Tribe to celebrate 33rd Restoration anniversary

10.31.2016 Brent Merrill People, History, Events, Federal Government

If you go

33rd Restoration Celebration

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22. Canoe Family and program at 10 a.m., meal at noon and powwow at 3 p.m.

Where: Tribal gym, 9615 Grand Ronde Road

More info: RSVP to Public Affairs at 503-879-1418 or


The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s annual celebration of Tribal Restoration will occur on Tuesday, Nov. 22, with a Canoe Family performance and program, meal and powwow held in the Tribal gym in Grand Ronde.

This year marks the 33rd anniversary of Restoration to federally recognized status following Termination in 1954. The Tribe was restored in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Grand Ronde Restoration Act on Nov. 22, 1983.

The federal government also returned 9,811 acres to the Tribe as a Reservation land base on Sept. 9, 1988, also during Reagan’s administration.

“We should have never been terminated,” says Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno. “When you hear the word ‘Restoration’ it is almost automatic to all of us who lived here during Termination that the first word that pops into your mind is ‘Termination.’ We were restored because it was the right thing for the government to do. We never did quit being Grand Ronde Indians.”

The effort to achieve Restoration began in the 1970s. One of the first acts taken by Tribal members toward Restoration happened when Tribal members Marvin Kimsey and Merle Holmes testified before Task Force 10 of the American Indian Policy Review Commission in Salem on March 13, 1976.

The commission was created to gather information about the state of American Indian Tribes in the United States and make recommendations. Task Force 10 was specifically concerned with western Oregon’s terminated Tribes.

Kimsey and Holmes, as well as representatives from as many as nine other Tribes, recounted the effects of Termination and what it had brought upon the Tribal peoples of Grand Ronde.

Kimsey and Holmes said that Tribal members did not understand the devastation that Termination would wreak on the community. They explained how the last 820 acres of the Tribe’s original land base was sold and that the Tribe’s cemetery was all that remained of the more than 60,000 acres of Reservation land -- land that was reserved for the Tribes by President James Buchanan’s executive order of 1857.

“The American Indian Policy Review Commission found extensive problems in Indian Country,” says Dr. Stephen Dow Beckham. “Many related to the breach of federal trust responsibility and the unwillingness of Congress to fund programs adequately. The problem areas included poverty, education, housing, health, violation of treaty rights and the lack of means to achieve self-sufficiency.”

Beckham, who is the Pamplin Professor of History, Emeritus, at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, said the solution was Restoration for terminated Tribes. However, Congress left it up to individual Tribes to raise their own resources and gather their evidence for Restoration. Tribal members had to travel back and forth to Washington, D.C., to argue their cases before congressional committees.

Beckham, who traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1973 to push for examination of terminated Oregon Tribes, said that 14 Tribal members filled out detailed questionnaires for Task Force 10. Among those providing information were Russ Leno, Velma Mercier, Kimsey, Holmes and others.

Those Tribal members, working in concert with Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield and his staff and representatives at the Native American Program Oregon Legal Services, provided information about employment, health, housing, educational needs and the problems associated with not having a land base. Together, they strategized how to achieve Restoration.

Beckham says there were years of meetings, scores of letters written and many trips to the East Coast before Restoration could be achieved.


Remembering the phone call

Tribal Elder and former Tribal Council Chairwoman Kathryn Harrison says she remembers the evening Tribal members found out the Tribe had been restored.

Harrison says she received the news over the phone while sitting with Dean Mercier, Merle Leno, Russ Leno, Candy Robertson, Mark Mercier, Margaret Provost and Jackie Colton Whisler, among others, in the little office in the Tribal Cemetery.

“Les AuCoin called my phone and he said, ‘Kathryn, your bill passed’,” remembers Harrison of that seminal moment in Tribal history. “I always refer to that long walk up here; those people didn’t make that walk in vain. When we felt discouraged we would go by that cemetery and think how could you give up (on Restoration efforts) when there are all those people that walked up here. We would all be encouraged. It inspired everybody.”

“I said Kathryn, ‘Our bill has passed,’ ” remembers AuCoin of the phone call. “Everything we did will last far beyond our lifetimes.”

Harrison called Holmes at his home right after the call from AuCoin to share the news with him.

Smoke Signals reported in the Dec. 4, 1983, issue that everyone would be informed of progress as it was being made on the efforts to restore benefits to the membership.

“Through the Smoke Signals we will do our best to keep you informed of our progress in the development of procedures for the health, education and other entitlements that our Tribal members are now eligible to receive. There will be many rules and regulations that we will have to observe.”

Smoke Signals reported that the Tribe was planning a commemoration of the historic event.

“We are now planning to have a Restoration celebration tentatively sometime during the early part of 1984,” the paper reported.

Harrison says everyone involved had a sense that there was something larger than themselves happening when Tribal members were working for Restoration.

“When we got restored, there was something going on,” says Harrison.

Today, former Congressman AuCoin is among the most revered and respected Oregon politicians by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. His role in the Restoration has become legend.

AuCoin’s press secretary, John Atkins, remembers working on the Grand Ronde Restoration Bill while working for AuCoin, who is retired and lives in Bozeman, Mont.

“I was there at the House of Representatives and so was Kathryn when Congressman AuCoin dropped the bill in the hopper,” remembers Atkins. “The bill was approved by the House and by the Senate and has done much to restore the dignity and the history and the culture of the Tribe and all the Tribes that are a part of the Grand Ronde. I was just absolutely thrilled to have been part of that, to have been witness at the hearings that led up to the introduction of the bill.”

