efforts began in the 1960s. However, efforts began in earnest following the restoration of the Siletz Reservation in 1977. Several tribal members from Grand Ronde, now elders, assisted in restoration. Kathryn Harrison served as a secretary for Siletz Reservation and helped organize meetings. Bob Tom also served Siletz Reservation by attending meetings and helping to develop its government infrastructure. Both Bob and Kathryn attended the Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. and testified. The efforts of aiding the Siletz Reservation to get restored helped Grand Ronde by giving tribal leader experience in the process.
A group of about a dozen tribal members began holding meetings throughout the 1970s, principle among them were Margaret Provost, Merle Holmes, Marvin Kimsey, and Jackie Whisler. Tribal members had bake sales, Pow wows, wrote grants and took donations to fundraise for restoration. After termination the tribe maintained only 2.5 acres in community ownership. In the late 1970s, seven additional acres were purchased (Oregon 1985:2-20). The tribal lands served as a meeting place for the tribal members seeking restoration. Much of the work for restoration took place within the maintenance shack at the tribal cemetery.
Restoration required that the tribe have continuous governance and a continuous culture, and the management of the cemetery helped fulfill one of those requirements. The tribal government was restored on November 22, 1983 when House Resolution 3885 was signed into law (Department 2008). The tribal reservation was restored in 1988.
Restoration takes on different meanings at the tribe. Many people think that as long as the tribe is economically successful and there are per capita benefits for them and their family, then the tribe is restored. Others believe that restoration of some medium level of sovereignty with the restoration of a modicum of cultural phenomenon as sufficient. Still others feel that the tribe needs a complete decolonization of the tribal society, restoration of traditional language, culture and ways of governance. Each of these goals is attainable depending on the will of the tribal membership. Few living members will see the outcome of the most radical movements away from western culture, governance and dominance and toward tribal lifeways. It has taken almost 200 years to bring the tribe to where it is today, working to survive in contemporary society, and it will probably take at least that long to unravel the knots of colonization.
The reality is that restoration is a never-ending process for tribal members; the tribe is legally restored, but there are many additional layers of restorations needed. Only recently has the tribe taken an active stance toward the ceded land-claims of its antecedent member tribes, primarily the Chinookan (Clackamas, Multnomah, and Cascade) tribes and bands of the Columbia River. These land-claims stretch from Oak Point at the west to Cascade Locks at the east, according to the Willamette Valley treaty with the Kalapuya, Molala and Chinookan tribes.
The Ceded Lands agenda is now unveiling many questions about the tribes’ boundaries. As the tribe seeks to protect its status within our ceded lands, the tribe is looking at our associations with the treaties, usual and accustomed places, and tribal ethnographic homelands. Many of the tribe’s actions work against other tribes who have a limited corresponding claim to the same traditional homelands. The differences are within the interpretation of American Indian law. For too long the tribe has relied upon a few ethnographic and historical resources for this information, but in studying the original ethnographic and governmental reports we are finding that previous historical sketches are many times in error. Therefore, the relational context of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde with other tribes will change in the future as this history is revealed.
Other tribes and historians may call this effort revisionist history. Revisionist history is essentially a politically motivated rewriting of history to benefit one party. However, the information for the new understandings of Grand Ronde’s history originated directly from United States government documents. These documents have been available in government archives to all researchers throughout the past century and a half. Therefore, the history being revealed has been overlooked or ignored by researchers.
It is common among American historians to represent an ethnocentric history in their writing. Within history writing of the 20th century Native peoples and their contributions to history are trivialized at best, and completely ignored at worst. For example, the continual referral to the conflicts between the United States and the Tribal Nations as “Indian Wars” does not recognize that it was the Americas who invaded Indian Country, not the reversal. It was not the Native peoples who were the instigators, but the settlers, ranchers, explorers, miners, and traders who assumed their own dominance.
Tribal members of the restored Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, individually have many identity issues. The tribal identity issues are historically connected to how Indians were treated within the United States. Additionally, the issues are compounded by inter-tribal treatment of terminated Indians during the post-termination era.
In 1985, the Grand Ronde Tribe summarized the tribal identity issues in its Grand Ronde Reservation Plan:
Termination affected the individual tribal members in several ways: to a few there was “little change from what once it was”, but to others, primarily Tribal elders, it was a “loss of home and personal identity”, as well as the health and educational services previously available through the BIA and the IHS. With the loss of their land and thus the resources which could provide a livelihood, it was necessary for many members to move from the community to seek employment where available. The fact that less than half of the population resides in the six county area reflects this movement away from the community (Oregon 1985:2-19).
As noted previously, many tribal members had to move away and assimilate into society to make a living for their families. This caused a loss of community which was noted an important issue following restoration. The tribe made plans to attract tribal members back to the reservation following the restoration of its ability to serve the membership. But young people grew up in a precarious environment of discrimination against them claiming to be Indians:
The younger members of the tribe have had identity problems as well. While to the non-Indian community they are not “Indians”, even though they have no homeland or reservation, to other Indians they are not Indians. They have grown up with non-terminated Indians who are receiving pr capita payments, and BIA/HIS health and educational services—all services which have been refused them because of their status, a status about which they have no say. For example, some tribal members have been unable to obtain Indian preference for employment and career advancement within federal agencies (Oregon 1985:2-19).
Previous to termination, tribal members struggled with various identity issues, many already summarized in the previous chapters. Essentially, the government’s program of assimilation sought to alter the fabric of native identity for every tribal member. Training in American education, removal to reservations and from mainstream American society, enforcement of the suppression of native spirituality and cultural forms, suppression of native languages, removal of sovereign rights to hunt, fish, and gather cultural resources, and the replacement of traditional cultural systems of governance and society all contributed heavily to assimilation.
