Tribal Government & News

Panel discussion features Harrison, Kennedy and Tom

04.16.2012 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Culture, People, Education, History

SALEM -- When Pleasant Valley Presbyterian Church was being built in the late 1850s, the Native peoples who would become citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde were being forced marched from their many homes up to the Grand Ronde Reservation.

On Saturday, April 7, the church, originally built in the Aumsville area and moved to the Willamette Heritage Center site in the 1970s, was a place where history buffs and other Oregonians learned a little of what it is like to be a woman in the Grand Ronde Tribe, and what made them the leaders they are today.

As a supporting event to the Grand Ronde exhibit, "shawash-ili?i luchmən - ntsayka ikanum: Grand Ronde Women - Our Story," Tribal Elder June Olson read from her book, "Great Circle, The Grand Ronde Reservation 1855-1905," and signed copies.

"This work that she has produced," said Peter Booth, executive director of Willamette Heritage Center, "records a very, very important transition for the Grand Ronde people."

"I wrote the book," Olson said, "because as a Native American person, I am pledged with remembering."

She spoke about the process of writing, read stories from the book and answered questions.

Olson said the Trail of Tears brought together peoples of different languages, religious views and philosophies. Tribes and bands tended to stay together, even building separate dance houses.

"They were still trying to hold on to their Native identity within their new community," Olson said.

The work also will be important for genealogical studies, she said.

But it almost never got written. "It took years to research," Olson said, "but I didn't know how to handle it. I walked around it for awhile."

For a time, she put it away and it might have stayed away if her daughter had not invited her to an estate sale, completely unrelated to the book project. At the sale, they were giving away historical magazines, which included some interesting information about the Tribe, and "it was just what I needed to keep on with what I was doing."

Tribal Council member Kathleen Tom called Olson, "One of the treasures of our Tribe."

Following Olson's presentation, former Oregon Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, who has long been a friend of the Tribe and was instrumental in helping the Tribe's Restoration effort, served as moderator for three of Grand Ronde's women leaders: Tribal Elder and former Tribal Chairwoman Kathryn Harrison, current Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy and Tom.

"I met Kathryn Harrison early, early in the work of Restoration," Furse said. "She and I used to travel to Washington, D.C., and I can tell you that it wasn't first class."

The work, however, was not in vain. "The Tribe's contribution has been hugely important to the state and the local communities," Furse said.

She asked each of the female leaders, "What kicked you into being so active?"

For Harrison, it was her father. "As I grew and lost my parents, I always wanted to go home," she said. The Tribe became that home.

When she got here, she thought, "I'm walking the same path my father walked, looking at the same trees my father looked at. I knew I'd feel at home there."

Kennedy said that she was influenced by the murder of her father when she was young. Raised by her mother and her grandmother, Kennedy learned "not to be a slacker, and that you have everything you need within you to do the things of this life."

Her grandmother's father was a medicine man. Her grandmother would take her out and teach her about different plants and their uses. "I thought I was special because she was sharing this with me. She taught us that we had to be careful how we live, and that whatever we do, we do it in a good way."

A missionary visiting the family home picked Kennedy out and told her, "You have some unique qualities," and suggested she had a future in government.

"That was scary for me," she said, "but others told me the same thing."

In the end, "the big thing is to have the willingness," she said.

Tom, who is on the board of Willamette Heritage Center, is the fourth generation in her family to serve on Tribal Council.

"I don't think you wake up every day and think you'll be a leader, but duty was instilled in me," Tom said.

As one of the many relocated Native families, the Toms spent many years away from Grand Ronde. In 1989, she said, her father, Tribal Elder Leon "Chip" Tom, called and told her, "You need to come back and serve your people.

"My mom was a fighting Irish woman who said, 'There is nothing you can't accomplish.' I also always had strong women around me. I remember when I saw Kathryn Harrison, I thought, 'I can do that.'

"It's a value we need to tell our children: 'Run for office. You can make a difference for your people.' "