Tribal member heads to Japan as college ambassador

03.31.2015 Dean Rhodes People, Education

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Tribal member PimNaniHiish “Pim” Nelson is spending her spring term in Osaka, Japan, as a recently selected Chemeketa Community College exchange ambassador at Otemae University.

Nelson, 19, of Mt. Angel said that one of her goals as ambassador is to experience Japanese culture and become more fluent in the language. She is currently a second-year Japanese language student at Chemeketa.

“Japan is something I’ve always been interested in since I was little,” she says. “I have a strange attraction to Japan.”

In addition, she is performing outreach activities. She has met with students at Faulconer-Chapman Middle School and the charter Japanese School in Sheridan and plans on writing a blog about her trip so others can follow her adventures.

Despite having a “difficult” high school experience in Silverton, which included missing almost a year with medical issues, she enrolled in an alternative high school-early college program through Chemeketa. At the time of her high school graduation on Jan. 15, she had earned 50 college credits with a 3.77 college grade point average.

She left for Japan on March 22 with three other exchange ambassadors and will live in the Otemae University dorms on campus through July 31. This is the second year that Chemeketa has offered the exchange program, she said.

Nelson started representing the Grand Ronde Tribe when the Lewis & Clark bicentennial commemoration events were occurring in the Pacific Northwest about10 years ago. She gave presentations in the Tent of Many Voices in Grand Ronde and at Mount St. Helens in Washington state, and she was in attendance and an active participant at many events, often dancing in traditional regalia or demonstrating basket weaving. She is the great-granddaughter of Esther LaBonte.

She and her mother, Chemeketa biology professor Elaine LaBonte-Robertson, attended the March 11 Tribal Council meeting to request Tribal support with logo merchandise and a Tribal logo blanket to use as gifts in Japan.

“Grandma was trilingual, speaking English, Chinuk Wawa and French,” her mother said. “Pim is also trilingual, speaking English, Spanish and Japanese. I think that is cool.”