In the United States there exist systems of discrimination that relegated tribal peoples to only lower sectors of society. Through the Indian schools, on and off reservation, there was a distinct inability of tribal peoples to gain the same education of their white American neighbors, as much of the curriculum was tracked towards service trades. Additionally, it was the policy of the government to not allow adult natives to own their own lands, manage their own money, or even make decisions to drink alcohol, or to marry white people. Finally, native peoples who remained on the reservations and did not assimilate did not make the same pay for work that white Americans made. Well into the mid-20th century native people were treated similar to Blacks, they were not allowed to eat in certain restaurants, had to enter through back doors of others, and Indian women had to wear headscarves in some regions (Bommelyn 1997). In short there was a persistent social system of racism that natives had to contend with. This is the social environment that Congress chose to free native peoples into with termination.
In southwestern Oregon and northern California, there is a unique racism environment that originated with the Rogue River Indian Wars. Regardless of which group initiated the wars, there is a large population of descendants of the original white settlers and miners in the region in the current era. These descendants maintain considerable historical baggage of the conflicts between their ancestors and the tribes. Many natives who grew up in the southern Oregon contend that there remains a significant amount of racism directed at native peoples in the area.
Alongside the conflicts with the settlers, are the internal stresses of the consolidation of many tribes on few reservations. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are not simply of one tribal heritage, but the vast majority of members are descendants of three of more tribes. The ancestral heritage of Tribal members of Grand Ronde actually originated from twenty-seven tribes in Oregon, Washington, and California. Therefore, there is not one culture, one worldview, or one traditional home-land, as we find in eastern and mid-west tribes, with one tribe per reservation, but many. This dynamic produces many complex situations within the reservation relating to politics, alliances, marriage, genealogy, and the like.
At the Grand Ronde tribe today, there are policies which support marriages and the production of offspring between tribal members. In traditional native society, Pre-colonization, marriages between two members of the tribe were traditionally not allowed. However, in some ways the ancestral amalgamation at Grand Ronde is traditional, because as Grand Ronde is a confederation of many tribes, members of the reservation marrying to each other within the first few generations maintains the traditions.
Contemporaneously, marriages of two people within the tribe have become a normal occurrence. This is both traditional and non-traditional, as the Grand Ronde tribe was originally composed of multiple tribes, but now 153 years following the removal of the tribes to the reservation, every tribal member has some relation in common and is at least shirt-tail cousins to every other member. There are now about seven to nine generations, depending on the family, of tribal members from the original resettlement in 1856. If a member is related to a few prominent families, namely Leno, Mercier, Hudson, LaBonte, or Butler, they are likely to be second cousins to about 75-90 percent of the tribe.
Tribal membership policies, as of 1999, support the marshalling of “Grand Ronde” blood in the figuration of blood quantum. It is not frowned upon today to have cousins marry and produce offspring at Grand Ronde. This situation has resulted in the political institutionalization of marriage within the tribe. As such, the current policy is non-traditional and will eventually result in a gradual digression of tribal members as the majority of tribal members are one quarter Grand Ronde blood or less, and there is a net out-marriage from the tribe. Every family in this generation has or will have family members who will not be able to enroll. I assume that in the next decade the policy will have to change so that tribal descendants can become tribal members and carry on the traditions. This is the right of all other members of sovereign nations of the world, and it is unconscionable that tribes set policies which eliminate descendancy as the primary qualification for membership.
Traditionally, marriages were normally the result of political alliances between families from different tribes, many times between tribes from different language families but adjacent to one another. In fact in the post-contact times, tribal headmen like Chief Comcomly of the Chinook, included the Canadian and American settlers and traders among those eligible for marriage to his daughters. Chief Comcomly married two of his daughters to traders from both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. His strategy was political and economic, as this would allow him to gain more benefit through trade with the competing fur trading companies. Additionally, by marrying his daughters to the fur traders, they would serve as translators between the tribe and the organizations.
Many Grand Ronde members struggle with understanding what tribe they descend from. Many Grand Ronde members say that they are of the “Grand Ronde” Tribe. This is a fallacy as there was never a Grand Ronde tribe culturally, but instead 27 tribes who came to Grand Ronde. What they are referring to is the political entity, created by the Grand Ronde Restoration Act (1983) which did not reference individual Indian tribes but instead a single political entity, The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. Essentially the restoration act generalized the tribe as a single political entity. The act states:
…Federal recognition is extended to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the corporate charter of such tribe issued pursuant to section 477 of this title and ratified by the tribe on August 22, 1936, is reinstated. Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, all laws and regulations of the United States of general application to Indians or nations, tribes, or bands of Indians which are not inconsistent with any specific provision of this subchapter shall be applicable to the tribe (Congress 1983).
The simplification of the tribe to one entity clearly has benefits within the federal government. The Grand Ronde Tribe is therefore the political identity of the membership. Despite how the Grand Ronde tribe has been titled, every member is a descendent of the original tribes of western Oregon. These tribes are the members true ancestral “tribes” for cultural identity. My own ancestral tribes are Chinook, Santiam Kalapuya, Takelma and Yoncalla Kalapuya.
For many tribal members, the lack of a cultural identity causes some confusion as to who they are and which cultural traditions they may feel comfortable practicing. Each tribal member may of course make their own decisions, and many of the tribal families are making cultural and political decisions based on their ancestral lineage. In tribal elections, many families vote for their family members. In the past ten years or more the tribe has seen the growth of political parties, mainly representing “change,” which have been successful to a limited extent. In cultural events, many tribal families will participate in the activities because they have been told that this was something their people did. It is a fact that many elders and other members will not participate in some cultural events because, it is not culturally what they believe is correct for their family. While many other members do not care about the appropriateness of such culture and will participate in all manner of cultural activities regardless of their heritage.
There is not one correct way for Grand Ronde people to assemble their identity. Termination severed many of the community decision-making practices of the tribe. In some instances, there is no direction from elders or others as to what is correct and this is a function reserved for the immediate family. This aspect of the community interaction is being restored through community gatherings and events. Some tribal members are “assembling” their identities in a post-modern manner. To assemble a tribal identity some cultural ways are being imported from other tribes, based on the life experiences of the families who moved away following termination. Others are integrating culture from those individuals who have survived with some phenomena of their cultures intact. This is a traditional way to assemble one’s culture, because many of the original tribes were split amongst several reservations and so there are surviving traditions at many of the neighboring reservations. Because there are surviving traditions at reservations that remained culturally cohesive, many Grand Ronde members are learning and restoring cultural traditions from neighboring tribes.
