By Nikki Silvestrini
In late September, a flag raising ceremony at the EMU amphitheater saw the flags of Oregon’s Nine Confederated Tribes go up. I sat down with Gordon Bettles, the Many Nations Longhouse Steward, to follow-up on the project. The flag raising was a student driven project that started two and half years ago when Famery Yang, Orion Falvey, Hannah Mixon-Gilliam, Michael Johnson, Tucker Lokendah and Tetsuya Mishagwho – students at the Lundquist College of Business – came together to increase tribal visibility on the UO campus. This student group collaborated with the Many Nations Longhouse, the Native American Student Union, and the Native American Law School Student Association to make the project a reality. Student leaders Falvey and Mixon-Gilliam stayed with the project from beginning to end. Despite some struggles with time constraints and bureaucratic regulations the students involved have left something lasting. Bettles says, “The Native American students that have gone and seen them or participated are very empowered to see a Native American presence on campus.”
What was Bettles’ favorite part? “Seeing my flag go up…. on equal footing with the other tribes…. No other people in the state of Oregon have the status that we do as Oregon’s first inhabitants and that sets us apart and makes us unique but it also shows that no matter is thrown at us we have the will to survive as a people.”
It is Gordon’s hope that UO will inspire other universities across the nation to represent their local tribes. “Being first in the Pac-12 means a lot. We should worry about our own neighborhoods first…. Let’s influence them and see what their response is going to be,” says Bettles. It might not look the same in each state. Bettles acknowledges that not every campus has a central location like the EMU to display tribal flags like, but the recognition of tribal nations is a step in the right direction.
The flags that now fly over the EMU will be part of an ongoing project. Some of the current flags that fly above the EMU are indoor flags and are waiting to be replaced with sturdier outdoor flags. “That’s called learning by doing and that’s further strengthens our relationships with the tribes because we had to get permission from them to order their own flags. The project is by no means finished and nor will it ever be.” Bettles hopes that with the funding they raised for the project there will be enough left over to place a kiosk in the UO Fishbowl detailing the project and each tribe’s history.
Ultimately, the collaborative effort of the students involved in the flag-raising project has created a legacy. Bettles said “I can see the residual effects it’s going to have on the students over a long period of time and hopefully every one of them will get a chance to slow down, take a look up, see the flags, and look at the base and start becoming interested in Oregon’s first inhabitants.”