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Tamástslikt–the paper

(By popular demand-ha! here is the full text of the paper I presented at the International Studies Association National Conference in New Orleans last February. The response I received then, both from Native and non-Native academics, encouraged me to return to the Umatilla Reservation, where I am conducting interviews now. I post it to provide background and answer questions about why I’m here. Thank you everyone for your interest. All comments and suggestions are most welcome, as this remains, of course, a work-in-progress.)


(to interpret, turn over, or turn around in the Walla Walla dialect):

The interpretation, turning over and turning around

of a Native community

By Anne de Graaf*

Amsterdam University College, University of Amsterdam


The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) consists of three tribes, the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla, located in northeastern Oregon. With a 10,000-year history, they view the past 180 years as a season to survive. According to their culture, the land and the people, both Native and non-Indian, make up the homeland, or regional world. The CTUIR exercises a unique pattern of governance that rejects an identity of victimization, and embraces “cooperation over confrontation.” Although they acknowledge that three generations of children were systematically humiliated and taken out of the community and forced into boarding schools, and despite a long list of land betrayals, the CTUIR has chosen what they call, a “path of survival.” Admitting that “past history is living history,” and encouraging creativity, they engineer projects crafted and implemented by local citizens, aimed at fostering understanding. Examples include innovative education policies such as a local school where children learn the tribes’ dialects and customs, earmarking profits from the reservation casino for scholarship funds and (re-)acquisition of tribal lands, salmon restoration in local rivers, and job creation. Their model for peacebuilding utilizes voice, agency, and youth and sees growing understanding as key to conflict resolution.


The list of 566 federally-recognized Tribes within the United Sates includes the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla (CTUIR). Among the U.S. government and the 566 tribes there runs a tangled web of laws, treaties, court cases and appeals, in an attempt to establish human security, sovereignty and justice. National statistics on the Native American population reveal shocking statistics, such as 27 per cent living in poverty, the highest rate for any racial group in the country, and nearly double the national average (United States Census Bureau, 2013). Tribal communities undergo much higher rates of violent crime and domestic violence than the national averages (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011). In addition, the suicide rate of young people is 2.5 times higher among Native youth than non-Indian youth (Executive Office of the President, 2014), and Native communities seem plagued by high levels of alcoholism and substance abuse. After generations of living in such discouraging conditions, most reservations seem steeped in disheartening despair, and surrounded by local prejudice.

The CTUIR is located in northeastern Oregon. With a 10,000-year history, they view the past 180 years as a season to survive. According to their culture, the land and the people, both Native and non-Indian, make up the homeland, or regional world. The CTUIR exercises a unique pattern of governance that rejects an identity of victimization, and embraces “cooperation over confrontation.” Although they acknowledge that three generations of children were systematically humiliated and taken out of the community and forced into boarding schools, and despite a long list of land betrayals, the CTUIR has chosen what they call, a “path of survival.” Admitting that “past history is living history,” and encouraging creativity, they engineer projects crafted and implemented by local citizens, aimed at fostering understanding. Examples include innovative education policies such as a local school where children learn the tribes’ dialects and customs, earmarking profits from the reservation casino for scholarship funds and (re-)acquisition of tribal lands, salmon restoration in local rivers, and job creation. Their model for peacebuilding utilizes voice, agency, and youth and sees growing understanding as key to conflict resolution.

Due to the space limitations of this paper, it will only summarize a wide variety of aspects pertaining to the CTUIR governance model. Further research is necessary in order to more thoroughly analyze the effects of this governance model, as well as its shortcomings. But in Indian Country, as the greater national Native community is referred to, the CTUIR stands out as an exception. This paper explores its governance model, in an attempt to provide a possible governance framework which might apply to other marginalized communities. It attempts to answer the question: How did the CTUIR set itself apart and develop such a different governance model, providing much more far-reaching support to its members, than other Native communities?

This exploration of CTUIR governance first paints the picture of modern-day Native communities in the U.S. by means of several statistics. The paper then provides a brief summary of the history of the Tribes, both before and after the Treaty signed in 1855, and the ramifications of the Treaty itself. An additional historical perspective is provided by means of Native oral histories of these periods. Voice, agency and youth are key concepts within the CTUIR framework. The paper then turns to a description of the CTUIR and its governance style and traditions. In this section an attempt is made to identify the turning point in governance style and the men and women responsible for this change in direction. Examples of CTUIR governance strategies illustrate this style, and include several programs for which the Tribes have received national attention. This is followed by an examination of how CTUIR governance specifically targets its youth, in terms of education, language, identity, and employment. This section ends with quotes by two young women, whose voices act as inspiration for the Tribes, and indeed, all of Indian Country. The paper concludes with statistics and observations which act as a counterweight to the positive results outlined previously, but calls for further research to establish additional contributing factors that might be avoided, in order for this governance model to serve as an example for other marginalized groups.



The Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla tribes are part of an Indian presence that has hunted, gathered, and fished in the Northwest of what is now the United States, for over 10,000 years (Zucker, Hummel, & Hogfoss, 1983). Their particular tribal characteristics have been shaped by living on the broad plateau near the Columbia River basin. These characteristics include no dominant food resources, low population density, long-distance seasonal movement, and travelling by canoe or on foot. In the mid-18th century they acquired horses and the Cayuse especially, became famous for their horse breeding and riding skills (Jersyk, 1998).

The first non-Indian contact occurred in 1805-1806 with the Lewis and Clark expedition, sent out by Thomas Jefferson. It would take another twenty years before pioneers began to penetrate the Oregon wilderness, and tribes there met and welcomed them, granting shelter and food to the often undernourished and exhausted families travelling the Oregon Trail. The legal history includes milestones in 1823, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that settlers “discovering” land had the right to take it from Indian tribes, who were considered to be nomads. In 1831 in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the Court changed its mind and stated that tribes are “domestic dependent nations,” yet still subordinate to the U.S. In 1842 only 150 settlers used the Oregon Trail. By 1847, this had increased to 5,000 (Jersyk, 1998). In 1848 the Oregon Territory was created. By 1850, there were over 10,000 settlers living in Oregon, and many felt there was not enough space (Beckham, 2007). So, in 1850, the Oregon Donation Land Act was passed and the U.S. government gave away 2.8 million acres of tribal lands to settlers. The Umatilla Reservation was established on June 9, 1855.

1855 Treaty

The 1855 Treaty between the U.S. government and the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla tribes marks a watershed moment at many levels, but especially in terms of land, and in terms of governance. Before 1855 their territory equaled 6.4 million acres. The reservation established in 1855 was only 245,699 acres. In 1887 the General Allotment Act/Dawes Act called for Tribes’ communal land to be divided into individual plots, which broke up the reservations. By 1979, the reservation had been reduced to 85,322 acres.

Non-Indian observers of the signing of the Treaty noted that thousands and thousands of horses grazed across the plateau. At that time it was common for a Cayuse to own 15-20 horses, with rich tribe members owning up to 2,000 horses (Jersyk, 1998).


From 1855-1956 a century of so-called civilization programs aimed to turn Indians into “sedentary, agricultural, English-speaking Christians” (Zucker et al., 1983). Children were forcibly sent to boarding schools as far away as Kansas and Pennsylvania, not to create future leaders, but to “westernize” them and make them forget their language and culture.

In the meantime epidemics of smallpox, influenza, measles, and venereal disease claimed the lives of 75 to 90 per cent of the tribal population (Zucker et al., 1983).

Native Americans fighting in WWI led to their being granted U.S. citizenship in 1924 (Woody, 2007). A major turning point for the CTUIR included the completion of the Dalles Dam in 1957, and the consequent loss of their traditional salmon fishing location, Celilo Falls. More positive significant milestones include the openings of the Nicht-Yow-Way Community Center, and the Yellowhawk Clinic in 1973.

By the 1980s the U.S government recognized that Oregon tribes have sovereign rights. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) continues to be the main institute responsible for Indian affairs, although Congress has the final say.

Native history as portrayed in history books and articles like the ones quoted above, often omit the Native perspective itself. Traditionally this is part of an oral historic tradition and as such, does not lend itself to the written word. Nonetheless, it is certainly a valid perspective to be included, as it is the perspective of the people themselves about whom history is written. To include their voices is to avoid their being spoken on behalf of, and this engenders agency.

Voices of History

The Native perspective on history brings a third dimension to the events and dates mentioned above. Indian history is often passed down from generation to generation by means of storytelling. The CTUIR culture recognizes the importance of oral traditions. Individual voices are often the vehicles for passing on this history, and these echo through the years shaping both the present and the vision for the future, as well as reinforcing identity.

Examples of this include the telling of a grandmother’s story (Carrie Sampson)of being chained outside during the winter because she refused to give up her language at St. Andrews Catholic school (Karson, 2006).