It is open for interpretation as to how flawed the process of creating the termination rolls was. There were many thousands of people, as represented in the BIA petitions, who were left off the termination rolls. However, to compound the problem, the tribes in the 1970s and 1980s adopted the termination roll as their restoration roll with some additions. Therefore, there remain hundreds if not thousands of people still “terminated”, living in an unrecoverable termination nexus.
As such descendants who are unable to join the tribe as members are a common occurrence. Many of these relatives remain a considerable population which can not fully contribute to the restoration of the tribe.
What is the psychological impact of one or more generations living outside of a native experience?
Native people live within a colonized context. Mainstream American society has flooded Tribal society with cultural phenomena from other societies and cultures. Tribal people are managed by a foreign government and their very status as Indians is subject to the whims of each particular Congress. Tribal nations are heavily managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs where there is over 200 years of history of laws and policies, which are directed at Indian peoples that they must navigate to exist as sovereign entities. Tribal nations exist because they have adopted numerous governmental structures that the United States has deemed necessary to be a Tribal nation. The relationship of the Tribal nations to the United States is oppression and the power relationship is vertical, top down.
Previous to colonization, native people lived within their own worldview. The native worldview perceived native people in relation to the rest of the world as an interconnected and a significant part of the whole. Native people lived alongside animal and plant nations and even inanimate rocks carried spirits. Native society abided man’s laws and the laws of the Great Spirit and existed in harmony with their community and world. The relationship of the people to the tribal government was horizontal, no one person was better or more deserving that any other (Tom 2006).
What happens when tribal people are suddenly forced to relinquish that tribal relationship to the world and adopt a different relationship? For western Oregon, the “freed” tribes were left to fend for themselves in a system they had never completely participated in before. Some tribal members, previous to termination, had chosen to move away from the tribe and assimilate into American society, but upwards of 5,000 Indians in western Oregon had to make this change without any time for adjustment. As mentioned previously, the state social and educational services in Oregon were preparing for a sudden growth in unemployment, welfare, and educational services with this influx of natives. Additionally, over the next decade, thousands of natives adopted drug and alcohol addictions as a reaction to the many stresses of the loss of their reservation. Native populations became the most disenfranchised people in Oregon, within their traditional homelands.
What would happen if the people could be reconnected with their community?
This question means that there may be a way to reconnect the people and that therefore they may be reconnected with their native spiritual worldview. This is the challenge at Grand Ronde, the people disconnected from their history and as such disconnected from their community. The psychic impact is a sense of disconnectedness from the core of which they are a native people from a specific landscape and from a specific cultural context. What is expressed is a culture and history of mythology and folklore gathered together and reconstituted in a different worldview.
We can see now that the termination plan did not work, but by-and-large lawsuits stopped in most areas. For these reasons termination was not simply a land takeover scheme, but it was a direct assault on tribal culture and identity. The result for terminated tribes was a lack of support for being Indian in American society. To be Indian means not simply identifying as such, but also identifying with the culture and inherent legal sovereignty of your people to exist within a different worldview.
Finally, Bob Tom has spent over 30 years working on termination, and restoration issues in Oregon. While there has been a political and legal restoration of five western Oregon tribes, there remain incredible challenges to the full restoration of tribal cultural traditions which may take as much at ten times longer to restore. These are issues that all formerly terminated tribes are wrestling with today:
DL- if you could make a statement about the impact of termination on the tribes in Oregon, what would you say?
BT- I’d say that some of the notions of termination probably worked, even though we’re not terminated anymore. But some of the notions they had about termination worked. The cultural and spiritual life of all of the tribes that were involved in termination because of Siletz being Confederated tribes and Grand Ronde being Confederated tribes, and then they having member tribes from Northern California clear to the Columbia, those tribes that got moved to reservations, and then got terminated, the notion of termination has worked. I don’t care how rich either tribe gets by casinos or diversifying or what, that isn’t reversing one of the original notions of termination, was to eliminate the cultural life of a people and a spiritual life of a people. That was one of the goals along with the others, there was a lot of goals of termination. But that worked. Our tribes by getting moved to reservations and then intermarriages within the tribes, and then intermarriages outside of tribes, our tribes, its not fixable. That’s why its one of the reasons I say termination is one of the most destructive, one of the most awful things that has ever happened to any people here in the United States. And I don’t see our tribes even trying to recapture, they are more economic development oriented. And why before, that was a mistake I made, my work with termination, … when tribes reversed termination, if they would have said, OK we’ve been terminated for 22-23 years, 22-23 years ago what did we have that we liked about our culture and our spirituality and our lifeways, what did we have? Because now that we are not terminated we’re going to recapture all of those cultural and spiritual ways that we liked. We’ve been terminated but we’re going to try to get back to that. We didn’t do that. We started from here, trying to go forward. Its not too late, I don’t know why a tribe doesn’t do it today. Ok what did we have in 50, what did we have in 40, now that we got resources we’re going to recapture what we had, what people had in their lives, what order they had to their lives, in the 40’s, spiritually and culturally. And we’re going to spend a lot of our resources on getting that back. We can blame the government, they did, we can blame them, but now we don’t necessarily have to blame them, because we’re not trying to do anything about it. I think that’s the statement I can make, just part of the statement I can make why I think its one of the most awful, destructive, devastating, things that ever happened to any people, termination.