Atkins said he talks to AuCoin often.

“He has told me more than once that Tribal Restoration for the Grand Ronde was one of the best things he had ever done in his career as a congressman,” says Atkins. “It was one of the most satisfying things I have ever been associated with.”

“There was nothing like that feeling because I knew what it meant to a whole bunch of people in generations to come,” says AuCoin. “I always had a place in my heart for situations where I could give to others - that’s why I was hooked as soon as I understood what the stakes were for the Grand Ronde.”

Sponsored by AuCoin, the Grand Ronde Restoration Bill had 57 letters of support and no opposition. The bill passed the House on Nov. 7, 1983, and was introduced in the Senate by Hatfield four days later. The bill passed the Senate by a voice vote without going to committee.

Times were much different then and AuCoin says he faced a great deal of political and personal opposition when he was fighting for Restoration.

“I had to face, as the Tribal Council did, the most surprising amount of bigotry I would have ever guessed,” says AuCoin. “No one threw any parades for me on this. I did it because I identified. I didn’t give a damn whether people wanted to throw me a parade or not. I was going to get this thing done because it was the right thing to do. There was a lot of bigotry; there really was. I don’t think Yamhill County would want to admit that now, but I can see the faces still today.”


A path into the future

Beckham says Restoration created a path for the Grand Ronde peoples into the future.

“Restoration became the most significant landmark in the Tribe’s modern history,” says Beckham. “The law opened doors for Tribal members to use the Indian Health Service. In time the Tribe assumed more and more responsibility for administering and operating its clinic, pharmacy and programs for drugs and alcohol, mental health and dental care. The Tribe received core management funds to hire staff and to provide direct services to members.”

Leno says he is proud of everything the Tribe has achieved since Restoration, but that it has been hard work and those efforts should not be forgotten. He says it is important for people to remember that the Tribe was held hostage when Restoration was accomplished.

“The most important piece for me is the sovereignty that was taken from us in our hunting and fishing rights and why nobody could justify that because hunting and fishing is a way of life for Tribal people,” says Leno. “They basically gave us a choice and I don’t think a lot of younger people see that piece of it; how hard it was for our leaders back in that time to say, ‘OK, we have a choice here to take care of our people as a federally recognized Tribe but we have to give up our way of life in hunting and fishing?’ That was a very difficult decision to make.”

“The Tribe had to pay a high price in 1983 to secure Restoration,” says Beckham. “Combined forces from the non-Indian community fought efforts to affirm hunting and fishing rights. The Restoration Act compelled the Tribe to enter into agreements with the United States and the state of Oregon governing the exercise of animal gathering rights, trapping, hunting and fishing. In spite of the extensive ratified treaty cession areas of the ancestor Tribes moved to Grand Ronde, the agreement defined a limited geographical area available for subsistence activities.”

Atkins says Restoration started turning things around for the Tribe.

“Think of the fact that at the time of Restoration the Grand Ronde was down to five acres, just the cemetery. Everything else had been lost,” says Atkins. “It was just a watershed event in Oregon history, undoing so many wrongs that had occurred up until that point”

Beckham says many Oregonians are familiar with the Tribe’s story of struggle and perseverance.

“None of these accomplishments has been easy,” says Beckham. “They have required faith that there can be a better future. They have demanded hours, weeks, months and years of hard work by Tribal leaders, Tribal members and staff to make things happen. They have necessitated planning and dreaming of what might be. The record is a good one.”


‘Restoration means everything’

Tribal Council member Chris Mercier says he is one of the beneficiaries of those people who worked so hard to achieve Restoration.

“For me, Restoration means everything,” says Mercier. “It would have been much harder to get through college without the financial support I received from the Tribe. So just getting the Tribe restored and the Tribe being where it is now I think has helped a lot of people improve their lives.”

Mercier says he has dedicated most of his adult life to working for the Tribe.

“I’m 41 and I’m going on my 12th year on council, so I have spent almost a third of my life on council so this Tribe has been my life,” says Mercier. “It is so hard to imagine where my life would be if this Tribe didn’t exist and it had not been restored. And I think there are a lot of people who can say the same thing. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this.”

Tribal General Manager Dave Fullerton said Tribal employees should reflect on what the celebration means to the community.

“In relation to the services we provide, none of these services would be available without Restoration,” says Fullerton, who has worked for the Tribe for 16 years. “A lot of the justification for Restoration was to provide to the membership health, education and social services.

“I think it is important for the employees and the members to think of the fact that every day we have 400 plus employees providing services directly to the membership. That wouldn’t have happened without Restoration. We wouldn’t have health care and social services. Those that were here before Restoration would attest to the impact of those services that they have seen over the years.”

Leno says that the community has changed dramatically over the years.

“Basically we had a name and a cemetery. Nothing more than that,” says Leno. “Everything on top of that people should be very thankful for.”

The 33rd Restoration Celebration begins with a Canoe Family performance and program starting at 10 a.m. followed by a meal in the Tribal gymnasium at noon. There will be a break at 2 p.m. and a powwow beginning at 3 p.m.

RSVP to Public Affairs at 503-879-1418 or send an e-mail to so that organizers can obtain an approximate count of the number of attendees.