Health & Education

Corvallis School Board holds first reading to name school after Kathryn Harrison

08.12.2021 Dean Rhodes People, Education, Culture
Kathryn Harrison

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

The Corvallis School Board was scheduled to hold a first reading on Thursday, Aug. 12, that will rename one of the district’s schools after Kathryn Harrison, a key figure in the Grand Ronde Tribe’s Restoration effort and a longtime Tribal Council member.

Corvallis School District Superintendent Ryan Noss said that Harrison was one of three people he recommended to the School Board on Thursday, June 10.

Harrison, who at 97 is the Tribe’s eldest Elder, said in June that she was “humbled and very flattered.”

The process started in August 2020, according to reporting from the Corvallis Gazette-Times, when the Corvallis School Board voted to remove the names of former presidents Herbert Hoover, Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson from elementary schools because the men engaged in racist practices. The schools then temporarily adopted the names of their mascots for the 2020-21 academic year.

In December 2020, the Corvallis School District formed a Renaming Task Force to find new names for Husky, Jaguar and Wildcat elementary schools, and potentially some of the other 14 district-owned buildings. Harrison’s name will be applied to Jaguar Elementary School.

Harrison’s name was among the top 20 suggestions that the task force considered. The top names also included Chepenefa, which was an indigenous Kalapuyan group that lived in present-day Corvallis; Bessie Coleman, the first known African American and Native American woman to hold a pilot’s license; and Tiacan, a Santiam Kalapuya principal chief.

The task force filtered suggestions through six criteria, the Gazette-Times reported, emphasizing names that evoke inspiration, reflect commitments to social justice, represent women, honor local Indigenous history, show the community’s connection to place and reject white dominance.

After the top 20 suggestions were released to the public, the task force received feedback from 150 community members and 187 students returned surveys sent out by Noss.

“There were about four people who received almost unanimous support, and Kathryn was one of them,” Noss said.

Public comments were most in favor of Harrison, Letitia Carson, the only Black woman in Oregon to secure a land claim as a result of the 1862 Homestead Act, and Chepenefa. Students leaned toward Harrison as well, and Harriet Tubman and John Lewis.

Tubman was known for her Underground Railroad abolitionist movement and Lewis was a Georgia politician and one of the original Freedom Riders.

Noss said that in addition to Harrison, he recommended Coleman and Carson as new elementary school names.

Harrison was born Kathryn May Jones in 1924 in Corvallis to Harry William Jones and Ella Flemming. Her father was Molalla and her mother Eyak. She attended school in Corvallis before enrolling in Chemawa Indian School in Salem.

She was a key participant in the Grand Ronde Tribe’s early 1980s Restoration efforts and was one of five Tribal members who testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 18, 1983, in support of restoring the Tribe to federal recognition. The Tribe’s federal recognition had been Terminated 29 years earlier in 1954.

After the Tribe was restored on Nov. 22, 1983, she continued her service on Tribal Council from 1984 to 2001. During her time on Tribal Council, she served as secretary, vice chair and six years as Tribal chairwoman. She never lost a Tribal Council election and was the first woman to serve as Tribal chair.

During her time on Tribal Council, she helped guide the Tribe into gaming through the signing of a compact with Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts in July 1993. She also suggested the Tribe start endowment funds to benefit education, health care, economic development, and social and cultural programs. Those funds continue to be an important economic resource to this day for the Tribe.

Today, she lives at an adult foster care facility in Salem.