Another example of how this other Native voice can shed light on history, is how the 1855 Treaty Council is portrayed among the Tribes. It is the CTUIR who point out that the U.S. government paid 3 cents for every acre of Native land during the 1855 treaty (Wroble, 1998). According to Tribal history, the 36 chiefs and headmen of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes who put their “X” mark on the Treaty of 1855 are regarded as wise ancestors who showed the foresight to lead their peoples onto a path of survival. The words of Governor Stevens are repeated, when he told the interpreters to tell the chiefs that “if they don’t sign this treaty they will walk in blood knee deep” (Karson, 2006). The tribal leaders during the Treaty-signing event put on record how important the land is and how the children are their main consideration, while nearly 5,000 people witnessed the event, which lasted 13 days. Another part of the treaty these tribal leaders insisted on includes the U.S. government’s pledge to protect the Tribes’ rights to survive by means of hunting, gathering and fishing. In this way the Treaty that appeared to take away the Tribes’ rights and lands, actually became the means by which they could claim rights back, once the political climate had shifted. The Treaty is now something the CTUIR see as a gift from their ancestors, and a roadmap for their children.

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR): Walla Walla, Cayuse and Umatilla Native peoples

Today there are over 2,900 enrolled members of the CTUIR, about half of whom live on the reservation in northeastern Oregon, near Pendleton. The 1855 Treaty and its guarantees make up a central part of the motivation and vision behind the CTUIR, as the Tribes are determined to press the U.S. to honor the Treaty. The governance style of the CTUIR reflects this priority in unique ways, and how this shift away from more common Native governance styles occurred can be uncovered in its history.

In 1934 the Collier Act gave U.S. tribes a choice of governance form. Three were offered, including a business council, or traditional governments. The latter was adopted, for example, by many tribes in the Southwest, in New Mexico and Arizona. The CTUIR chose to reject all these models and have a constitution instead (Karson, 2006).

When I explored how the unique governance style of the CTUIR came into being, I discovered that voices held the key, even more so than articles or books. One example is during an interview with Chuck Sams, III, head of communications and director of legislative affairs for the CTUIR. His voice took on a deeper timbre as his words echoed a cadence I surmised he had heard many times before. He told me how the big turning point for the Tribes’ governance style occurred just after WWII. At that point, Native men and women who had served overseas in the military returned to the reservation. “In Europe they saw something they wanted” (personal communication, 2015). There was a great deal of discussion between 1934-1949 about the government style the Tribes were considering. In 1949 they voted and passed by only seven votes, the motion to create a constitution. “That way we could fight the U.S. on equal ground, as a democracy with a constitution” (personal communication with Chuck Sams, III, 2015).

The generation that fought in WWII was the “bridging” generation (Karson, 2003), between the old life and the new. Maudie C. Antoine, Chairwoman, Board of Trustees, or leader of the Tribes, (and first woman to hold that position among the northwestern Native Americans) outlined this vision in her speech at the 1855 Treaty Centennial observance in Walla Walla, Washington, June 11, 1955. She said their role was to end

the 150-year long nightmare. . . . The past shadows every act and thought for my people today; it circumscribes our dreams and, to a large degree, has limited our future. Thus today for us, past history is living history. These truths have been handed down to us over the generations, not to create hatred but understanding and the ability to enable us to meet with faith and courage our responsibilities in a time and age when we face confusing accusations of being the offspring of generations of savages. (Karson, pp. 91-92, 2003)

According to Sams, this governance style is rooted in the belief of individual sovereignty. “No Indian can tell another Indian what to do. The Creator gave us free will. How you conduct yourself is what you do with the gift of the Creator. Rights give you individual sovereignty.” Embedded in the Tribes’ belief system is the conviction that personal security means the ability to hunt, gather and fish. These rights were also embedded in the 1855 Treaty. Sams said, “It is not just about surviving, but about thriving. This is paramount in understanding the significance of the Treaty. Because of individual sovereignty, our ancestors kept repeating that they could not give away the right to hunt, fish, and gather—this was an individual right. It meant keeping the people alive” (personal communication, 2015).

From the WWII veterans to current tribal leaders, having key individuals as elders and members of other management bodies has impacted the CTUIR. When viewed as individuals, these men and women have helped plot the path of the Tribes, heading it in the direction of health and survival, due to a wide variety of programs.

