'Couldn't erase us': Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde marks history of Termination Act

·3 min read

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is marking Aug. 13 as a day for the celebration of the resilience and perseverance of the tribe.

It is the anniversary of the passage of the 1954 Western Oregon Termination Act, which stripped the 61 western Oregon tribes of their federal status.

For 30 years, Grande Ronde tribal members had no land and no right to their identity. The act severed the trust between the federal government and Oregon tribes and represented ongoing efforts to forcibly assimilate Native Americans.

The anniversary is a somber one, but the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde hopes the day can also become one to honor the Grande Ronde people and culture.

"We want to use this day to pause, to honor our people and who we are, and celebrate our culture,” tribal chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy said in a news release.

Kennedy has been on the council of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for 23 years. She is the descendent of four of the people who signed the original seven treaties negotiated between the tribes and bands on the Grand Ronde Reservation and the federal government between 1853 and 1855.

The broken treaties and Western Oregon Termination Act took what was left of the reservation and took their identity, Kennedysaid in an interview.

"We could no longer be called Indians in the face of the United States of America. Our identity was gone, our land was gone, and supposedly our culture was gone," she said.

Members of the Grand Ronde Veterans Royalty cheer during Salem Indigenous Now's fourth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day event in 2021.
Members of the Grand Ronde Veterans Royalty cheer during Salem Indigenous Now's fourth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day event in 2021.

But the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is made up of survivors, she said.

"We might've been invisible in the face of the United States of America but they couldn't erase us," Kennedy added.

Native languages were still spoken inside of households, tribal members continued to hunt and gather despite laws prohibiting them from doing so and for 30 years members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde fought for the restoration of federal recognition.

President Ronald Reagan signed the Grand Ronde Restoration Act on Nov. 22, 1983.

There are ongoing efforts to preserve the culture.

Kennedy attended a ground blessing ceremony last week for the Grand Ronde's culture language program where young people will grow up learning and speaking the native language. A pow wow open to all is also coming up soon.

And while Grand Ronde wants to celebrate the successful restoration of its federal recognition and the perseverance of its members, the news release about the anniversary also reminded Oregonians that other tribes, such as the Chinook Nation, are still fighting for federal recognition.

"In the Western Oregon Termination Act, three of the five tribes of Chinook Nation — the Clatsop, the Kathalamet and the Lower Chinook — that were named are the only tribes that still do not have federal recognition," Sam Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, said in the release. "Without federal recognition, we suffer all the same social, economic and political challenges as other tribes but have no resources to take care of them. It has been past time to correct this injustice."

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde marks history of Termination Act