Tribe celebrates 33rd anniversary of Restoration, honors Provost
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde partied like it was 1983 at the 33rd annual Restoration Celebration meal and powwow held in Grand Ronde on a rainy Tuesday, Nov. 22, at the Tribal gymnasium.
As many as 250 Tribal members gathered for the daylong event to give thanks and share in the many blessings that Tribal members have received over the years since being restored to federal recognition in 1983 by the stroke of President Ronald Reagan’s pen on the Grand Ronde Restoration Act.
Tribal member Bobby Mercier was joined by Brian Krehbiel, Santiago Atanacio, Jordan Mercier, David Harrelson, Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George, Nokoa Mercier, Izaiah Fisher, Kaikanim Mercier, Red Sky Clawson, Jacob Holmes and Siletz Tribal member Tim Stuart to open the celebration with almost an hour of hand drumming. Kimberly Roybal, Kim Contreras, Chelsea Clark and Tammy Fisher, among others, backed the drummers with singing.
Tribal youth Kailiyah Krehbiel led a group of 12 Canoe Family dancers around the gymnasium while others drummed and sang.
Kailiyah Krehbiel and others danced for the first three songs and then Bobby Mercier said the fourth song was important for the Restoration event.
“This song is called ‘Traveling With Our Ancestors,’ ” said Bobby Mercier. “There were a lot of them that traveled to be here. Many of them passed away after just days of being here from the exhaustion. People were made to walk from different directions to come here to Grand Ronde. We’re very thankful for the strength of those people that made it here. We’re very thankful for their teachings and everything that they left behind to give us the strength to carry on. We’re thankful for all those that made it here so we could be here today.”
Bobby Mercier said the fifth song was about the 263-mile Trail of Tears forced march from Table Rock near Medford to Grand Ronde that occurred in 1856.
“This song is to honor all of those who made the journey here to the Reservation,” said Bobby Mercier as Canoe Family dancers gathered with drummers on stage to join them as backup singers.
Bobby Mercier had Nokoa Mercier, Kaikanim Mercier, Izaiah Fisher and Jacob Holmes go down in front of the stage for the next-to-last drum song for a “Boy’s” dance.
The final drum song to open the Restoration event was a prayer song. “This is a song for our ancestors,” he said.
Tribal Royalty performed “The Lord’s Prayer” and Tribal Elder and former longtime Tribal Council Chairwoman Kathryn Harrison gave the opening invocation.
“We want to thank you for this day – especially this day,” said Harrison during her prayer. “We thank you for those ancestors and for their strength and wisdom.”
Tribal Council Vice Chair Cheryle A. Kennedy welcomed the audience and introduced council members and former council members present.
“This is a wonderful celebration,” said Kennedy. “Of all of the events that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde hosts every year, this is the one that commemorates into all the joy, the happiness, the hard work and the gatherings of our families and friends. It’s time to celebrate. It’s time to give thanks. It’s time to show that we are truly grateful. What a wonderful time.”
Kennedy said she was happy to share the joy she had in her heart with everyone who made the effort to be with the Tribe on such an important day.
“We are here,” said Kennedy. “We stand together in unity. As we come together here today in recognition of our Restoration, we know that throughout the years our Tribe has been through many, many hardships and there were many, many battles that we had to go through to be here.”
Kennedy said that the treaties the Tribe signed with the U.S. government meant little to the leaders of the dominant culture. She said the treaties were little more than a land grab and that it was Native peoples who paid the price with their very way of life.
“We have five treaties that came with all of the bands and the Tribes of Indians that have come together to form what we now know as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde,” said Kennedy. “That blood flows through your veins. That is the one thing that we all have in common – that blood flows through us today. And it is powerful and it is strong. It is the voice of our ancestors that keeps telling us to move forward, keep on doing good things. To keep on raising your children in the Tribal way, keep on practicing our cultural ways, keep doing that.”
Kennedy said the Tribal membership has much to be thankful for and that if the U.S. government could have eliminated Native people it would have.
