Tribal Government & News

Grand Ronde chairwoman included in Biden’s brief visit

04.28.2022 Danielle Harrison Tribal Council, Federal government

By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals staff writer

PORTLAND -- Grand Ronde Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy joined other state and congressional leaders at a brief visit by President Joe Biden on Thursday, April 21.

“The president was very congenial,” Kennedy said. “He gave me a hug and was very nice. I welcomed him to our homelands and he said, ‘I know. You’re the Willamette Valley Treaty Tribe.’ I was impressed and thanked him for the work he has done on the part of Native people with the choice of Deb Haaland (first Native American Secretary of the Interior). He has elevated the needs of Native people.” 

Biden’s visit began at the Oregon Air National Guard hangar in Portland, where he spoke to a small crowd for approximately 30 minutes about his bipartisan infrastructure plan passed by Congress last year. The visit was part of two-day trip to the Pacific Northwest that also included a visit to Seattle.

Biden noted how Oregon will receive $211 million for the state to modernize Portland International Airport for both travelers and cargo. Oregon also will receive $662 million for fixing roads and $53 million for bridges.

During the speech, Kennedy was seated near the front row next to Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.

“I was just amazed Biden could recall all of those facts and figures,” she said. “The speech was fast and he never stuttered or slipped. … He mentioned Tribes will have portions of the infrastructure appropriation.”

Kennedy said she was also impressed to see so many tradespeople there, including a young woman who had recently completed an electrical apprenticeship program and was selected to introduce Biden.

“She stayed near me the whole time and we had a good time talking and making the best of our time together,” she said.  

Approximately 150 to 200 people were invited to the event. Kennedy, Warm Springs Chairman Raymond Tsumpti and Umatilla Board of Trustees Chair Kathryn Brigham were the only Oregon Tribal leaders in attendance.

Biden is the fifth president that Kennedy has met over the years. Previously, she attended events with George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. 

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde received $2 million in federal funding for its redevelopment of the former Blue Heron Paper Mill site at Willamette Falls as a part of the 2022 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, secured by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who also attended the presidential visit Thursday.

Kennedy said that infrastructure improvements at the once empty and abandoned site are necessary to someday open it to the public.

“It’s a huge need there,” she said. “There is lots of road work that needs to be done.”  

The Tribe started demolition of the more than 50 abandoned and dilapidated buildings in September and phase two of the project kicked off in April.

The Tribe purchased the 23-acre Blue Heron site in August 2019 for $15.25 million. In addition to the $2 million in federal funding, the Tribe received an $800,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency in May 2021 to begin environmental remediation at the site, which has been home to a paper mill and other industrial and commercial uses since the arrival of European settlers in the mid-1800s.

Includes information from The Oregonian