Oregon Tribal Representatives and Educators Discuss Belonging At KLCC Panel

May 17, 2019

About 60 people gathered in the LCC Longhouse recently for a community conversation. KLCC reporters Brian Bull and Karen Richards wrapped up their yearlong “Native Voices” series by holding a discussion with Oregon Tribal representatives and educators on issues related a sense of belonging.

History and trauma was foundational throughout the conversation that covered topics like identity, sovereignty and resiliency. Sara Thompson is Deputy Press Secretary for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. She emphasized the importance of understanding that Indigenous people have always belonged in Oregon.

THOMOPSON: “We’re people of this landscape, this landscape provides for us, it has historically, it has traditionally and it always will. Whether or not the federal government chooses to recognize that is a different story.”

Robert Kentta, Cultural Resources Director for the Siletz Tribe. He stands with maps and artifacts that are part of the tribe's collection.
Credit Brian Bull

For Robert Kentta the Cultural Resource Director for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, he said language revitalization is key after federal policies banned traditional practices.

KENTTA: “All of those things that broke up tribal community ties and connections to culture and to the landscape that their ancestors had lived on and managed for thousands of years, that’s, that’s our goal.”

Leilani Sabzalian, is an Alutiq Alaska Native Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon... and she agrees with Kentta.

SABZALIAN: “I just feel like Native people have been assaulted in so many ways. Our languages, our lands, our families, our educational systems.”

Sabzalian said her role as an educator is to reaffirm a sense of belonging for kids.

SABZALIAN: “We work with native youth who will say things like, well I’m not native but my grandma is. Right, alienated from their sense of selves and so part of our work is to say you are native and what your grandma teaches you is important and to get kids wanting to learn languages.”

Education is also a passion for Brenda Brainard, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. She’s program director for the 4J Districts NATIVE's Program. She said the Urban Native population is diverse so she focuses on things like a totem pole project where all Native students can participate and belong.

Youth in the 4J School District carve totem poles as part of a project for the NATIVES program.
Credit Brian Bull

BRAINARD: “That when they now walk through this community they can see totem poles that they’ve prayed over and sang over and wept over for how they’ve been previously treated and the way they’ve been rehabilitated.”

The community conversation also included dialogue about the need for balanced media representation that highlights success. Again Sara Thompson:

THOMPSON: “We have tribal members that are lawyers, we have tribal members that are doctors. We have tribal members that work in every aspect of society. Let us celebrate that.”

Those successes, though, should include recognition of historical trauma Brainard said.

BRAINARD: “I think that we have to be very careful to make sure that we don’t overlook the historical items that caused us to be who we are today. Some of the baggage that we carry we simply cannot unpack in 1 or 2 generations”

There are 2 features left in the series Boarders, Migration, and Belonging: Native Voices. Support for the series comes from the University of Oregon’s Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics.

The full panel discussion can be found here.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Brenda Brainard's tribal affiliation. Brainard is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.