“We did not come here from some other country like the white men did. We have always been here. Nature placed us in our lands.”
— Yellow Wolf, Nez Perce
The original people of North America are known to have been here for the past 19,000 years or more. Their presence in Oregon dates back to at least 11,000 years ago. They witnessed the last great Ice Age and its eventual melting out over this land. Considering that white Europeans have only been in North America for about the past 450 or so years, “have always been here” is a pretty good claim. For thousands of years the Indians lived on this land with a very light footprint.
After the end of the Civil War and into the early 1900s, Indians in the west, including here in Oregon, were marched around and moved off of the land they had lived on forever. With an apparently indifferent Congress (and under the guise of the doctrine of ‘manifest destiny’) white settlers, with the assistance of a post-Civil War U.S. Army with little else to do, gradually took their land from them. Land had become property and the concept of ownership was forced upon the Indians.
Today, despite the struggles of a pandemic, there is reason to celebrate. The Nez Perce Tribe is buying back property in northeast Oregon that they had been forced off of over 100 years ago. And notably, Native American Deb Haaland of New Mexico has been confirmed and appointed as Secretary of the Department of Interior. Also notably, Oregon’s own Charles “Chuck” Sams III of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indians has been confirmed and appointed as Director of our National Parks System. And the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation are assuming management and operation of the National Bison Range in s Montana. Locally our Confederated Siletz Indian Tribe has plans for a brand new service station and store at Keizer Station. They also have a casino in the planning stages.
There are Indian members of Congress. Hopefully their ranks in Congress will grow. After all, who better to manage and oversee our land and resources than the people who have always had a spiritual connection with the soil, the air, the water, the plants and the animals. We all remember with respect and admiration the great Indian chiefs who led their people with care, fearlessness, and skill. They were focused on holding on to places where they could live, protect their culture, their elderly and most of all, securing a good future for their children. Maybe one day one of these chiefs will become ‘chief executive’ (president that is) of our nation and country. It is their time.
(Jim Parr lives in Keizer.)