Tribal Council members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and leaders of Oregon State University signed a new memorandum of understanding on Monday, April 6, deepening the 50-year relationship between the tribes and the university that began in the aftermath of the 1957 damming of Celilo Falls.
Tribal Council Chairman Ron Suppah and OSU President Ed Ray, as well as Chief Delvis Heath, were on hand for the signing and multiple meetings throughout the day.
The council members each had an opportunity to speak to the assembled crowd of OSU students, staff, faculty and administrators, and addressed many topics, from the history and culture of the tribes to their desire for a more highly educated group of young leaders.
Chairman Suppah spoke about the importance of a comprehensive plan researched and developed by OSU that helped shape the Warm Springs Reservation, and which several council members referred to as being fundamental to the reservation’s current success.
“Our journey started a long time ago,” Suppah told the audience.
He also spoke about OSU’s role in educating some of the tribal youth.
“In order to be leaders we have to educate (our youth) to the ways of the outside world, to protect our people and our nation,” he said.
The reservation currently sees a more than 60 percent unemployment rate, and encouraging youth to pursue a higher education is one way they hope to bring more financial stability to the community, as young people bring home that knowledge.
Council member Wendell Jim said increasing the connectivity of the reservation was important so that there was more access to the Internet for those living at Warm Springs. But he said that in bringing more technology to the reservation, it was still important to uphold their traditional spiritual beliefs.
“An important thing is recognizing and respecting our political sovereignty and our spiritual sovereignty,” he said. “That’s something you can’t Google. That’s our way of life. It’s who we are.”
Jim said OSU could help connect tribal youth to the future while maintaining ties to their past.
Rafael Queahpama said the memorandum was significant to building a better future.
“I see this day being important,” he said. “It will help us adapt and move on. These are some difficult times for the tribe and for the people out there as well. I see this as a great opportunity for all of us.”
OSU President Ed Ray agreed.
“This is perhaps the most profound example of Oregon State fulfilling its Land Grant mission to serve the people of Oregon,” said Ray. “The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs represent peoples and cultures that were here long before Oregon was Oregon, and we are honored to continue our rich, mutually beneficial relationship with the tribes.“
Seattle-based architect Johnpaul Jones, a University of Oregon graduate who has Cherokee/Choctaw heritage, was another guest of the university during the day of activities surrounding the memorandum signing. Jones’ architecture firm, Jones & Jones, is designing a new Native American student center which will take the place of the current longhouse across from Weatherford and the Memorial Union. Jones was the architect for the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institute, and has designed other Native American centers.
The student center will be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certified standards, the only Native American student center in the nation to have such a designation, according to Jones. According to Ray, groundbreaking should begin this fall, with the new center being completed sometime in 2010. Fundraising is currently underway for the project.