“The Creator saw fit for us to be here today,” said Kennedy. “Had the United States government had their way, none of us would be here today. So we have come through a lot. We’re here today to celebrate and rejoice.”
Kennedy said Tribal ancestors were strong and that they had a vision for the future that conditions would be better for their children and their children’s children.
“The same thing is called upon us today to look into the future and to see all those ones that are coming after us that they will be strong,” said Kennedy. “That we leave this world a better place for those ones that are coming after us. That is what this is all about.”
Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George provided the invocation for the meal and Tribal Council members Chris Mercier, Jack Giffen Jr. and Kathleen George, Tribal staff members, Culture Committee members, Youth Council members and Tribal Royalty served a traditional meal of salmon, wild rice, elk stew, green salad, rolls and pie.
After the meal and a short break, master of ceremonies Fabian Quenelle called for powwow dancers to get ready at 3:01 p.m. and called for the drums to begin at 3:13 p.m.
Tribal Elder and Army veteran Raymond Petite led the Color Guard into the Restoration Powwow and held the eagle staff. Navy veteran Al Miller carried in the Oregon flag, Navy veteran Ron Schlitzkus carried in the American flag, Marine veteran Rich Van Atta carried in the POW/MIA flag and Navy veteran Dennis Klefner brought in the Tribal flag.
Tribal Council members Kennedy, Giffen, Jon A. George and Denise Harvey followed the Color Guard on to the powwow dance floor.
Kennedy gave the invocation to begin the powwow and Jon A. George welcomed everyone in attendance.
“Thank you for being here for our Restoration Powwow,” said Jon A. George. “It’s good to see all these wonderful faces here; we welcome the drummers. I’m so thankful for this opportunity for all of us to come together and to dance and sing the songs of our Elders and celebrate.”
George said he felt honored to be a part of the Tribe.
“As I was growing up in Grand Ronde, I never thought I would be standing before my people as a Tribal leader and welcoming you,” said George. “To see the things that we have today, I thank our past leaders for this. Those were the leaders that created a foundation of who we are today. This is who we are – we are a people that come together and celebrate each other, we honor our culture, we honor each other, we honor our children and our veterans. Let’s get our dance on.”
Quenelle introduced head man Anthony Quenelle and head woman Ramona Quenelle before inviting Waking Thunder to perform the first song of the powwow.
“We are not history,” said Quenelle to the applause of the powwow crowd.
As many as 50 people danced for the first song and the InterTribal songs that followed had a rhythm of their own with dancers of all ages, in regalia and out, dancing in all directions instead of the usual clockwise motion of the larger, outdoor powwows.
The dance floor was filled with everyone from toddlers barely taking their first steps to family members pushing beloved Tribal Elder Beryle Contreras around the dance floor in her wheelchair as Bad Soul and Red Nation drums joined in for songs.
Also during the powwow, the Tribe’s Culture Committee honored Tribal Elder Margaret Provost, one of the three principal Tribal members credited with starting the Tribe’s Restoration effort in the 1970s that finally culminated in the Tribe regaining federal recognition.
“We honored Margaret because of her work on Restoration years ago,” said Culture Committee Chair Betty Bly, who is also an Elder. “Marcus (Gibbons) proposed it and the rest of us all agreed that it would be good to honor Margaret at the powwow. We contacted Cheryle Kennedy to honor Margaret for everything she has done over the years from Restoration in the beginning and being on council and being on several committees throughout the years.”
Kennedy concluded her remarks by asking everyone to care for the land and water.
“That is all of our jobs here today as we look to the future – make sure our environment is taken care of,” said Kennedy. “Treat it like it was your own child. It is our responsibility to listen to our old ones, our ancient ones who tell us we can make this better.”
Members of the 33rd Restoration Celebration Planning Committee included Stacia Martin, Shannon Simi, Chelsea Clark, Gladys Hobbs, Steve Bobb Sr., Penny DeLoe, Rebecca Knight, Julie Brown, Kathleen George, Jon A. George, Denise Harvey, Dave Fullerton, Lisa Archuleta, Harris Reibach and Peter Grout.