Examples of CTUIR Governance Strategies

The post-war leaders of the Tribes often felt inundated with good ideas and new plans, but eventually, with the consensus of the community, clear priorities emerged: Land and Education.

In 1965 the CTUIR won a court case against the government in compensation for lost land. The $2 million awarded to the Tribes was dispersed among members in “per-capita” payments, and became the seed for what would later become $1 million in education funds. Tribal leadership would have preferred the money to be invested in projects, but members made clear their preference for individual cash payments (Karson, 2003). Many in leadership saw this as a missed opportunity. In later years the Tribes took measures to reinvest future windfalls. Presently the CTUIR has an important economic and political impact on the economy of northeastern Oregon (Tower, 1998).

A large percentage of the present profits made by the Tribes goes toward the (re)acquisition of land (Karson, 2006). After the economic crisis of 2008, many ranches neighboring the reservation foreclosed, enabling the CTUIR to acquire land that was previously part of its holdings before reservation lands were sold off after the 1855 Treaty was signed (personal communication with museum personnel, 2009). The “Buy-Back” scheme sponsored by the Obama administration in 2014 is another example of how the CTUIR has set land strategy at the core of its governance style. This program involves federal subsidies to assist the Tribes in buying back sections of land so that the Tribes become a collective owner. It counteracts to a small degree, the far-reaching effect of the “checkerboard” reservation, or small plots of land, which may or may not be connected, but make up the reservation piecemeal. In this way the CTUIR aims to increase its collective landholdings and hold it in trust for future generations.

In addition to increasing their landholdings, the Tribes have set a priority on environmental restoration. Traditionally, they are a river people, and salmon has always been a source of survival and trade for the Tribes. To restore the water and the salmon to the Umatilla river became a project referred to as the “River of Hope.”


The CTUIR views land as something that cares for them, and they care for the land. The right to fish is a right guaranteed by the 1855 Treaty. So tribal leaders and members agreed that fisheries policy should be a high priority. In 1980 they initiated the Umatilla Basin Salmon Recovery Project

to restore water and salmon to the Umatilla River. The challenge was to achieve this while also protecting the local non-Indian economy, which is dependent on irrigated agriculture. The core of this ecosystem-based restoration plan is an innovative water-swapping agreement in which local irrigators agreed to relinquish their claims to water from the Umatilla and instead receive water piped from the Columbia River in order to raise the Umatilla’s flow to a level sufficient to bring salmon back. (Record, 2008)

The fisheries policy exemplifies the Tribes’ approach of “cooperation over confrontation.” Antone Minthorn, Chairman of CTUIR’s Board of Trustees, or leader of the Tribes, said, “If we have to, we will litigate to protect our treaty-reserved rights, but we have seen that we can create solutions which meet everyone’s needs by sitting down with our neighbors, listening to each other, and developing our own solutions. … We believe the cooperative process between neighbors can be used as a model for success in the region and beyond” (Record, 2008).

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development listed the CTUIR as an Honoring Nation award winner for its Umatilla River Basin project (2014). The Harvard Project recognizes conditions when American Indian nations use applied research and service to achieve sustained, self-determined social and economic development. It recognizes outstanding examples of Tribal governance through the annual Honoring Nations Awards. When the CTUIR won this award in 2002 for its Salmon Recovery Project, it was just the first of several such awards. The other qualifying projects are outlined below, as further illustrations of the CTUIR governance model.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (2002) is another example of programs that integrated fisheries enforcement, policy development and litigation support, fish marketing, and watershed restoration.

Healing Lodge (2002)

The Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations (a cooperative effort with the Colville, Spokane, Kalispell, Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, and Nez Perce Tribes) is a treatment center that helps Native American youth and their families heal from substance abuse. The focus combines culture and spirituality with mental health/chemical dependency treatment. It includes family counseling and a juvenile justice improvement project, recreation, education, and cultural activities.

ONABEN’s Innovative Models for Enterprise Development (2005)

This consortium of Native nations in the Pacific Northwest aims to increase self-reliance by promoting the development of tribal-citizen-owned small businesses and the diversification of reservation economies. The programs provide financial counseling, business mentoring, start-up financing, links to tribal efforts, and access to a network of experienced teachers and business people: Native and non-Indian.