The issue of the restoration of the culture of the tribes is at the forefront of Bob’s discussion. Tribes are unique because of their culture. Tribes maintain their federal status because they maintain a continuous culture. In order to counteract the effects of termination, and colonization The Grand Ronde Tribes will need to work diligently to restore its cultural and spiritual traditions. Bob Tom continues:
BT- Cultural competency. There’s a lot of feelings, like me, I can say I’m Grand Ronde but then I know what tribes I’m from. But to some people that say their Grand Ronde and that’s who they think they are, their Grand Ronde, versus being Shasta or Klamath River or what, you know, Kalapuya or what. There’s some people that think, OK these five tribes, I’ve always thought there were a lot more tribes than five, that there were other small bands, with differences. There’s some people think Ok we all got put on this reservation and even though we’re from different places and different ways, we’ve been on this reservation, and so now there is a Grand Ronde culture. So I guess you would get into discussions with people that were very serious, very adamant and emotional about they are Grand Ronde culture. While somebody else would say I want to deal with the culture of the Shasta, I want to deal with the culture of the Kalapuya. It can get really mixed up but termination hurt our membership ability to be as Indian as we should be. There are just way to many western influences in our tribe and our people. And I’m not saying anything, I’m not judging anybody.
It is very important that tribal members not only have an association with the contemporary Grand Ronde Tribe but also understand where they came from. Every tribal members is a descendant of at least one of the antecedent tribes and therefore they have a spiritual connection with specific places in Oregon. Their ancestors are buried in the traditional homelands. It is the responsibility of tribal people to associate in a spiritual ways with their traditional homelands. Bob Tom continues:
BT- It exists, it exists in me and I’ve have long and heated discussions with the most traditional people you can find on reservations in western Washington into eastern Washington to Oregon to Nevada and that live on contiguous reservations, and I tell them you guys got it made! I said I think about my Indian-ness and protect my Indian-ness more every day than you ever do, because you are living here amongst all of your people, contiguous reservation, you go to a ceremony once in a while and different things, but you don’t have to think about your Indian-ness and protect your Indian-ness, every day. I have to. Everyday there’s times I can catch myself behaving a certain way, that isn’t the way of my mom or day, or grandma or grandpa. I can catch myself thinking or not thinking, every day! So everyday out here, I’m thinking about my Indian-ness, protecting my Indian-ness, trying to live my Indian-ness. And more so than the most traditional person back there on that rez. But how many people are doing that? I’m of a generation where I’ve lived on a reservation, I went to Council meetings, I went to our dances, I went to a Shaker church. One shaker church deals with the bible the other one doesn’t. I’ve been to both Shaker churches, been to their encampments down in northern California, and Klamath, and Quinault, and my aunt and uncle’s. I’ve lived on a reservation, I’ve set net, I’ve hooked eels, I lived in Salem, I went through termination, was the first general manager of the tribe after restoration, so helped got an opportunity to establish the tribe financially and management wise. And so I’ve had experiences that very few people have ever had. Had the experiences that not a lot of tribal members anymore had, who lived on the reservation, before and after, during termination, restoration, etc. Now you can celebrate in 2007, it’ll be 30 years. So if you go to a meeting, you go to a youth leadership conference, whether the staff, most of the staff and all of the kids, none of them are thirty years old. So their experience has been just tribal, just the buildings they see.
Traditional culture requires a certain responsibility for those who live in that way. There is a responsibility to tribal society to thinking in a horizontal ways about other people in your society. In tribal society everyone is equal, on the same plane. Some people are different but not better than the next person. Many people who have grown up since the restoration have had no experience in traditional society and many are not learning what that means. Bob Tom continues:
BT- They don’t have any of those things. And what helps you define, what helps you, what impact, and what things that you see, I’ve seen our spiritual, and I’ve seen healers from all over the northwest come to our reservation, I’ve seen our healers, I’ve seen them walk up to a chimney and run their hand up a hot chimney til they couldn’t reach any more. I’ve seen people move from there to there, you know and what things that you see and feel and experience and how does it define your life. How does it define who you are and or where you go. Well, so these kids that aren’t thirty what things have they seen, what things have they experienced, and what’s going to help define who they are and where they go, and how they serve. Ya know. Its not going to be any of those things that I saw. Ya know. What’s it going to be, television? What else? I don’t know. So termination is one of the most devastating, one of the most awful things that ever happened to people, and to me it continues to do that, to us, simply because we haven’t taken time to go back and say what did we have before termination? What good things did we have, and now we’re going to get that back, ourselves. So I think that, decision not to, or that inability to get back the good things of our way of life for everybody, is the most devastating thing. I think the other most devastating thing, I don’t know if termination had any role in it, is this reservation mentality, and not having a better look, a better observation, or a better feeling about, what is a tribe’s responsibility to its membership. Reservation based mentality is the BIA, IHS, Federal government mentality, and at one time it was imposed on Indian people by Federal regulations, but now with self-governance and 477 you can write your own regulations. And no tribe has to have a reservation-based mentality about how it proceeds and how it provides services to tribal members. And membership is blood, and so reservation mentality, how does that play into it? Our tribe is going back, being more reservation-based mentality than it was ten years ago.
DL-Yeah Grand Ronde is.
BT- that’s true.
Bob Tom’s complex understanding of Indian identity is expansive as he explores many dimensions in the contemporary context. Restoration requires not only an economic rebirth, by a cultural restoration of the people. Much has been done at Grand Ronde to support the growth of its economics, much more needs to be done to support the restoration of the traditional lifeways. Grand Ronde people may never return to the way it was in the past, 100 years ago, but they can learn the fundamental philosophies of being Indian, of living in a horizontal society. The Grand Ronde tribe needs to support more research in what termination has done to affect the tribe’s culture, to fully understand this impact, in order to begin to fully restore the tribe culturally.
In the late 1960s and 1970s the political climate of the United States was tense with a war raging in Viet Nam and civil rights activism occurring with the United States. A considerable part of the activism was ethnic and racial activism on behalf of groups seeking equal treatment. Native were no exceptions and the era is marked with American Indian Activism on behalf of tribes and tribal peoples. Likely the most significant American Indian activism of the twentieth century occurred within this era.
