Memorial Day 2011

The new Marce Norwest Veterans Memorial

For reasons I cannot explain, Memorial Day in Oregon is often plagued by rain.  Today was mostly the case, though we were given a small period where the clouds parted and sunshine seeped in, however fleeting.  We have renamed the Memorial to the Marcellus Norwest Veterans Memorial, in honor of one of the pillars of our community who passed on last weekend, and who was the driving force behind the iconic structure that people travel from far and wide to see.

I did my best to get a shot with the blue sky and Spirit Mountain in the background.  Can only do so much with an iPod touch.


This morning I made a blog post on the Tribe’s website called “Two Tribes”.  My post was part travelogue and part observations about two of the fellow regional tribes I was luck enough to visit last week.  Sadly, even that post, at over 1000 words doesn’t truly cover what I witnessed.  But hopefully some of the pictures below will.  Sometimes you have to see to know…


From the Tulalip carving shop


Where they use traditional wood-carving tools…


A Tulalip Tribal Member displays a work in progress…


The Tulalip treat us to salmon done right…


The doorway to Tulalip Tribal Council conference room…

Land of the Coeur d’Alene


Although most of my life has been spent in Oregon, not until Saturday May 14 did I ever cross the border to Idaho. Although I’d been to Pendleton in the east several times, Idaho was just a tad to far away. But no more.

I am in Idaho for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians spring conference. My first year on Council I went to ATNI every time, traveling to Polson, Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Portland, and Tacoma hosted by the Puyallups. Too much of the conference might explain my burnout and avoidance of it for the next five years until we hosted it at Spirit Mountain Casino in May of last year. But this time I am reminded of what made it so attractive in the first place, a combination of networking opportunities and the chance to catch up with fellow Tribal leaders, all of who are dealing with challenges both unique and familiar, if such a thing is possible.

Given that the conference is often held either close to or at a gaming facility, one shouldn’t be surprised to see many conference attendees camped out at slot machines after the day’s business is officially over. I rarely gamble, being far too familiar with the odds, but like scoping out another Tribe’s property to compare how Spirit Mountain rates.

Coeur d’Alene’s casino is like some sort of hybrid between a 1990’s facility and what I guess has to be pure originality. At present they are undergoing an expansion, thus the construction equipment and areas being renovated are more like eyesores right now, but one doesn’t need a vivid imagination to see that the end result will likely be very impressive. I am not familiar with architecture or the lingo, but the words modern and beautifully simple spring to mind. It doesn’t take long to notice there is an emphasis on natural light, as in some areas the “walls” are enormous windows from ceiling to floor. I’ve always been fond of natural lighting.

The CEO of the property spoke to the conference on the first morning. We wanted people to see something new, he explained about the expansion, something they’d never seen elsewhere. Hence the glass walls, the strategy of using only native plants as part of the landscaping, and “real” materials, by which I assume he meant for example some of the plank dividers at the steakhouse. In their most impressive bar, called “The Gathering Place”, there are a dozen digital photo displays with ever-changing images ranging from close-ups of regalia and beads to vistas of traditional Coeur d’Alene lands. As is explained to us, the casino hired a photographer who camped out at many of these areas to gather thousands of perfect shots.

Being a food-lover, it would be wrong for me to not mention the food, and the level of culinary artistry that goes into their menus. The tables at the steakhouse feature three types on salt, one variety that reminds me of some Tibetan kind I saw at World Market. They’ve several types of burgers, ranging from ground duck, to lamb, to Kobe beef. The condiments are creative, like oxtail marmalade or foie gras aioli. Most ingredients are locally produced. Impressive to say the least.

The facility can go a long way to determining a successful conference, and right now they are playing nearly everything just right. As for the conference itself, I’ve enjoyed myself quite a bit, though this is just the second day. As is typical, the agenda is often strayed from, but nobody seems to mind.

I’ve learned that one Tribal in Washington state has five Council members with the same first name, Brian. The best way to differentiate them is probably by their cedar hats. There have also been some technical difficulties, one leading them to duct-tape a microphone, which makes for some jokes.

I am glad to see that yet another former Hatfield Fellow has gone on to big things: Dennis Worden heads up the Native American Contractors Association. I also cannot help but notice that laptops and iPads have quickly replaced notepads, a huge contrast to that first one I attended years ago in Montana.

During one of the committee meetings I explained to other Tribes what we had to deal with regarding Measure 75 last year, which generated quite a few questions, like what was our strategy, how close was the vote, what will happen next? And that committee produced the most awkward moment when a Cowlitz Tribal Council member related the challenges they were dealing with, and after being asked who was contesting their La Center project he had to answer “Grand Ronde”, which lead to one of those situations where suddenly everybody fixed their gazes at me unsure of what to say.

There seems to be a basketball theme going on, as Mark Few, Head Coach of the Gonzaga University Bulldogs stopped in to speak over a protein-packed (chicken, salmon, pork ribs and an entire roasted pig) lunch today. His speech, or interview rather as he shared the stage with a Coeur d’Alene member who asked him questions, struck me as like that of a motivational speaker (“Surround yourself with good people”, “Put the team first”). Tomorrow’s luncheon will feature Schoni Schimmel, a young Umatilla girl with what must be otherworldly basketball skills. She is presently playing for the University of Louisville and is already the subject of a documentary “Off the Rez”. She will also be playing an exhibition game tomorrow with local Tribal youth matched up against-and no I’m not kidding-Tribal leaders from the conference who volunteered to play.

