Willamette University to honor Kathryn Harrison in May

03.31.2014 Ron Karten People, History, Events

Former Tribal Chairwoman Kathryn Harrison will receive an honorary doctorate during the Sunday, May 11, commencement ceremony at Willamette University in Salem, said the university's Director of Special Projects and Events Colleen Kawahara.

Harrison will be honored for her outstanding accomplishments, particularly her leadership in achieving federal recognition for the Grand Ronde Tribe and her continuing dedication to serving the community.

"One of the members of our selection committee called her 'an Oregon treasure,' " Kawahara said.

Harrison was born March 28, 1924, the descendant of an Alaskan Native (Eyak) mother, Ella, and Henry William Jones (Molalla), in Corvallis. She was named Kathryn May Jones in honor of her great-great-aunt Molalla Kate.

She graduated from Chemawa Indian School in 1942 and subsequently married Frank Harrison, with whom she had 10 children.

In 1972, she became the first Native American graduate of the nursing program at Lane Community College and worked at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene. Eventually, she became an alcohol rehabilitation counselor for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, where she became instrumental in helping the Tribe regain federal recognition in 1977.

In the early 1980s, Harrison returned to the Tribe of her father - the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde - and became involved in her second Restoration effort, helping Grand Ronde regain federal recognition in November 1983.

Kathryn, her son, Frank, and her daughter, Karen, testified before Congress about restoring the Grand Ronde Tribe, which was terminated in 1954.

Following Restoration, Harrison served on the Grand Ronde Tribal Council from April 1984 through September 2001, never losing an election. She served as chair of the Tribal Council for six years and was vice chair for nine years. She oversaw the Tribe's resurrection from Termination and guided the development of gaming as a revenue source to fund Tribal educational, health and cultural efforts.

Harrison, 90, continues to be an occasional spokeswoman for the Grand Ronde Tribe. Her life was detailed in a book, "Standing Tall: The Lifeway of Kathryn Jones Harrison."

In September 2012, she was named a History Maker by the Oregon Historical Society and received the Betty Roberts Woman in Leadership Award from Emerge Oregon, a Portland-based training program for Democratic women.

In May 2013, she received an honorary degree from the University of Portland. She also received an honorary doctorate from Portland State University in 2003.