Much of the activism with Native people came from college educated and urban Indian populations who activated on behalf of all Natives. Many of these people were part of the terminated populations who a decade earlier had taken advantage of education and relocation programs offered by the federal government to help assimilate them into urban America. The injustices of termination felt by these people came to be addressed in this national movement for civil rights.
In the 1950s, amid criticisms of the rapid termination policy grew an answering policy of self-determination. In March 1960 the first defining statement of this new policy took shape in a radio address by Secretary of the Interior Seaton. The “objective is not to terminate special Federal protection and services for any tribe or group of Indians until they themselves are ready, prepared and willing to take on the full responsibilities for managing their own affairs” (Senese 1991:36; Tyler 1973:187). This statement was a stark change in the attitude of the early 1950s where a number of tribes were declared assimilated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and the tribes were added to lists based on their assumed assimilation status. These lists were carried forward from William Zimmerman’s lists in the 1940s (Affairs and Representatives 1944). There was never any official study made to determine whether the tribes listed as assimilated were truly able to subsist without government assistance.
Continued work on self-determination continued through the 1960s. key officials in charge of the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs sought to conduct studies of native society to find way of preparing them for self-determination. The “move was towards a sophisticated social/psychological rehabilitation of Indian America” as emphasized by the Commission on the Rights, responsibilities and Liberties of the American Indian formed in 1957 (Brophy and Aberle 1966; Senese 1991:47).
Work by the Commission and efforts by native activists from the tribes and those terminated proved to be powerful arguments for changing the national policy to self-determination. These efforts were joined by President Lyndon B. Johnson (1968) and President Richard M. Nixon (1970) in repudiation of the termination policy:
I propose a new goal for our Indian programs: A goal that ends the old debate about “termination” of Indian programs and stresses self-determination; a goal that erases old attitudes of paternalism and promotes partnership self-help. Our goal must be: –A standard of living for the Indians equal to that of the country as a whole.
–Freedom of Choice: An opportunity to remain in their homelands, if they choose, without surrendering their dignity; an opportunity to move to the towns and cities of America, if they choose, equipped with the skills to live in equality and dignity.
–Full participation in the life of modern America, with a full share of economic opportunity and social justice. I propose, in short, a policy of maximum choice for the American Indian: a policy expressed in programs of self-help, self-development, self-determination. (Johnson 1968:336-337)
In 1970 President Richard M. Nixon also voiced his repudiation of termination policy:
The first Americans – the Indians – are the most deprived and most isolated minority group in our nation. On virtually very scale of measurement – employment, income, education, health – the condition of the Indian people ranks at the bottom…. This policy of forced termination is wrong, in my judgment… The special relationship between Indians and the Federal government is the result instead of solemn obligations which have been entered into by the United States Government…. The recommendations of this administration represent an historic step forward in Indian policy. We are proposing to break sharply with past approaches to Indian problems. In place of a long series of piecemeal reforms, we suggest a new and coherent strategy. In place of policies which simply call for more spending, we suggest policies which call for wiser spending. In place of policies which oscillate between the deadly extremes of forced termination and constant paternalism, we suggest a policy in which the Federal government and the Indian community play complementary roles (Nixon 1970:564-567, 576-76)
The two Presidents’ statements of repudiation of termination as the national policy effectively ended further attempts at termination of more tribes. In the 1970s there came a change in the national policy for tribes to self-determination. The change was ushered in by Gerald R. Ford’s signing of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (Congress 1975) which established self-determination of tribes as the national policy:
Termination–Congress repudiates and rejects House Concurrent Resolution 108 of the 83d Congress and any policy of unilateral termination of Federal relations with any Indian nation (Congress 1975:Section f).
In addition, President Gerald R. Ford committed his administration to the goal of self-determination for tribes:
I have signed into law S. 1017, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistant Act. My administration is committed to furthering the self-determination of Indian communities without terminating the special relationship between the Federal Government and the Indian people (Fixico 2007; Ford 1976).
The statements of three presidents ushered in a pro-Indian political movement, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in support of tribes. Many bills were passed to help tribes, American Indian Self-Determination Assistance Act (1975), Indian Health care Improvement Act (1976), Indian Crimes Act, (1976), Health Scholarship Act, (1977), American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978), and the American Indian Child Welfare Act (1978).
Some of the difficulties of the tribe’s land-claims were directly created by termination. It was the rhetoric in “Indian Country” that terminated tribes had willingly given up their treaty rights, which meant that they could no longer claim aboriginal rights to their traditional homelands. But as we have seen this was not the case and there are now extensive conflicts between The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, neighboring tribes, and regional federal and state agencies that manage lands and resources. Termination place the remaining recognized tribes in a privileged political and economic position, and they in turn began claiming the right to oversee land and resources areas that were traditionally outside of their ceded lands.
There are many sides to this conflict. If in fact the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde were to remain terminated, then it would be understandable that other recognized tribes would take responsibility over many of the traditional functions of the terminated tribes. These functions relate to plant and animal resources, as well as archaeological and cultural resources. This is in fact what happened in some areas following termination in Oregon. But since the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are restored and are taking responsibility of their ceded lands, the encroachment by other tribes will need to decline. This dynamic too, is a symptom of restoration as tribes need to now understand how termination affected all Tribes in Oregon and make adjustments and agreements for the restoration of the western Oregon tribes. This is in fact occurring in many areas.
There are additional political effects in the power of the restored tribes to make decisions regarding their ceded lands. On the Columbia River the Grand Ronde tribe holds claims to the ceded lands from Cascade Locks to the Oak Point. This is the traditional homelands of the Chinook tribes, mainly the Clackamas, Multnomah and related tribes. When the Grand Ronde tribe was being restored many of the committees and congressional acts of the time established committees for the “treaty” tribes of the Columbia River. These tribes, Warm Springs, Yakama, Colville and Umatilla, have since become firmly established on many of the committees and councils that make resources decisions on the Columbia River. During the time these organizations were forming, Grand Ronde and other tribes were just beginning to be restored and did not have the means to claim their rights to sit on these decision making organizations. As such today, Grand Ronde is ignored when decisions must be made regarding fish populations, water quality, and other river issues like electricity generation. As such many of the restored tribes are taking action to restore their position with regards to their ceded lands.
