Health & Education

Corvallis School District to honor Harrison on April 14

03.16.2022 Dean Rhodes People, Elder Profile, Education
Jaguar Elementary, soon to be the Kathryn Jones Harrison Elementary School, is seen under renovations from Circle Blvd., in Corvallis. The Corvallis School District will have a ceremony on Thursday, April 14, to honor the school's namesake, Grand Ronde Tribal Elder Kathryn Jones Harrison. (Photo by Kamiah Koch/Smoke Signals)


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

CORVALLIS -- The Corvallis School District will honor Grand Ronde Tribal Elder Kathryn Jones Harrison during a ceremony to be held 11:30 a.m. Thursday, April 14.

Kathryn Jones Harrison Elementary School, 1825 N.W. 27th St., was renamed for the 2021-22 school year and honors one of the most revered figures in the Grand Ronde Restoration effort and a Grand Ronde Tribal Council member for 17 years.

Harrison, 98, is also the Tribe’s eldest Elder and lives in the Elk Lodge in the Adult Foster Care facilities in Grand Ronde. She will attend the ceremony, which is closed to the general public to protect Harrison’s health. Masks also will be required.

The event will include comments by Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy and Harrison, as well as a salmon lunch prepared by Cultural Education Coordinator Jordan Mercier.

Harrison was one of three people that Corvallis School District Superintendent Ryan Noss recommended to the School Board in June 2021 after a process to rename some schools within the Corvallis School District started in August 2020.

The Corvallis School Board had 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 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 that emphasized 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 previously to Smoke Signals.

Public comments were most in favor of Harrison, Letitia Carson and Chepenefa while students leaned toward Harrison, Harriet Tubman and John Lewis.

Carson was the only Black woman in Oregon to secure a land claim as a result of the 1862 Homestead Act. Tubman was known for the Underground Railroad abolitionist movement during the Civil War and Lewis was a Georgia politician and one of the original Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement of the early 1960s.

Noss said that in addition to Harrison, he recommended Coleman and Carson as new elementary school names, which were adopted by the School Board in September 2021. Harrison’s name was applied to Jaguar Elementary School.

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 to her people 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.