Upon returning to work after attending the Middle Oregon Treaty of 1855 Conference, I am newly aware that I am returning to America after visiting the Warm Springs Nation; a sovereign nation that pre-existed the establishment of the United States, with inherent rights to their lands – including access to millions of acres ceded to the US through the Treaty for usual and customary practices like hunting and gathering. These rights are not only acknowledged, but protected by the Treaty, a nation-to-nation agreement with the same legally and ethically binding strength and significance as other international treaties.
The original document resides in a climate-controlled vault in the National Archives in Washington DC, however it is temporarily on display at the Museum at Warm Springs through Nov 3, 2018. This unique access to the Treaty parallels the Museum’s celebration of its 25th Anniversary, and spurred tribal leadership to coordinate the Treaty Conference from Oct 25-27. Many Native and non-native allies came together to better understand the historical context that established the Treaty; to reflect on the renewed growth and development of tribal governance despite the overwhelming loss of language, cultural practices, lands and people; and to imagine and plan for a future beyond indigenous survival, to one of thriving.
Warm Springs Tribal Council member, Valerie Switzler (Director of Cultural and Heritage Language Programs), invited Oregon Folklife Network to interview participants and document their reflections and reactions. Of high importance to her was engaging tribal youth in the process. OFN was honored by the invitation and donated our time in sponsorship of the event. With the help of superintendent Ken Parshall, we reached out to OFN’s Fieldschool alumni, and Warm Springs sophomores Dylan Heath, Taya Holiday, and Kathryce Danuka attended on Friday and took leadership roles in running the video camera, asking thoughtful questions, and ensuring that release forms were returned. They showed great respect and professionalism, though I was delighted to see them relax into some light-hearted teenager fun after their work was through.
With their help, OFN gathered interviews spanning a variety of perspectives, from NARF lawyer (and former UO Duck) Charles Wilkinson, to elder and language teacher Arlita Rhoan. The multi-talented incoming Executive Director of the Museum at Warm Springs (and former Poet Laureate) Elizabeth Woody expertly coordinated this important event, and graciously provided her reflections for this record, all of which is going back to the Tribal Archives. The thoughts they all shared co-mingle with my own reflections, even as the days between me and the event grow. I yearn for more time to steep in my feelings and better understand and act on my sense of urgency to respond. But I am back in America now. Although their prayer songs fade in my ears, the people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and those from the 500+ sovereign nations who uphold their agreement to permit US activities on lands that have been theirs since time immemorial, sing often and sing strong.
A trip to the Museum today will offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity to view six original pages of the handwritten 1855 Treaty, and the lifelong gift of a deeper understanding of an historical agreement between nations that continues to be of great significance today and always.