In Oregon, the Siletz tribe was restored first, in 1977, some 5 years before Grand Ronde. When Siletz was restored, they lay claim to all of the treaties of western Oregon, including the unratified Coast treaty, and set the tone for the tribal history of the region. When Grand Ronde was restored, the tribe laid claim to the seven treaties of western Oregon. Both Siletz and Grand Ronde now claim overlapping territories from southern Washington to northern California, with the exception of the southern coastal area covered by the unratified Coast treaty. In 2008, the two tribes have a cooperative working relationship, a relationship which is challenged over issues of overlapping claims.
The Grand Ronde Tribe is administered by a bureaucratic tribal government, established initially for the tribe in 1936 with the acceptance of an Indian Reorganization Act corporate charter. The traditional forms of tribal government and decision making are not fully honored in the tribe, yet still exist. In its politics, many decisions are made by elders who approve of directions and decisions. These decisions occur outside of the regular governance, which is in form a bureaucracy. Many other decisions occur during committee work, where recommendations are filtered to Tribal Council to be officially discussed. The administrators rarely make decisions without Tribal Council in concurrence. This manner of decision making offers protection for the middle-level managers and administrators for their decisions.
Despite the internal political complexity of the tribe, staff members must also operate with outside organizations that also have their own bureaucratic systems. These systems do not always align, and so collaborative projects and decisions can take years to complete.
The Grand Ronde Tribes internal conflicts constitute a similar indigenous context noticed by Victor Montejo of Latin American indigenous movements. In Montejo’s home country of Guatemala there are growing movements of self-governance occurring among many indigenous peoples:
…a growing layer of subregional organizations exerts pressure on the larger indigenous organizations, bringing local communities and nonaligned sectors, communities not affiliated with any of the regional organizations… into play at the regional and national levels and creating a complex and constant dialogue (Montejo in: Gow and Rappaport 2002:49).
The process that Montejo describes relates to the restoration of some political and economic power by the indigenous peoples of many Latin American countries, and while they are not dominant as yet, the situation for some is improving. The umbrella concept is decolonization, which includes a waning of dominant colonial control and the resulting resurgence of Indigenous culture and society (Smith 1999). This dialogue between different sectors of indigenous society will likely take generations to accomplish significant change.
Similarly, restoration of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde constitutes decolonization, and a dialogue at all levels of society, Indigenous and non-indigenous. Individual conflicts are indications of the emotional severity of the dialogue. As the dialogue at Grand Ronde continues there will be advancements in the way sectors of society interact, and the community will be gradually rebuilt. This process with take many years and likely several lifetimes to complete.
In the arena of culture the Grand Ronde tribe struggles with full support from the tribe of efforts for restoration. As of 2008 the efforts at maintaining and restoring culture constitute less than 1% of the overall government budget. Yet there are community groups that are surfacing to take independent control of restoring culture.
The Canoe Family at Grand Ronde constitutes an example of an independent organization which is working to restore the tribal culture. Many tribal members are confused by the organization and as such there are criticisms of the organization. Yet the Canoe Family participate in annual Canoe Journeys of tribes throughout the Northwest Coast who are all working towards a larger goal of decolonization of their tribes and restoration of cultural traditions long suppressed by the Canadian and United States governments. The Canoe Journey phenomenon is spreading too many tribes and helps restore kinships and cultural connections in throughout the Northwest Coast.
Similarly, Oregon and northern California is experiencing a restoration of the plank house traditions. Previous to settlement all tribes in the Northwest Coast built plank houses to function as their winter living quarter. Some houses were specially built to house ceremonial activities. From late 1970s at the Smith River Rancheria in northern California, the Tolowa people have been restoring its dance house traditions. The Tolowa Dance house, a plank house with a ceremonial purpose, was built by Loren Bommelyn and his family at Nelechundin. In about two decades Loren Bommelyn was successful in restoring the Tolowa language, the native songs, the dance traditions and the dance house traditions at Smith River Rancheria. In the 1980s members of the Siletz Tribes, namely Bud Lane began working with Loren on restoring their knowledge of dance, songs, and language and plank houses. In mid 1990’s The Siletz tribe was successful in building their own dance house. During the next ten years the plank house became a renewed cultural icon in Oregon. Universities and parks began building plank houses to represent and honor the Oregon tribes.
In 1999, a Grand Ronde elder, Don Day, began working with tribal youth to restore traditions of cedar plank-splitting using traditional tools. Don has since been successful in exposing up to one hundred natives to cedar plank splitting. Don has since built a replica plank house for the Museum of Culture and History at the University of Oregon, and a plank house for the Little People, Big World television show based in Oregon. Don began efforts at the Grand Ronde tribe to build a traditional plank house. Don’s efforts were frustrated by tribal politics and as such the facility being built is more modern, fitting a contemporary tribal setting.
However, the lessons that Don Day were teaching to tribal members are important to the restoration and growth of the tribal culture. Don has always said that “we can build a plank house ourselves” and that “tribal members need to understand this” (Day 2006). This is an important lesson as many people in the tribe do not feel that they can participate culturally. However, having personally worked with Don over the last decade, there was empowerment and a boost to my confidence when I first experienced success at plank-splitting. There are many tribal members who believe that they can build the plank house together. Culturally, this is how plank houses were built in the past and it would mean more to the community to do the work themselves than to have the building built by contractors unfamiliar with the cultural traditions of the tribe.
Projects like Canoe Family and Plank House building are important to rebuilding cultural traditions for tribal members. However, many members struggle with understanding who they are as tribal people and where they fit into society. Their efforts to sort out their identity from a myriad of native identities available in popular culture are hampered by the lack of knowledge of the tribal history. Foremost, tribal members must contend with cultural stereotypes.
