Tribal Government & News

Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno bows out of 2017 election

06.01.2017 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council

An emotional Reyn Leno announced during the Wednesday, May 31, Tribal Council meeting that he will not seek re-election in 2017, ending 21 years of service on Tribal Council.

Leno, whose seventh consecutive three-year term on Tribal Council ends in September, said he will be on a plane to Hawaii with his grandchildren when Tribal Council candidates are nominated on Sunday, June 25.

Leno, 66, was first elected to Tribal Council in September 1996. He served as Tribal Council vice chair for 11 years before being elevated to Tribal Council chair by his fellow council members in September 2012. His 21 years on Tribal Council is the most of any Tribal member who has been elected by the membership since 1983’s Restoration.

“It has been a quick 21 years,” Leno said while announcing his intention to not seek re-election. “When I think of being on council, I always think of you are only one of nine up here. If anybody thinks you don’t make a mistake up here, you’re kidding yourself membership. I think, looking back on our councils that have served, I’d like to acknowledge all that they have done because it didn’t really matter what side you were on, especially back in the days when I started. You always had an outcome of something good for our membership. That’s what it is really all about.”

Leno challenged Tribal Council to tackle the issues of the Tribe’s health plan, protecting Tribal endowments with a constitutional amendment, enhancing culture and protecting Tribal sovereignty.

During his time in office, Leno has been a staunch supporter of veterans’ issues based on his service in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

Leno was instrumental in starting the Veterans Summit, which has been held for four consecutive years before the annual Marcellus Norwest Memorial Veterans Powwow in early July. He also was appointed by Gov. Kate Brown to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs Advisory Committee in March 2016.

Leno also has been an avid supporter of regaining Tribal sovereignty, working for reinstatement of Tribal hunting and fishing rights that were lost during negotiations to obtain Reservation land in the 1980s.

In 2015, the Tribe authorized 46 Tribal Reservation hunting tags and set Tribal hunting seasons for the first time since the Tribe was restored. In 2016, Tribal members harvested salmon at Willamette Falls for the first time in approximately 120 years.

He also has been vocal about protecting Tribal endowment funds and thanking previous Tribal leaders who established the funds for the future of the Tribe.

“Being a lifelong friend of Reyn’s, seeing his commitment to his people and his community I have certainly admired,” Steve Bobb Sr., who served six years on Tribal Council with Leno, said. “The thing that I have seen him spearhead in his longtime position as a councilman are certainly his commitment to our youth and their education, the care of our Elders with housing and foster care, seeing to doing all we can to not only recognize but care for the issues of our veterans.

“One of his strong points has always been finance, our endowments and staying on top of the direction of those who handle the Tribe’s investments.

“But, most of all, his endurance to the overwhelming pressures of being a council person. My hat is off to Reyn, and those who wear that hat every day.”

“Reyn has been a staunch believer and prodder in our Natural Resources,” Tribal Council Vice Chair Cheryle A. Kennedy said. “Because of that, we have an endowment because of his concern that this was something that had profited the Tribe and will go on into the future. I appreciate your attention to that detail.”

Kennedy said Leno’s dedication to helping veterans will be a legacy that lives on in the Tribe.

Bobb said being Tribal Council chair requires a person to be the “face” of the Tribe and that Leno performed the role well.

“Being the chairman, you are the face of the Tribe,” Bobb said. “He has been, in my opinion, a good face of the Tribe and of the Grand Ronde community. Not everybody can be the face of the Grand Ronde Tribe. I think a lot of people think they can be, but I don’t think everybody can take that spot and be the representative and be at the forefront and be the face of the Grand Ronde Tribe. I think he has.”

“You don’t get elected to seven straight terms on accident,” Tribal Council member Chris Mercier said. “That shows that you have earned a lot of trust from people and support from people. I would never question the fact that you love this Tribe and you have committed a lot of your life to it, and I will express my admiration for the fact, and this might surprise some people, that you are able to maintain your sense of humor a lot in this job and sometimes this job tests your ability to maintain your sense of humor.”

Leno’s announcement opens the door for new blood on Tribal Council since he has been a perennial top vote-getter. In 2014, he received 558 votes. Also up for re-election in 2017 are incumbents Chris Mercier and Tonya Gleason-Shepek, neither of whom announced their re-election intentions during the Tribal Council meeting.

Leno is the son of Orville and Ramona (McKnight) Leno and the grandson of David and Emma Leno and Thomas and Elvira (Langley) McKnight. He has been married to his wife, Liz, for almost 46 years and has three children: Shonn Leno, Dustin Leno and Angela (Leno) Fasana. He also has eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild on the way.

Leno said that he will still be around, helping Bobb, who is the Veterans Special Event Board chairman, with veterans’ issues and events, as well as continuing to serve on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs committee.

However, Leno said, he is looking forward to the newfound freedom of not being weighed down with Tribal Council chairman responsibilities.

“I am going hunting without a cell phone,” he said.