That does not include me.


Tribal Information Day

Friday the 13 seems like an unusual day to try and plan anything meaningful, but that’s just the superstitious side coming out of me. Yet yesterday, Friday May 13, 2011 is what was chosen to celebrate the annual Tribal Information Day at the Oregon State Capitol Building.

Know that Tribal Information Day tends to be different each year, and that isn’t meant as a criticism, but more like an observation. The Governor always makes an appearance, paired with a speech and signing ceremony of the proclamation. How that happens is what varies each year, although I suppose when a new governor comes in protocol is bound to fluctuate slightly.

The past few years under Governor Kulongoski we’ve brought in drummers and flag bearers, engaging in a grand entry of sorts, if much pared down from what takes place during pow wows. This go year Governor Kitzhaber had us Tribal leaders huddle in one of his offices while he recognized Tribal chairs, read and signed the proclamation, and then posed for photographs. The proclamation signing ceremony took place alongside the quiet buzzing and clicking of cameras and camera-phones. I simply whipped out my iPod touch, which is quickly becoming a ready camera substitute.

The morning featured the Tribal booths and in a recycled twist from previous years two panels to discuss Native issues, this time around food and sovereignty. Cheryle Kennedy sat in for Grand Ronde along with Council members from Siletz and Burns-Paiute before a packed room. When conversing with Bud Lane of Siletz later I told him I’d like to try some acorn-based food some day.
Grand Ronde sponsored the free lunch for the event. I’ve never actually eaten the lunch at Tribal Information Day because usually the line is ridiculously long. But Tribal leaders were given first crack, which is good because already the line had circled around the interior of the Capitol building.

I’ve grown so used to seeing Kulongoski that to see another man presiding over this event was new. But what I had forgotten was the Kitzhaber started the special day nearly 15 years ago. And here he was a decade and a half presiding again, jeans and cowboy boots still.


Kitzhber signs the Proclamation, with Cheryle Kennedy, Kathleen Tom and other Tribal leaders in the background

That Time of Year

Right about 2002, two years before being elected to Council, I began making a regular commitment to attend the annual Community Meetings the Tribe hosted every spring. I would even drive down to Eugene or up to Portland for those meetings. There were often different faces at all of them, and so this was how I first came to understand how diverse our tribal membership was.

I also attended a Community Meeting in 1995 in Grand Ronde at the Community Center, but understood very little of what was happening. My mind was back on the college campus at the University of Oregon, and I was delightedly looking ahead to spending a semester in Hawaii. What I remember most from that session was being introduced to the concept of per capita and meeting a woman with painted eyebrows, also a first for me.

I can’t really speak to how the Community Meetings were ran in the years prior to 2002. The “Smoke Signals” ran a story several years before then providing the sad news that only two people had attended the meeting in Bend. That might be why it wasn’t until 2007 that the Tribe went back there. What I know is that from 2002 to 2007, the meetings were on average well-attended. And by well-attended I would estimate a crowd close to what we might normally get at a General Council meeting. That is including adding at least one new venue in 2005, Tacoma, Washington. I remember very clearly attending one in Eugene where there were so many people at the Red Lion that year the loudness of the collective conversations made facilitating the break-out sessions incredibly difficult.

Recently a trend has started. In 2008 less than 20 area members showed at the north Tacoma La Quinta on a Monday night, and we haven’t returned, instead opting for Yakima the in 2009 and 2010. The attendance in Eugene one year was surprisingly small. Numbers in Grand Ronde have continued to dwindle. To have more staff and Council members than actual local community members is hard to overlook.

This year, for budgetary reasons, we virtually eliminated most of the Community Meetings altogether, save for Grand Ronde last Sunday following General Council. But to be truthful, budgetary reasons were only part of the reason. Declining attendance was another, although I still think we could have made a greater effort to advertise the meetings. Regardless, on Sunday a whopping 18 Tribal members stayed after the General Council meeting. I’m not sure what the number was last year but my guess is not far off.

The most common reason I’ve been given is simply that many members no longer feel like their input matters. I can sympathize with that to a degree. But as one Tribal member pointed out to me, there have been some very specific decisions made as a result of the Community Meetings, the most immediate examples being the Portland and Eugene satellite offices. Economic Development is another. Fixing the Tribe’s enrollment problems yet another, as I believe the constant presence of this topic on the priority list went a long way in producing another Constitutional election in 2008.

I am writing this post because normally this time of year we would be gearing up for several of these Community meetings. And that would involve a lot of driving. But I always enjoyed them, like Pow wow it was the one time of year I would even get to see certain Tribal members.

The Community Meetings were a series of events held once a year, like a holiday. We expanded them and then subsequently contracted them. Were they the most effective way of soliciting Tribal member input? Probably not, considering the geographic distribution of our membership. But I miss them nonetheless.