Financial, Credit and Consumer Protection Program (2006)

This CTUIR program recognizes the links between promoting a strong economy, maintaining positive cultural connections and the ability to own a home. Information covered includes generating awareness about predatory lending practices, and developing financial literacy skills, and generally bringing the dream of homeownership closer to reality. It is recognized that as members build and own homes on tribal land, the community and the Tribes are strengthened.

Public Transit (2010)

In the last decades the CTUIR became one of the larges employers in eastern Oregon. This caused many tribal members to return to the reservation. Nonetheless, a lack of transportation options often prevented them from availing themselves of local employment opportunities. The present Transit program includes a free bus and a taxi voucher service, covering a large service area both within and beyond reservation boundaries, and is interconnected with other non-tribal regional transport systems. This transit system has helped alleviate poverty, promote stronger inter-governmental relations, and facilitated community engagement (Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, 2014).

Cultural Resources Protection Program (2003)

The aim of this CTUIR initiative is to educate non-Indian agencies about pertinent laws and treaties with regard to tribal, federal, state, and private lands. In this way they strengthen cultural resource laws and policies, craft government-to-government relationships, train other tribes, and incorporate Native knowledge into a field historically dominated by non-Indians.

Archeology policy

In addition to the projects outlined above, the CTUIR has asserted its sovereignty in the field of archeological remains. When a 9,000-year-old skeleton was found in neighboring eastern Washington State in 1992, the CTUIR and other local tribes protested when scientists took the bones to perform research on the extremely rare, largely intact skeleton. Native groups claimed they had the right to their ancestors’ remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The scientists sued and won the case in 2004. Rather than pursue the issue further in courts with an appeal, the Tribes decided instead to try to change the system from within through fostering a growing understanding. By means of the above-mentioned Cultural Resources Protection Program, they now do this by fighting artifact trafficking and burial desecration. “The CTUIR have and will continue to demonstrate that American archaeology is better served when there is a relationship between the non-Indian archaeological community and Indian people, tribes, and bands – the only legitimate and true owners of native cultural resources” (Preston, 2014, p. 51).

In Burney (2002) tribal leaders are quoted as saying that they have been prevented from handling their cultural resources because they are not certified, and are not considered experts. In answer to those charges, the CTUIR spent 1986-1992 developing a tribally owned and managed contract archaeology program. Though some non-Indian archaeologists view this as a threat to a discipline previously dominated by non-Indians, the Tribes say they see this as an opportunity to realize a vision, a vision of respect for all parties involved.

The CTUIR says this raising awareness is a form of reaching out to help allies build up resources and strengths through training and workshops. Tribal leader at the time, Armand Minthorn, stated, “The CTUIR eventually lost the case, and the Kennewick Man was subjected to scientific research. Instead, CTUIR decided to focus on improving NAGPRA legislation (Minthorn, n.d.).


The Tribes continue to assert their sovereignty at as many levels as possible. For example, the updated Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will officially take effect in early 2015, but in 2014, the Umatilla Tribe was elected to become part of a pilot project that will enable the Tribes to enforce this law sooner. This means that non-indigenous men who assault Native American women can now be persecuted by the CTUIR itself, whereas previously this was impossible (United States Department of Justice, 2014).


Within the Native American population, 39 percent are aged 24 and under. According to the 2014 Native Youth Report, researched and published by the Executive Office of the President in December, 2014, more than a third of all Native American and Native Alaskan children live in poverty. In addition, the high school graduation rate is well below the national average. And perhaps most disturbing of all: the suicide rate is 2.5 times as high as for other youths aged 15-24.


Education policy is an extremely sensitive and complex issue within Native communities.

Past efforts to meet trust obligations often have led to problematic results, even when intentions were good. Education was at the center of many harmful policies because of its nexus with social and cultural knowledge. Education was—and remains—a critical vehicle for impacting the lives of Native youth for better or worse

The hallmarks of colonial experiments in Indian education were religious indoctrination, cultural intolerance, and the wholesale removal of Native children from their languages, religions, cultures, families, and communities. The overlapping goals of this “education” and “civilization” operated as euphemisms and justifications for taking culturally and physically injurious actions against Native children and their peoples. (Executive Office of the President, pp. 4, 7, 2014).

This history of Native education policy started with words like the infamous ones of Captain Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, founded in 1879. He said, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” However, in 1923, John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, said, “The administration of Indian affairs [is] a disgrace – a policy designed to rob Indians of their property, destroy their culture [,] and eventually exterminate them.” The year 1969 saw the establishment of the Subcommittee on Indian Education, and the subsequent Kennedy Report, “Indian Education: A National Tragedy, a National Challenge.” Important changes in the law occurred in 1972 with the Indian Education Act; in 1975 with the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act; in 1978 with the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act; and in 1988 with the Tribally Controlled Schools Act (Executive Office of the President, pp. 8, 10-12, 2014).

Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, said in 2000,

This agency [the BIA] forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were. Worst of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed these acts against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually.

The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next, and manifests itself in the rampant alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence that plague Indian country. (Executive Office of the President, p. 13, 2014)

As a result of all the above, only 13 per cent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives have a bachelor’s degree, whereas the national average is 29 per cent. Only 39 per cent of Native students who start a bachelor’s degree complete it, compared with 62 per cent of non-Indian students.

According to the 2014 Native Youth Report, causes include:

  1. Lack of tribal involvement/control over native education

  2. Lack of support for poor Native American students

  3. Lack of good teachers (wages too low, rural setting)

  4. Lack of native languages and culture in schools (only 38 of 187 native languages in US/Canada are currently being taught to children)

  5. Insufficient funding

  6. Child poverty at 34 per cent, compared with 21 per cent nationally

  7. Lower wages, employment levels than other groups

  8. Obesity (40% of 2-4 year olds) and diabetes

  9. Substance abuse among adolescents (alcohol, drugs)

The President’s Report made the following recommendations for change:

  1. More tribal control over education (also beneficial for incorporating language/cultural education, adapting the curriculum to local needs)

  2. BIE Blueprint for Reform: transfer control over education from Bureau of Indian Affairs to tribal governments

  3. State Tribal Education Partnership (STEP) grant program

  4. Community based student supporters

  5. More native languages and culture in the classroom

  6. Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Native Languages between various federal agencies

  7. Native American Languages Summit; Working Together for Native American Language Success – June 2014

  8. Support for teachers and school leaders (to address current shortage)

  9. Implement 21st century technology (internet is very slow in many BIA schools)

  10. Suicide prevention

  11. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Tribal Behavioral Health Grant (TBHG/Native Connections)

  12. Address behavioral health issues

As a sign of the commitment on behalf of the Executive branch of the federal government, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, states in the 2014 Native Youth Report, “The future of Indian Country rests on ensuring American Indian children receive a world-class education that honors their cultures, languages and identities as Indian people.”

I have included this extensive list as a means of highlighting how CTUIR governance has already been aware of these issues and working on similar solutions. In this way the 2014 Native Youth Report serves as a checklist for the CTUIR, affirming the direction of its programs. On their website the following categories can be found under Education:

  1. Adult Basic Education

  2. After School Education Program

  3. Day care Program (Ataw Miyanasma)

  4. Head Start

  5. Higher Education & Adult Vocational Training

  6. Language Program

  7. Nixyaawii Community School

  8. Summer school.

Before the Report was even issued, the CTUIR had targeted many of these areas as ones in need of time, energy, and investment. Their governance model also includes the need for language education, as this reinforces a sense of positive identity.


The Nixyaawii Community school offers language immersion programs, with the aim of contributing towards revitalization of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Weyíiletpuu (Cayuse) languages. The program is designed to “retrieve, preserve, invigorate and teach the three dialects to tribal members and wholeheartedly involve all fluent language speakers to their full capacity” (, 2015).

Currently, the Language Program offers a language immersion program for children aged 3 to 5, who spend four hours a day in the program. There are also adult classes offered for Tribal members to learn from fluent speakers. An annual Language Knowledge Bowl brings students together from the Warm Springs, Yakama, Lapwai, Kamiah, Goldendale, and Pendleton areas to compete in the annual event. The competition is composed of a large vocabulary list where student are required to translate verbs, nouns, adjectives, animals, plants and phrases in to their respective languages they are studying. In the past this event has attracted over 80 participants and 200 observers (, 2014). CTUIR sees language as a tool for renewal.

Language for the people of Nixyáawii, the place of many springs, is a way of life and being. Within the phrases and words of our language is the history of our people and the strength and emotion of our tribal community.

