Tribal Government & News

Education takes center stage at Oregon Coast Economic Summit

Education in Oregon was the opening focus of the fourth annual Oregon Coast Economic Summit held Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 26–27, at Spirit Mountain Casino.

The theme for the 2015 summit was “Education: The Pathway to Economic Development for Rural and Coastal Communities.”

The event also served as an Oregon Legislative Coastal Caucus for several state senators and representatives, including District 5 Sen. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) who performed the role of host emcee.

Roblan said he got the idea to hold an economic summit after attending a similar event at UCLA. When he shared with his staff how much he learned from that event, they suggested hosting one for the Oregon Coast.

Roblan welcomed everyone to the summit and Grand Ronde Tribal members Bobby Mercier, Travis Stewart and Brian Krehbiel drummed in the Honor Guard.

Tribal Elder Alton Butler carried the Grand Ronde eagle staff, Tribal Elder Steve Bobb Sr. carried the American flag and Tribal Elder Raymond Petite carried in the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde flag. Mike Lane carried in the POW/MIA flag and Al Miller carried in the Oregon flag.

Tribal Council member Jon A. George gave the invocation and Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno welcomed summit attendees to the Tribe’s homelands.

“Although some people believe that in 1983 when we were restored that maybe that’s when we became Indians,” said Leno, “that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our reservation was formed in 1857. Our original reservation was more than 60,000 acres of pristine timberlands. We believe that is what led to our termination in 1954. They wanted our land. They left us our cemetery and they left us our name. We never did quit being Indians. Grand Ronde has a long history and it’s a real honor for us to have you here today.”

Roblan introduced members of the bipartisan group of elected officials who make up the Coastal Caucus and said the reason for the summit is that the coastal Tribes – the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, the Coquille Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde -- “stepped forward” and asked to be a part of the effort.

The four Tribes sponsored the summit along with the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, and all four Tribes were represented on the opening panel discussion by each Tribe’s chairperson.

Leno represented Grand Ronde, Chair Delores “Dee” Pigsley represented Siletz, Chairman Mark Ingersoll represented Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw and Chair Barbara Meade represented Coquille.

The opening panel was an Oregon Tribal Governments Panel titled “A Road Map for State Efforts to Improve Opportunities and Outcomes for Native American Youth in Oregon.”

“I’m excited that education is part of the focus today,” said Roblan. “Your input is really important. We want kids to be able to go wherever they want to make a life for themselves and that is an important part of economic development.”

Grand Ronde Tribal student Helen Tonso, who is a University of Oregon sophomore, introduced each panel member and Dr. Jason Younker (Coquille) moderated the panel.

“Our panel includes state and Tribal leaders who share a common goal to empower future generations through education,” said Younker.

Lindsey Capps, who is the education policy adviser for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, joined the Tribal leaders and fielded the first question.

Capps was asked how the state can make higher education more affordable to first generation Native American students. Capps said state educational leaders are looking at widening opportunities for all students, but in particular Native American and Alaskan Native students through increased investments in public universities and expansion of Oregon opportunity grants.

Capps also said expanding scholarships and lowering tuitions are key components to broadening educational opportunities for Oregon students.

Leno was asked about the teaching of the Chinuk Wawa language in public schools and to talk about the Tribe’s success in getting the language added to school curriculums.

Leno said he grew up with the language and talked about its origins. He said the language’s survival is important to Tribal leadership.

“We need to make our kids proud of who they are,” said Leno. “We always say you need to know where you came from in order to know where you are going.”

The final question was directed at Capps and the state of Oregon and had to do with teaching Chinuk Wawa at the college level. Capps then became the moderator for a moment when he deferred to Tribal leaders and asked a question of his own – “How can we at the state level help Tribes get Native language into the school systems?”

Leno talked about what the Grand Ronde Tribe has done in that regard.

“If you are going to change the opinion of Native American people and really make kids proud of who they are, you have to put the history of the nine Oregon Tribes in the schools,” said Leno. “And then hopefully it will get out to your other northwest Tribes.”

Leno said that Tribal students attending nearby Willamina School District were being taught about plains Indians and northeastern Tribes and not being enlightened about their own Tribal history.

“It started to become an issue for our kids and they ended up starting to teach the teachers what our culture was here in the Northwest,” said Leno. “We took it upon ourselves to start writing a curriculum and we have had a lot of interest from the schools we have reached out to. Right now our curriculum is being taught in the Willamina, Sheridan, Dallas, Springfield, McMinnville, Independence, Salem-Keizer, Beaverton, Molalla, Eugene and Marcola school districts. Every Oregon child should know about the history of the nine Oregon Tribes.”

Roblan said the reason the summit is so important is because it starts a conversation about how coastal communities can improve their economic outlets by working together with Tribes.

“This is really a great event and I appreciate being a part of it,” said Roblan.

Other panels on Wednesday were about collaborations to close the achievement gaps for rural and coastal communities, the role of post-secondary education in economic transformation, how tourism relates to the Oregon economy, how law affects economic development, why global trade matters to coastal communities and the future of intergovernmental collaboration.

Thursday’s panels covered the role of transportation infrastructure in economic development, the implications and analysis of drought and water quality in Oregon, the inevitable changes coming to schools that have historically relied on land and timber revenues to fund education, applying science to support sustainable fisheries management, disaster preparedness and marijuana legalization.

Roblan introduced Gov. Kate Brown during Thursday’s morning session on “Education, Workforce and Economic Growth.”

Roblan said that when the first summit was held four years ago in Coos Bay, Brown, who was Secretary of State, was the first political figure to respond to his staff’s invitation to participate.

Brown began her remarks by thanking Roblan for starting the summit and the Coastal Caucus for their leadership. Brown also thanked the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for hosting the event.

“We appreciate you opening your doors and your hearts to our presence,” said Brown.

Brown acknowledged the Oregon Coast as one of the state’s seven natural wonders and said it is critical to the Oregon economy.

“I think it very important that we, as state leaders, continue to be good stewards making the necessary investments to the region to sustain economic growth and vitality in this area,” said Brown. “We are going to need educated thinkers and leaders to face the challenges before us. I’m glad to say that Oregon is bringing its ‘A’ game to these challenges with research and collaboration on the entire west coast.”

Brown also said the last year has been an awakening for understanding the region’s seismic threats and that $175 million has been designated to retrofit Oregon schools to better prepare them for such an event. She said another $30 million has been allotted for bringing emergency buildings up to current seismic standards as well.

“My efforts in this area are only going to increase,” said Brown. “These challenges on the coast will not stop us from promoting the Oregon Coast as a desirable place to live, visit and do business. I will continue to promote the Oregon Coast and the coastal tourism industry that is so critical to Oregon economies.

“The Pacific Ocean will be the focal point of a variety of really important endeavors – education and research, tourism, alternative energy and fisheries. The possibilities for innovation and development are endless.”