These many and complex issues combined in American society into stereotypical images of native peoples. Stereotypical characterizations of all tribal peoples are inhuman. Tribal people were considered by social sciences as part of the natural environment, a people who would serve American society best as research subjects.
American media characterized native peoples unrealistically and romantically as literally frozen in historical time, sometime between 1850 and 1890. Movies, books and other portrayals created the image of native people as they had never been, usually with characteristics similar to subhuman Neanderthals at one end of the spectrum and Grecian gods at the other end.
Therefore despite the reality of the history and lives of tribal people at the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, tribal members had to contend with multiple dimensions of society’s suppression of and characterization of tribal peoples, and still find ways to maintain their Grand Ronde identity. In the present time, tribal members are portraying themselves in a traditional light. The restoration of parts of the traditional culture, like canoeing and weaving, brings with it the realities of indigenous worldviews. In the successive generations of tribal members, there will continue to be a growth of their traditional identities.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, since nearly its inception worked under the:
…assumption that “assimilation of the American Indian into normal stream of American life is inevitable, that Indian tribes and communities will disappear.” The evaluation of this assumption was critically important, since practically from the beginnings of the nation official Indian policy, in its various phrasings through the years had accepted it as self-evident (McNickle 1962:4).
However, termination proved that the assumption of the work for assimilation was incorrect for many and drastic actions needed to occur in order to complete the mission of assimilation. In the post termination era, native people without a community center and forced to remove to cities to find work, were forced to assimilate to survive in American society. Yet even as tribal members assimilated to some extent, they were able to maintain some knowledge of who they are and where they came from. D’Arcy McNickle noticed the persistence of tribal culture in 1962:
Few Indians Tribes have disappeared completely …, and while this is a surviving fact to most Americans, it indicates that these people are not being absorbed or assimilated into the dominant American culture. Indeed, American Indian groups still retain many aspects of their own distinctive ways of life and have in only rare instances become “Americanized” (McNickle 1962:5).
Cheryle Kennedy and Bob Tom were able to maintain knowledge of their culture despite the termination of their tribes, as is common at Grand Ronde (Kennedy 2006; Tom 2006). The restoration of the tribe was aided by the fact that many elders maintained much of the traditional culture and they were able to communicate this fact well enough to work successfully to restore the Grand Ronde tribe. Therefore while tribal elders appeared assimilated and individuals:
…dress and speak and act like any contemporary American[s], [they] still play ordained roles as clansmen, as members or even as heads of ritualistic societies and as upholders of an older social order (McNickle 1962:5).
The mission now for the Grand Ronde tribe is to work to restore tribal culture with the contemporary tribal members, and to continue working to reestablish a tribal social order. Many tribal members need to revive an understanding of the tribal history and confront erroneous characterizations of the tribe. This is a process of decolonization, of healing from the effects of the past 100 plus of colonization of the Grand Ronde tribes, including the act of terminating the tribe. Linda T. Smith confronts the issue of history by asking:
…why then has revisiting history been a significant part of decolonization?… Our colonial experience traps us in the project of modernity. …there is unfinished business, that we are still being colonized (and know it), and that we are still searching for justice (Smith 1999:34).
It is important that tribal members grasp these issues and ask questions of themselves. Some may ask; where is there unfinished business; and where do we search for justice? To answer this we must work individually to ask whether we are missing an understanding of our tribal culture; where have all of the tribal languages gone; why do I lack an understanding of my family past two generations; and why is there a feeling that we are a disposed people within our traditional homelands?
The project of asking questions about history and cultural identity is an effort to recover the tribal history. Of this process, Victor Montejo of Guatemala refers to a similar process among the Guatemala Maya people:
…to represent themselves, the Maya must now focus their attention on the construction of texts (autohistory) that could destroy the negative images that are embedded in the minds of the … population… (2002:123-124).
The act of taking control of the tribe’s history and cultural images among themselves and within the minds of the public constitutes a reconstruction of the fragmented culture of the tribe.
The objective of the reformulation of the tribe’s history and cultural identity to tribal members and to the public is to control the tribe’s definitions of itself, and the control of the tribe’s history is in opposition to the colonial agenda. In effect the tribe is writing back to the colonizers and establishing itself as the center for information about the tribe (Smith 1999:36). This project will result in the production of a dominant narrative in American society about the Grand Ronde tribe. The narrative is intended to correct, and replace erroneous histories of the past. Bruner summarizes the process for creating a dominant narrative:
…only after the new narrative becomes dominant is there a reexamination of the past, a rediscovery of old texts, and a recreation of the new heroes of liberation and resistance. The new story articulates what had been only dimly perceived, authenticates previous feelings, legitimates new actions, and aligns individual consciousness with a larger social movement (Bruner 1986:143).
The production of a historic narrative will guide all future histories, for many generations as the tribe is established as the correct center for its own history. Future narratives will have to answer to the new tribal narrative and form a dialogue with many of the new stories exposed and illuminated. The tribal narrative will challenge other narratives to engage at a new level with the history of the tribe. This project will create a more complete history of the tribe that will demystify previous erroneous assumptions about the tribes’ history. Working collaboratively on such narratives at the tribe would involve many tribal members in the production of their own history and will serve to empower them within the overall goal of restoration.
The restoration of the cultural identity of the tribes of Grand Ronde is a serious task for the tribe. Many of the tribal cultures exist as fragments of the past, many adopted into pan-Indian formulations that in outward appearance have little in common with the traditional culture. Yet culture for the tribe is a collaboration of many different phenomena which in the contemporary tribal government are fragmented into separated tribal programs. At the Grand Ronde tribe the culture is fragmented into government departments of natural resources, cultural resources, law, social services, tribal council, health, education, and many other departments. Collectively these are the culture of the tribe organized into a bureaucratic federal government system. Individually the departments are incomplete systems. D’Arcy McNickle states how the survival of the parts is necessary for the survival of the culture and that culture can bring the parts into a functional whole:
…the generalized picture of Indian tribes today is of a people that has survived in numbers, in social organization, in custom and outlook, in the retention of physical resources, and in its position before the law. The situation may be described as a survival of fragments, of incomplete entities… but … any people at any time is the survival of fragments out of the past. The function of culture is always to reconstitute the fragments into a functioning whole. The Indians, for all that has been lost or rendered useless out of their ancient experience, remain a continuing ethnic and cultural enclave with a stake in the future (McNickle 1962:9).
