Tribe hosts two-day History and Culture Summit
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s annual two-day History and Culture Summit held on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 26-27, in the Tribal gym continued the Tribe’s ongoing examination of Tribal culture and what constitutes culture.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Cultural Continuity” and speakers discussed myriad topics from how to better research Grand Ronde Tribal history to climate change to new Native media. Summit speakers and presenters came from Tribal communities throughout the Northwest to share their individual expertise and wisdom with approximately 140 attendees.
“I’m excited to welcome you all here today,” said Tribal member and Tribal Historic Preservation Office Manager David Harrelson during the Wednesday morning introduction session.
Harrelson said he was proud of the increased number of Grand Ronde Tribal members attending the summit this year and he thanked the Elders before acknowledging Tribal Council members present.
Harrelson introduced Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno.
“These are always great opportunities to let people know who we are,” said Leno. “We believe in education. I want to thank everybody for coming. These are great educational opportunities, so thank you for being here.”
Harrelson jumped right into the heart of the summit experience on day one with a presentation about Tribal history.
Local historian Henry Zenk then presented his findings about one of the first Tribal members to live in Grand Ronde after the forced relocations – Jenny Riggs.
Zenk colleague and fellow language specialist Jed Schrock shared information about a project he is working on involving the Molalla language.
Native Wellness Institute Program Evaluator Amanda Mercier presented on the topic of historical trauma. Her talk was titled “Historical Trauma and Historical Wisdom: Trauma-Informed Collaboration to Promote Cultural Resiliency.”
Mercier discussed the establishment of the Future Generations Collaborative and said that the program is about providing support to parents aimed at helping babies be healthy and have a healthier future.
Mercier said that the collaborative project is trying to reduce substance-affected pregnancies in the greater Portland Native community by providing material informing parents about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder and the effect it has on children, teaching people about historical and intergenerational trauma, providing opportunities for healing and advocating for policy changes.
“We have had an ongoing relationship with Grand Ronde,” said Mercier. “The Future Generations Collaborative started in 2011 after Multnomah County Health Department workers were seeing that there wasn’t a lot of resources being dedicated to addressing substance-affected pregnancies in Native communities in the Portland area.”
Mercier said the approach for a trauma-informed process involves the building of communities, nurturing of relationships, integration of Native culture and cultivation of shared values.
“Nurturing relationships - that has really been the foundation since the beginning,” said Mercier. “Our trauma-informed process has been all about long-term relationship building. I hope these conversations can continue.”
Newly elected Nisqually Tribal Council member Hanford McCloud traveled to Grand Ronde to discuss his Tribe’s hosting of the Canoe Journey this year in Washington state. McCloud said his Tribe hosted as many as 5,000 people per day on their ancestral shores during the event.
Tribal member and Cultural Adviser Bobby Mercier presented on the Tribe’s historical and cultural ties to Willamette Falls and showed a video shot this year when the Tribe harvested salmon at the falls for the first time in more than 100 years.
Other sessions on day one included Tribal Senior Archaeologist Jessica Curteman’s presentation on the Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office and the work that it does and Dr. Sara Gonzales and graduate student Ian Kretzler presented information on their ongoing low-impact archaeology work through the University of Washington.
The afternoon session on day one concluded with presentations about how Tribal people on the Colville Reservation are surveying, collecting, mapping and monitoring traditional plants in their usual and accustomed areas and a presentation by Dr. Christopher Horsethief shared information about how trauma can be a tool for learning.
Summit attendees were treated to a dinner of salmon and rice and singing and dancing by the Canoe Family at the Tribe’s traditional plankhouse – achaf-hammi – Wednesday night.
Day two of the Summit began with a presentation by Native filmmaker Sky Hopinka, who is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin.
Hopinka makes short films through his Tribe’s Language Department that target Native youth and teach them their indigenous language.
“Sky’s work centers around personal positions of homeland and landscape, designs of language and the facets of culture contained within,” said Tribal member and Cultural Education Coordinator Jordan Mercier.
Hopinka said the language films he is producing through his Tribe come with a sense of urgency in that there are only 70 known “imminent” speakers left.
“We are trying to find ways to engage with the community and to engage with the young learners and provide resources for them to draw upon and engage them with platforms like YouTube or videos or any sort of video media,” said Hopinka. “These videos are also for parents or the family members or anyone in the community.”
Hopinka played one of his short films that featured himself and Jordan Mercier speaking Chinuk Wawa.
Nike’s Sam McCracken, who is from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, presented on the company’s N7 program and shared information about how the program battles high rates of diabetes in Indian Country through healthy activities and he shared information about shoes and apparel designed for Native Americans.
Tribal member and Curriculum Specialist Mercedes Reeves presented information about the Grand Ronde Tribe’s fourth- and eighth-grade curriculums that are now being used in schools throughout Oregon and Education Program Manager Tim Barry highlighted the Tribe’s Youth Education Department.
Swinomish Tribal Elder and Community Health Program Specialist Larry Campbell traveled to Grand Ronde from his Reservation located 75 miles north of Seattle.
Campbell, whose Indian name is Wanaseah, is working on the effects of climate change in his community. His presentation was titled “Climate Change Impacts on Culturally Important Traditional Foods and Habitats.”
He said that he became interested in learning more about the effects of climate change on his community when he was serving his Tribe as its historic preservation officer and saw the changes firsthand that Elders had been talking about for 25 to 30 years prior.
“We are both saltwater and freshwater people,” Campbell said. “It is the environment that dictates who we are today as Tribal people. We need to teach our young people who we are.”
Campbell said that his Tribe’s 10-square-mile Reservation is 90 percent bordered by water.
“Our Elders realized there were changes in the environment,” said Campbell, who said that his Tribe’s Reservation in the Puget Sound had been hit by two 100-year storms in the last 10 years.
After the morning sessions were completed on the second day, conference attendees gathered into smaller groups for the afternoon breakout sessions.
Afternoon breakout sessions included information provided by Tribal member and Cultural Collections Supervisor Veronica Montano on the Tribe’s handling of culturally significant items and artifacts and Harrelson presented on the topic of place and the importance of place to Tribal peoples.
Tribal Elder and Tribal Librarian Marion Mercier presented information on how to better research Grand Ronde Tribal history.
GIS Coordinator Volker Mell presented information on an interactive story map that the Tribe has developed around the Tillamook legend of the journey of Southwind.
The legend is a mythological story about a creature that traveled along the Oregon Coast naming communities along the way.
Curteman said that the Tribe’s foray into interactive maps to share Tribal legends could continue with certain stories. She said that because the tale of Southwind has already been published and is known then it is OK to share that legend with the public.
“The point of it is to essentially provide a new way or an alternative way to tell a story,” said Curteman. “This is giving audiences a way to learn the story and to see the story as a visual representation as well.”
Mell said that when viewers go to the map they will direct the story experience by what they click on.
“You can place yourself in the landscape,” said Mell, who explained that viewers can zoom in and zoom out on certain spots on the map for more information and that there are videos and pictures placed throughout the story map to further enhance the experience for the viewer.
Mell’s presentation followed the Oregon coastline from south to north.