By tapping into the knowledge of our fluent speakers, we are working to recapture our language for the benefit of generations to come. Our Language Program is dedicated to recording fluent speakers, archiving language material, making language accessible for all tribal members and teaching the languages of Umatilla, Walla Walla and Weyíiletpuu (Cayuse) to all ages. (, 2015)

In addition, there is an Umatilla Dictionary, published in November, 2014. According to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Umatilla has 100 speakers and is “severely endangered.” Today, speakers of all levels speak Umatilla and Walla Walla. The Umatilla language is the southern Sahaptin dialect and the Walla Walla is the northeast dialect of Sahaptin. Weyíiletpuu is a dialect of the Nez Perce language as used by the Cayuse people. A distinctive dialect of the Cayuse people has not been used since the 1940s and is designated as extinct (, 2015).

According to the Tribes’ mission statement: “The CTUIR Language Program will work towards revitalization of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Weyíiletpuu languages.  And will preserve, retrieve, document, teach and increase or restore language usage to tribal English-first speakers and beginner native language speakers and wholeheartedly involve all fluent speakers to their full capacity” (, 2015).

The establishment of language education has strong ties with confirming a positive image of Native peoples, linking back to an affirming sense of identity. Giving young people, especially, something more than alcohol and drugs to relate to, in terms of identity, helps them reinvent their identity, or rediscover it, as in the case of the CTUIR.


The Tamástslikt center on the Umatilla Reservation is off of Exit 216 on Interstate 84, the connection with Pendleton. The center took 10 years to build and cost $18 million (Egan, 1998). Tamástslikt is a means of attracting tourists and increasing understanding about the Tribes’ perspective on history. The location is key because it is part of the old Oregon Trail that pioneers traversed in the 1880s.

As an example of the innovative way in which the CTUIR places itself in the tourist market, in 1998, they sent a delegation to Berlin’s biggest tourism trade show in the world. They handed out posters of a Cayuse Indian leader in a buffalo headdress with the slogan Nicht Ihr Durchschnittlicher Reisefuhrer or “Not Your Average Tour Guide.” The Tribes strive to be perceived as a “dynamic, evolving, healthy people. That’s not exactly what people expect to see when they visit a reservation” (Conner, quoted in Egan, 1998).

The center plays a key role in confirming a positive identity among all members of the Tribes, but especially the young people. According to tribal elder Les Minthorn, “Tamástslikt is a source of strength and a repository for all tribal members.” Here, the stereotypical and prejudiced scripts of Indians as nothing but drunks and drug addicts is countered with a narrative of strength and wisdom.

According to Thomas Morning Owl, a modern-day tribal member, “Children today don’t understand who they are. . . . They begin to accept and follow other ways, they shrug their shoulders when they are told what it means to be native, a person of the land. To be Indian is to be a person who is independent, who is worthy, who is disciplined in life and respectful of things around you – elders, home life, education. Too many of us fit the stereotype that fails and blames everybody else for our own actions.” To belong to the “Rez” means not daring to get off it because expectations are so low, they guarantee no failure (Phinney, 2007).

By providing an alternative script for the young people of the CTUIR, the community opens up a new, or renewed sense of who they were and who they are, as well as who they may become. This is, in fact, how the Tamástslikt cultural institute is structured. Visitors see exhibitions about the past, learn about the present, and share a dream of the future. Part of this future will be a continued renewal of water resources. As explained at the cultural center, the Walla Walla tribe’s own name is wánapam, which means “people of the river.” The Umatilla river project is called the “River of Hope” by the Tribes, because of its success in bringing back the salmon after 70 years of extinction. There is hope that the subsequent Walla Walla basin project may succeed in the same way in future years.

To be a people of the river, means that the metaphors of running deep, and the river of life, and peace as a river, all resonate among members of the Tribes. Members say it gives them a sense of being rooted in the land and having the support of not just their present community, but past tribal members as well. The leaders who fought in WWII are quoted as having handed down a work ethic to the Tribes, which has meant that providing jobs and training, especially among young people, is another top priority demonstrated by CTUIR tribal governance policies.


Across the street from the cultural center stands the Wildhorse Casino, which opened in 1994. Fifteen per cent of its revenues are paid to reservation residents in so-called “per-capita payments.” In 2006 these payments totaled $1400 per tribe member (Phinney, 2007). In addition, Cayuse Technologies, an outsourcing business, is located in the Coyote Business Park. Other enterprises owned by the Tribes include Arrowhead Travel Plaza—a truck stop; the Mission Market—a convenience store; and the grain elevator. The CTUIR is the second most important employer in Umatilla county, after the State of Oregon.

