Tribal Government & News

Celebrating 40 years of Restoration

12.05.2023 Sherron Lumley Restoration, Spirit Mountain Casino, Powwows
Tribal Elder and Ceremonial Hunting Board member Steve Rife shakes hands with Tribal member Vivyan Lopez as he and everyone else who worked on the Tribe’s memorandum of agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife are honored during the Tribe’s 40th Restoration Celebration at Spirit Mountain Casino’s Event Center on Sunday, Nov. 19. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo)


By Sherron Lumley

Smoke Signals staff writer

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde celebrated 40 years of Restoration at a banquet and powwow held at Spirit Mountain Casino on Sunday, Nov. 19.

“Today we rejoice and celebrate 40 years of being restored, from a one-room shack in the cemetery to what we have today,” Tribal Council member Jon A. George said. “We knew inside us we were Grand Ronde people.”

Restoration Day celebrates Nov. 22, 1983, a major turning point for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and all generations to come. Through the efforts of Tribal Elders, Restoration of Tribal status became a reality only after many long years of enduring hardship upon hardship, decimation, removal and the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act of 1954.

The first order of Restoration Day was honoring Tribal ancestors. Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy joined George, who led the atudship ceremony at Grand Ronde cemetery that morning to commemorate the dead and pray for healing for the community.

It was the first Restoration Day without key Restoration figure and longtime Tribal Council member Kathryn Harrison, who walked on in May at the age of 99.  

The rain held off and sunshine peeked through the silver clouds, leading to a late morning double rainbow arcing over Spirit Mountain.

After the morning ceremony, the day’s events shifted to the Spirit Mountain Casino Event Center, where the banquet room was set for 777 people. As guests filled every table, the Canoe Family opened with singing and drumming, and Grand Ronde Royalty and Veterans Royalty performed the Lord’s Prayer on stage. George, the program emcee, introduced Kennedy who delivered the day’s main speech.

“Restoration is not complete,” Kennedy said. “Our culture remains to be restored.”

Addressing those born in the last 40 years, she added, “You have a Tribe who helps you and supports you. You have a home, a homeland that lies right here under our feet. Listen to the stories of your people. Know who you are.”

Kennedy asked the Tribal members who lived during the period of Termination to stand, and a handful in the large banquet hall stood. The eldest Elder present was Lorene Smith, 98.

“We owe a debt of gratitude for those who suffered through Termination,” Kennedy said. “These few who are standing, thank you. Through the spirit of our grandfathers, we are able to be here today.”

All nine Tribal Council members attended Restoration. In addition to Kennedy and Jon A. George, they are Vice Chair Chris Mericer, Lisa Leno, Kathleen George, Matthew Haller, Denise Harvey, Secretary Michael Cherry and Brenda Tuomi.

Kennedy also acknowledged former Tribal Council members in attendance, which included Candy Robertson and Henry Petite, who served on the first post-Restoration Tribal Council; and former longtime Tribal Chair Reyn Leno, as well as former Tribal Council member Tonya Gleason-Shepek.

“I knew what it was like not to have a homeland,” Kennedy said. “When we were terminated everything was taken.”

Describing how tenacious founders gathered late into the night to work on the long process of Restoration, she said, “We are a resilient, strong people who work on things together. We don’t give up.”

Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy gives a welcome during the Tribe’s 40th Restoration Celebration at Spirit Mountain Casino’s Event Center on Sunday, Nov. 19. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo)

Kennedy thanked behind-the-scenes staff who helped with the event including Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Hernandez, Tribal Council Coordinator Chelsea Baranski, Tribal Council Administrative Assistant Shannon Ham-Texeira, Tribal Council Executive Assistant Lauri Smith, Communications Director Sarah Thompson and many others.

After the video “Honoring our Homeland” featuring Mercier, an invocation was led by Jon A. George.

The banquet began with the Elders first and Royalty members serving plates of food throughout the room.

"I really love working with my tribe,” Veterans Royalty Little Miss Queen Ulali Quenelle, 8, said as she helped serve the meal.

