Tribal Government & News

Gov. Kotek visits Tribe, tours Grand Ronde

05.31.2024 Danielle Harrison State government
Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, right, listens as Tribal Timber Resource Program Manager Michael Karnosh talks about the Native Plant Nursery at the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department on Friday, May 17. (Photos by Michelle Alaimo)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals editor 

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek and First Lady Aimee Kotek Wilson spent Friday, May 17, learning about Grand Ronde culture, Tribal programs, building and housing projects. The day was capped off with a private dinner with Tribal Council and staff at Spirit Mountain Casino.

It was the governor’s first time in Grand Ronde beyond Spirit Mountain Casino. During a post-visit interview with Smoke Signals, she said it definitely won’t be her last.

“It was such a great visit and very jammed packed,” Kotek said. “There are so many different services and wonderful buildings. It was a fantastic day. You realize that there’s a lot you don’t know and that’s the purpose of these visits, to really get an opportunity to spend quality time to see things and listen to people and to just hear their stories. I feel very thankful, as does the First Lady, to be able to do this. Everyone put a lot of effort into making sure we got good conversations so I’m just very appreciative.”

Gov. Kotek toured the Research Center at Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center, Native Plant Nursery at the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department, the Tribe’s new homeownership project Tipsu-ili’i, the new Creekside Elders Housing Phase III development, chinuk wawa skul and the grand opening of the new public health building, which was named the Cheryle A. Kennedy Public Health Clinic in honor of longtime Tribal Council Chairwoman Kennedy and her dedication to healthcare.

Kotek said her two favorite aspects of the visit were visiting the Chinuk Wawa Immersion Program at the chink wawa skul and a stop at the Grand Ronde Cemetery, where Kennedy reflected on the difficult years before the Tribe was restored and the work that went into rebuilding a nation after Restoration.

“Those were moments throughout the day that just stay with me,” she said. “The sheer joy of watching the students at Chinuk Wawa dancing for us and listening to the drumming, you just can’t help but be inspired and just love the moment.”

The cemetery stop was unplanned but one of those moments Kotek won’t soon forget.

“For her to share what it was like when termination happened and when the land that the cemetery was on was the only land and how hard it was having it be that only space to try and bring people together, and what it was like to be among the ancestors and whether that was the right place to be…She shared how she did a lot of her work off the cemetery early on because culturally, that was a difficult place to be. Just listening to the pain and the hope of that moment that she was sharing was a particularly impactful moment for us,” she said.   

Kotek added that by the end of the day, she had gained additional insights on Tribal sovereignty and the Grand Ronde Tribe in particular.

“It’s always a reaffirmation in these visits to be reminded of the comprehensive nature of Tribal governments, the importance of self-governance and local leadership that you see being exhibited,” she said. “The Grand Ronde do such amazing work in a variety of ways…You really do get a deeper sense that this is a sovereign nation and as governor, it’s a good reminder that we have to be strong partners with our sovereign nations. They are doing incredible work.”

During a Legislative Action Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 21, Tribal Council member Lisa Leno reflected on the visit.

“It was an amazing day,” she said. “We started at Chachalu and then we were able to have a great presentation on Tumwata Village and ended at the health clinic and it was a great day. We had a lot of opportunity to get to share the amazing work that is happening here and all the important legislation and work we are looking forward to in the next few years. I think she left here feeling really good about her visit as we did with her.”