Tribal members reflect on Native American Heritage Month

As we observe Native American Heritage Month, tribal members are encouraging those in Western Oregon to learn about the issues their community still faces and the contributions made throughout history.

Posted: Nov 5, 2021 6:45 PM
Updated: Nov 5, 2021 6:47 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- November is Native American Heritage Month, and indigenous community members are celebrating and reflecting.

"It falls within Thanksgiving, which is also a reminder of what happened," said Chief Jason Younker of the Coquille Indian Tribe. "It was a gift giving and savings meal and celebration, and what followed was a horrible, genocidal, ugly part of our history."

Younker said Native American Heritage Month is about recognizing some of the tragic parts of history and seeing how parts of history impact their lives today.

Oregon State University professor and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde member David Lewis said there's systemic issues within their community.

"There's this idea in U.S. society that if you work hard, you'll make it somehow," Lewis said. "We've had generations of Native Americans who've worked and worked and have had almost nothing to show for it. We never had opportunity to own land for more than a century or have any kind of long-term generational wealth in history."

They said some issues being highlighted and given national attention to are problems they face on a daily basis.

"Some of the issues we face every single day, every once in a while they pop up as some huge issue," Younker said. "Missing and murdered women has been happening for a long, long time. It was a blip. The things that happened in South Dakota, it was a blip. And if you look back at our history, all of these things have been happening continually."

RELATED: DAUGHTER OF MISSING INDIGENOUS PERSON IN OREGON SPEAKS OUT

An Oregon State Police report from 2020 highlights the problem of missing and murdered indigenous people in the state. It finds 13 missing women were Native American, many under the age of 18 years old. In addition, there were 22 missing women listed as "unknown race" who could be Native American.

The report also concludes that the actual number of missing indigenous women may be greater based on current data.

Recent national attention on the disappearance of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie had many questioning why missing and murdered indigenous people aren't given the same attention.

MORE: A TIMELINE OF 22-YEAR-OLD GABBY PETITO'S CASE

"There was a national manhunt to find where she went, where he went," said Lewis. "It was all over the news and we never hear anything like that about our people."

This month, tribal members are encouraging everyone to learn about Native American history.

"I want to invite people to learn about tribal nations, wonderful histories, languages, cultures," said UO Indigenous Studies professor Michelle Jacob.

They hope their issues come to light.

"A lot of people criticize us and say these are issues of the past, you have to get over it," Lewis said. "But what I'm trying to say is we're still living through what I like to call the post-apocalyptic period."

The Museum of Natural and Cultural History located at the University of Oregon is celebrating Native American Heritage Month and is inviting guests to come in and learn.

"Tribal members and Native Americans are still here," said the museum's education coordinator Robyn Anderson. "They are still a part of our community and they are a vibrant part of our community."

Tribal members said to look around in the community to see a piece of history.

"I would challenge everybody to see the Willamette Valley as a place that was tremendously cared for by the Kalapuya," said Younker. "The Willamette River was the life blood of the area."

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