CORVALLIS, Ore.— For some 11,000 years, native peoples of the Pacific Northwest gathered at Oregon’s Celilo Falls to fish its enormous salmon runs and trade such a wide range of goods that historians described the area in the 19th century as the “Wall Street of the West.”
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam project in 1957 flooded the iconic falls. When the federal government shortly thereafter compensated multiple tribes for loss of fishing rights caused by the project, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs chose to invest a portion of those funds in a “seminal economic development study” conducted by Oregon State University, beginning a close relationship between the Warm Springs tribes and OSU that now spans five decades.
On April 6, Tribal Council members and OSU leaders will renew and expand that partnership with a day of presentations and sharing at the university’s main campus that will culminate in a new memorandum of understanding between the Confederated Tribes and the university. Tribal Council Chairman Ron Suppah and OSU President Ed Ray will be on hand for the signing and multiple meetings throughout the day.
“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. April 6 will be a special day for OSU.”
The study undertaken in the early days of the relationship, the Warm Springs Research Project, holds more than historic importance for the tribes, it continues to inform Warm Springs management and practices today.
“The study led to a strategic philosophy and our first comprehensive plan,” said Suppah. The plan addressed timber resources, rangeland management, education and business development. It has been updated several times since then and taken on a new name: “The People’s Plan.” Numerous enterprises were established through the plan, including a lumber company, forest products business, museum and Kah Nee Tah hotel and casino.
The Tribal-OSU bond is not only long lived, but well respected. Stories of dedicated Extension agents and their work with tribal members, both young and old, are fondly remembered. “Over the years we always looked at OSU—especially Extension and 4-H— as an active part in our lives,” Suppah said. “And we have been highly reliant on OSU professors, routinely working with them for years.”
As part of the April 6 agenda, Warm Springs leaders will get a detailed look at OSU Valley Library online resources that are available to the tribes for instructional, research and other purposes. Faculty presentations will focus on tribal interests related to wood products, natural resources, wind and solar energy, livestock and range management and engineering.
The updated memo of understanding creates new opportunities for the tribes and the university, according to Shawn Morford, chair of the OSU Extension Service office in Warm Springs.
“Although traditional culture has always been part of the relationship, new language reinforces a call for local expertise and cultural knowledge and skills,” she said. “Also, for the first time, the document acknowledges both indigenous and western science as respected resources for education and research.”
The updated memorandum also states that OSU and the Warm Springs tribes will work together to explore ways to link Warm Springs community members with OSU credit courses and degree programs.
About 3,500 tribal members live in or near Warm Springs, a valley surrounded by high plateaus, sage, scattered juniper and open range for cattle and wild horses. It is the governing center of the reservation, which includes about 570,000 acres in Jefferson and Wasco counties.
In 1855, a treaty required the Warm Springs and Wasco tribes to relinquish about 10 million acres of land. After the Paiute tribe also settled on the reservation, the three tribes became confederated and established themselves as a self-governing entity in 1937.
The Tribal Council today includes 12 members, all of whom will take part in the April 6 sessions with OSU administrators, faculty and students at the Valley Library, the OSU Native American Longhouse and other key locations around campus, said OSU Foundation development officer Karen Shaw, who is coordinating the visit.