Preparations for the 40th anniversary meal began months in advance. The feast included baked salmon, prime rib and elk stew. “I love cooking elk,” Executive Chef Sean Huey said. “We had to order it three months ahead of time because with game you never know. The simple elk stew took a lot of planning. I’m happy.”

Buffet Sous Chef Brett Hutton and Pastry Chef Jose Moran were justifiably proud of the banquet, which included local vegetables, fruits and desserts. These included marionberry, huckleberry, blueberry, pecan, apple and pumpkin pie.

Many artisans filled the corridors of the events center, displaying their work for sale. One vendor was Tribal member Melanie Monson. “I just learned in the last year how to weave bear grass. I am going to start harvesting up on Mary’s Peak or Mount Hood,” she said.

The pine nuts in her jewelry come from a harvest in California, and the dentalium are mollusk shells. Those come from another Tribal member’s business, Rogue River Trading.

Tribal artist Nick LaBonte stood behind a table filled with handmade wood carvings near the entrance. “Half the people here are family,” he said, greeting Jesse and Ken Robertson.

The two Robertson brothers came with another brother, Lynn Robertson, and their mother Ida Patterson. All are Grand Ronde Tribal Elders.

Near the center of the room, Tribal member Alyssa Thompson, 17, was attending her first Restoration event with her mother, Tribal member Jamie White, and grandmother, Tribal Elder Robin Martin. “It’s a new experience for me,” she said. “I am enjoying it, listening to drums and listening to prayers.”

Joyce Dowd Ham, 92, drove herself to Restoration from Portland. “It is great to come and see friends from long ago,” she said. “I tell people I drive better than I walk.”

Her grandchildren, Tribal members Joseph Ham and Shannon Ham-Texeira, stood next to her, along with 8-year-old great-granddaughter Gabby Texeira.

“My mom, dad, sister, me, brother-in-law, niece, uncle and grandma came today from Grand Ronde, Portland and Salem,” Joseph Ham said.

With the banquet concluded and all raffle prizes given away, the event hall transformed for the evening powwow. The tables were removed and the chairs were pushed to the perimeter of the room in rows for spectators, while powwow dancers prepared their regalia.

Tribal member Levi Liebelt, father of Nacoma Liebelt, 14, sat near where the grand entry would soon begin. His son was busy putting together porcupine quills, sharing that he has danced in powwows “since I can walk,” he said.

Grand entry began at 5:30 p.m. with Emcee Bob Tom (Grand Ronde), Head Drum Bad Soul, Head Woman Nakoosa Moreland Jack (Grand Ronde) and Head Man Nate Norwest (Grand Ronde), Arena Director Preston Smith (Warm Springs), Youth Emcee/Mic Runners Tidus and Ekias Sabin, 14, and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Veterans Honor Guard.

Tribal Elder Lorene Smith watches dancers during the 40th Restoration Powwow at Spirit Mountain Casino’s Event Center on Sunday, Nov. 19. At age 98, Smith is the oldest Tribal member and traveled from California to attend the event. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo)

Jack’s infant son Daryl Jack was also dressed for the occasion with a tiny headband.

“I am the head woman dancer and he is assistant,” she said, adding she would be throwing a “mommy-and-me” dance special.

Tribal members Nakoa Mercier and his father Bobby Mercier often travel to perform at events throughout the country. They welcomed drummers and singers from many different Tribes.

The powwow was standing room only with people watching over each other’s shoulders at every door. During grand entry, the veterans were followed by Tribal Council members, followed by men, women and youth dancers in regalia.

Specials included the Myrick-Meyer Family Tiny Tot, Junior Girls Fancy Dance by the Squetimkin and Hernandez Family with a top prize of $75, Past Grand Ronde Queen and Royalty by current Grand Ronde Royalty and Veterans Royalty courts, Mommy and Me by Nakoosa Moreland Jack with a top prize of $100 and an all-ages Chicken Dance by Nate Norwest with a prize of $300.

An honoring was also held during powwow to commemorate the signing of the memorandum of agreement between the Tribe and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in August, which expands Tribal ceremonial and cultural hunting and fishing areas on off-Reservation lands, and allows the Tribe to manage this for its members in coordination with the state.