Tribal Government & News

Summit returns for third time in effort to help veterans access services

06.12.2015 Brent Merrill Events, Federal Government

The theme for this year’s Native Veterans Summit is “Honoring Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.”

The third annual “gathering of warriors” will be held in conjunction with the Marcellus Norwest Memorial Veterans Powwow in Grand Ronde on Thursday and Friday, July 9-10, at Uyxat Powwow Grounds, 9390 Highway 22.

The powwow runs Friday, July 10, through Sunday, July 12.

Veterans are welcome to attend the free summit, which is being hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, the Native Wellness Institute and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Tribal Government Relations.

The summit’s goal since it started in 2013 is to connect veterans with services.

A recent analysis that appeared in the February issue of the Annals of Epidemiology found an annual suicide rate of 29.5 per 100,000 veterans, approximately 50 percent higher than the rate among other civilians with similar demographic characteristics. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 22 veterans take their own lives each day based on death records from 21 states.

Social Services Department Manager Dave Fullerton said it’s those veterans that the summit tries to reach.

“The whole philosophy of why we started this was really trying to reach people that aren’t being served,” said Fullerton. “The reality is we needed to do something, so we did it.”

According to Indian Health Service statistics released in 2012, there is a 72 percent higher rate of suicide among Native Americans. In addition, of the 38,000 Americans who die from suicide each year, 90 percent suffer from a mental disorder, a substance abuse disorder or both.

“I think originally when we talked about doing the summit we were definitely targeting the veteran out there that is homeless, the one that doesn’t reach out,” said Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno. “We can make a difference and we can make that connection for them so they can get the help they need and have a right to. My real belief is that the best way to help a veteran is to get another veteran to make the communication and the connection that will get them to go and get their help.” 

Fullerton said the summit’s first year in 2013 was very grass roots.

“We didn’t have a budget so we just came up with the money, we just did everything ourselves,” said Fullerton. “We paid for everything. Then the next year the council liked what we were doing and they gave us a budget. We are trying to reach out to the homeless veterans. We want to serve the people that aren’t being served. We’re trying to connect people with benefits and at the same time honor veterans.”

Fullerton said the event aims to be more family friendly this year with arts and crafts, attractions for children and a family fun walk.

“We want the veterans to bring their families,” said Fullerton. “The attendance has started small and grown, and like any event will continue to grow.”

A “Listening Session” is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, July 9, at the Tribal Community Center to start the summit. The session will discuss the Grand Ronde Tribe’s memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that allows the Health & Wellness Center to be reimbursed for caring for veterans – Tribal and nonTribal. The idea is that veterans who live in rural areas far from Veterans Affairs’ hospitals can be better served by Tribal health clinics.

All of the summit’s workshops and focus groups will be held under the Tribe’s new arbor at the powwow grounds starting with a reception at 6 p.m. Thursday followed by a plankhouse ceremony at 8 p.m.

Siletz Tribal employee Nick Sixkiller will emcee the summit on Friday. Navajo code talker and World War II veteran Peter MacDonald Sr., Eagle Staff carrier Linda Woods (Ojibwe) and retired Staff Sgt. Rebecca Stone will be the keynote speakers.

MacDonald is the only four-term chairman of the Navajo Nation and served in the Marine Corps.

“I would call him down to earth,” said Leno. “People really acknowledge his words when he is speaking. He is a speaker that talks a lot about his fellow code talkers and his people; he’s not really talking a lot about himself.”

Woods is an Air Force veteran from 1962-66 who received an honorable discharge and is part of a group known as the Women of Wellbriety International. She is part of the group’s Grandmother’s Council.

Stone, who will be traveling to Oregon from Maryland, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is a certified suicide negotiator/first responder. She also is a recipient of the National Association of Female Executives’ Women of Excellence Award.

Leno said he hopes the Veterans Summit will assist the people who deserve the help and need it most.

“If you get one veteran to go to the hospital, if you get one veteran to live a year longer than they were going to then you call it a success,” said Leno. “It’s about making a difference in one person’s life.”

“We want to encourage any and all veterans to come out,” said Fullerton.