At Grand Ronde, this is a task yet to be fully identified and implemented to fully restore the functioning tribe. Victor Montejo noticed that among Guatemalan Mayans there is a need to ignite the people to aid in decolonization and to form a functioning tribal society with strong leadership:
…reconstruct a new Mayan politican front that would make Mayan voices and knowledge relevant to the current process of national reconstruction…sense of voicelessness, unfortunate when peace accords need strong and effective leadership…need to redefine goals and use ancestral heritage, both material and spiritual as major symbols for their self-representation… to dispel the political amnesia of the majority of Maya and ignite a stronger desire to empower ourselves and promote our identities for the future (Montejo 2002).
Applying this theory to Grand Ronde, the tribe needs to ignite the people through the restoration of tribal culture, traditional governance, and traditional spirituality. That the tribal membership will benefit greatly through empowering them to become active participants in the project of decolonization.
The mission of decolonization is part and parcel of work to take control of the tribe’s history and cultural identity. The tribe has engaged in restoration for the past 25 years and much of the work of decolonization is occurring. Only recently has the tribe begun to support important symbolical cultural phenomena which are rooted in the tribe’s cultural past. These symbols are the tribe’s Chinuk Wawa language, the Canoe family and participation in the journeys, and the plank house. Therefore, the tribe is engaged in the use of the “powerful symbols of the past to reconstruct the present and build the future” and retracing, “the footprints of our ancestors on the ancient bridge that links the past to the present” (Montejo 2002:129).
Additional work is occurring to rewrite the historic images of the tribe within the surrounding society. The tribe is symbolically returning to the traditional homelands of the 27 tribes which came to Grand Ronde through the installation of a series of interpretive signs throughout the ceded lands. These signs will offer history of the local tribes from their pre-colonization context to their removal to the Grand Ronde Reservation and their subsequent descendent history at the reservation. Symbolically the signs mark the tribes’ continued existence and presence within Oregon and spiritual connections with their traditional homelands.
The project of decolonization is a lesson in survival. The Grand Ronde tribe must fully engage in its own survival. It is the “lesson of building and rebuilding one’s own civilization, of changing while remaining true to basic values, regardless of the nature of that change. At the heart of those values is an understanding and appreciation of the timeless- of family, of clan, of tribe, of friends, of place, of season, and of earth. It is a lesson that American civilization has yet to learn” (Strickland 1997:11-12). This will be a difficult path yet necessary for the survival of the tribe. The temptation is to rely on established strategies and on expert opinions. Many of these outside strategies are intended to address different agendas that do not have the welfare of the tribe as their foremost concern. The answers and strategies for the project of restoration/decolonization need to come from the tribal people that are engaged in the struggle not as a reaction to outside agendas (Smith 2002:210).
Affairs, Committee on Indian, and House of Representatives
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1997 Personal Conversation. D. Lewis, ed. Eugene, Oregon.
Brophy, William A., and Sophie D. Aberle
1966 The Indian: America’s Unfinished Business, Report of the Commission on the Rights, Liberties and Responsibilities of the American Indian. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Bruner, Edward M.
1986 Ethnography as Narrative. In The Anthropology of Experience. V.W. Turner, E.M. Bruner, and C. Geertz, eds. Pp. 391. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Congress, United States
1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act In Public Law 93-638. U.S. Senate, ed. Washington, D.C.: GPO.
1983 Grand Ronde Restoration Act. In 25 USC 713b. Washington, D.C.: GPO.
2006 Interview with Don Day. D. Lewis, ed. Eugene.
Department, Cultural Resources
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Fixico, Donald L.
2007 Arizona Indians At 100 Years of Progress and the Future Black Canyon Conference Center.
Ford, Gerald R.
1976 Gerald R. Ford : Statement on Signing the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act In Presidential Papers of the U.S. Presidents, Vol. 2008. Washington, D.C.: GPO.
Gow, David D., and Joanne Rappaport
2002 The Indigenous Public Voice: The Multiple Idioms of Modernity in Native Cuaca. In Indigenous movements, self-representation, and the state in Latin America. K.B. Warren and J.E. Jackson, eds. Pp. vi, 294. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Johnson, Lyndon B.
1968 Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Vol. I. In Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Vol. 2008. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives Records Administration.
2006 Interview about Termination. D. Lewis, ed. Grand Ronde, Oregon.
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2002 The Multiplicity of Mayan Voices: Mayan Leadership and the Politics of Self-Representation. In Indigenous Movements, Self-representation, and the State in Latin America. K.B. Warren and J.E. Jackson, eds. Austin: University of Texas Press.
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 My own findings based on a review of Oregon and American history texts.
 This is documented in the annual and monthly reports to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Southwest Oregon Research Project Collection, University Archives, Knight Library, University of Oregon.
 My estimate.
 This is a regular item for discussion among elders and others at the tribe.
 There are several other reasons why some people may not be able to enroll, blood quantum, lack of documentation, or failure of their elders to enroll themselves.
 “Indian Health Care Improvement Act,” P.L. 95-195, September 20, 1976, U.S. Statutes At Large, 88: 2206-2208.
 “Indian Crimes Act of 1976,” P.L. 94-297, May 29, 1976, U.S. Statutes At Large, 90:585.
 “Health Scholarship Act, “P.L. 95-83, August 1, 1977, U.S. Statutes At Large, 91: 393
 “American Indian Religious Freedom Act,” P.L. 95-341, August 11, 1978, U.S. Statutes At Large, 92: 469.
 Indian Child Welfare Act,” P.L. 95-608, November 8, 1978, U.S. Statutes At Large, 92: 3069-3084
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.