Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde marks 25 years of restoration

Grand Ronde, Oregon (AP) 12-08

If Kathryn Harrison had one wish, it would be that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde elders long dead could see the nation today.

For nearly three decades after Congress passage of the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act in 1954, there was no nation.

Harrison, 84, recalls each tribal member receiving $35 and being told they no longer were a sovereign people. It was pretty sad, Harrison recalled, not having any money and being such a small tribe.

“Large tribes with resources that didn’t want to be terminated, they could go to Washington, D.C., and be represented. We just thought that was it.”

And it was for many years. During the weekend of Nov. 22, the confederation celebrated a silver anniversary: 25 years since the Nov. 22, 1983, signing of a restoration bill that began the rebuilding of a tribe that lost its identity in 1954.

It was a survival issue, said Harrison, who took part in the petition process during the late 1970s and early 80s.

“I remember telling an aide in Washington, D.C., `Do you think it’s a matter of life and death? It is for us.’ “

The Grand Ronde Confederation was formed from the Chasta, Rogue River, Umpqua, Molalla and Kalapuya tribes, Grand Ronde Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor said.

Those tribes signed seven treaties ceding their vast lands to the federal government in the 1850s and were force-marched to Grand Ronde during 33 days in February and March 1856.

They had no common language but they formed their own.

After termination, tribal members were not acknowledged as Indians. They had no rights to the reservation lands. A relocation program ensued.

Dean Rhodes, the editor of the Tribal newspaper Smoke Signals, noted that in 1857 the government allotted 69,100 acres to the tribe. By the time members began working toward restoration in 1972, 2.5 acres remained.


Taylor said that year a small group of Grand Ronde tribal members began the work to restore the Grand Ronde Tribe from a base in a small shack without running water or electricity on the only land they had left – the tribal cemetery.

Tribal members held bake sales, car washes and get-togethers to raise money to cover the postage and travel expenses of those working for the tribe’s restoration.

Harrison, who spent 22 years on the council, said the process involved convincing not only government representatives, but historical societies, colleges and other tribes of their distinct culture.

“It was our job to educate the people,” she said. “It was a justice issue. We had to tell other tribes, `Your tribes are still together, give us our piece of the pie back.’ “

“What really saved us was the elders who stayed in the area,” Harrison said. “We always said that if we got a chance to pay them back, we would. A lot of them passed away without realizing that we got restored.”

After earning support from Oregon’s congressional delegation and the local community, the confederation finally regained its identity.

Grand Ronde members voted to pursue gaming as a revenue source in 1994 and used 5.5 acres of land along Oregon 18 to build Spirit Mountain Casino, which opened in October 1995 and is the state’s most popular tourist destination today.

In 1997, the tribe created Spirit Mountain Community Fund, which distributes 6 percent of the casino’s profits to charitable organizations in 11 Oregon counties. Harrison hopes the cultural roots are not forgotten.

“You have to keep telling your story,” she said. “Otherwise, people will forget.”