The presence as a major employer ensures that the CTUIR is taken seriously by political and economic leaders in Oregon. Keeping its members employed contrasts with the generalizations and prejudice usually associated with Native communities. Young people say they find inspiration and role models among themselves. What follows are two examples of youth voices that have inspired not just the CTUIR community, but all of Indian Country, as the Native community on a national basis is referred to.

Voices of the Present

An article in USA Today on 10 December 2014 quoted a CTUIR member, Denise Wickert. She attended the Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C., which marked the release of the 2014 Native youth Report, commissioned by President Obama. Wickert is 26 and admits in the article to underage drinking and barely graduating from high school. While attending high school off the reservation she was stigmatized. “Being native, I was labeled a gangster. We were automatically seen as troubled youth.” Wickert took part in an Upward Bound program at the University of Colorado, then continued her studies while living on the reservation. There, she started a tribal youth council in 2012 with a $5,000 grant. She says her motivation was to provide other Native youth with a program supporting leadership goals. Wickert says she now celebrates sobriety, is taking online courses for a bachelor’s degree in social welfare, and she helps Native youth with college preparation. She admits that the statistics are against Native people, and she works full time in the drug, alcohol and suicide prevention programs at the CTUIR Yellowhawk health center.

Another inspiration for young people at CTUIR is the basketball player, Shoni Schimmel. She grew up on the reservation, but went to high school in Portland, where her mother got a job coaching the women’s team. She and her sister Jude both helped bring their school into victory after victory. Shoni then earned a scholarship at University of Louisville, where she was voted most-valuable player and again assisted in Louisville’s epic run throughout the NCAA tournament. Now as a player in the professional team, Atlanta Dream, Schimmel has had a film made about her, called Off the Rez. She is responsible for bringing huge crowds to women’s basketball games around the country. When asked about her rough style of playing, Schimmel said, “Rez Ball. It’s run and gun, shoot whenever you’re open, trust in your heart” (NY Times, 2013). Her older brother Shae says she played basketball with him and other boys on the reservation. “She used to humiliate guys,” he said. Schimmel describes her style of leadership as “stronger, tougher, wiser” (Schimmel, 2015). Her aunt, Michelle Moses, says of Schimmel, “She can be an inspiration, she can be a motivation. She can be a voice” (Schnell, 2010).


Despite the optimistic strategies and programs put in place by CTUIR leadership, when viewed as a group, troubling recent statistics point to results that might belie the pro-active governance style. Whereas the relative wealth of the tribe has increased over the years due to these programs, a new study (Guedel, 2014), the reliability of which is under question, reveals that the poverty level has increased. Tribal gaming revenue nationally yielded $28 billion in 2013, roughly the same since 2008, but up from $6.3 billion in 1996, when tribes across the country began using the loophole in federal laws to establish casinos on reservations. Tribal governments throughout the U.S. use these funds as a sovereign resource and utilize them for economic and human security development programs. In 2000, the percentage of CTUIR members living at or below the poverty level was 17.2, or 279 of the 1562 total members. In 2010, however, the poverty percentage had risen to 23.2 percent. Tribal members receive per-capita payments based on the casino profits, and these are often viewed as a form of collective support. Tribes that do not pay their members in this way, also do not show the increase in poverty levels (Guedel, 2014). The study itself, and the policy both are controversial, and other contributing factors to the increase in poverty need to be identified. In the CTUIR’s case, this increase reflects 94 more people living in poverty among the 2010 population of 1605, compared to a total 2000 population of 1562.

Future research could include further investigation into why there is such a disconnect between the rhetoric of CTUIR success, and the alleged reality of increased poverty levels.

However, the governance style of the CTUIR, with its emphasis on earmarking profits for scholarship funds, acquisition of tribal lands, job creation, and environmental restoration, provides a possible blueprint for other marginalized groups wishing to increase their voice and agency.

There is a legend among several Native American tribes that the sacrifices made in the last 180 years would be redeemed in the seventh generation. Modern environmentalists sometimes use this phrase, seventh generation, to refer to the need for forward-thinking and visionary environmental policies. But the Native seventh-generation prophecy, as it is sometimes referred to, is not about environmental policy. It is about hope. This governance model practiced by the CTUIR recreates an identity, rooted in youth role models, language, and tradition, while looking to the future, beyond even the seventh generation. In doing so, it gives hope to all communities battling to escape a legacy of despair and injustice.


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* Many thanks to my Research Assistant Amanda Geenen for her tireless work. I am grateful to Professor Ali Watson, and to Bennett Collins, both of whom encouraged me in this research.

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