The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde of Oregon comprise several Native American groups from northern California and western Oregon. Among them are the Calapooia, Chinookan Clackamas, Mollallas, Rogue River, Shasta, Umpqua and affiliated bands. Representative languages are Chinuk and Wawa.
A brief history
Thousands of years ago, approximately 100 clans of Native Americans resided in the region that is today's Oregon. Their diet was rich with fish, game and plant derivatives. They augmented their diet by trading with other tribes.
By the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, European explorers and fur traders were appearing in the Northwest. In the late 1700s, crews of Spanish galleons touched the shores of Oregon and in 1811, the first European was seen in northwest Oregon. Fur traders were followed by missionaries and settlers. In 1830, an epidemic fever caused the deaths of numerous indigenous people who had no immunity to the white-induced disease. Other epidemics would follow.
Between 1840 and 1850, major immigration to Oregon began along the Oregon Trail, with more than 53,000 people making the arduous trip. Their disregard of the land and cavalier killing of wildlife deeply offended the Indians, and stiff resistance erupted.
The Donation Land Act was passed in 1850, which offered free land to settlers to start up farms in Oregon. By the mid 1850s, large numbers of settlers had entered the Willamette Valley and gobbled up much of the best acreage, but motivation to drive the natives from their lands merely increased. By 1855, some whites were overtly pressing to kill off the Indians. Treaties were inked that induced natives to relinquish large tracts of land in exchange for being left alone on reserved territories, thereby legally allowing further white settlement.
The Grand Ronde Reservation was established by treaty in 1854 and 1855, followed by an Executive Order of President James Buchanan on June 30, 1857. The reservation, located at the headwaters of the South Yamhill River on the eastern side of the coastal range, comprised 69,000 acres. Commencing in 1856, U.S. government soldiers forcibly extracted at least 20 Indian bands from their ancestral territories, then moved them onto the reservation. The move was another Trail of Tears in Native American history.
In 1887, the congressional General Allotment Act became law, which specified that 270 allotments totaling a little more than 33,000 acres of the Grand Ronde Reservation were to be granted to Indian individuals. The purpose of the Act was to induce the natives to become tillers of their plots. However, an additional result was the loss of significant unalloted tracts to non-Indian interests. The shrinkage of the reservation had begun.
At the turn of the 20th century, those unalloted Grand Ronde lands came under the hungry gaze of non-natives who especially coveted timbered and grazing areas. In 1901, negotiations with the natives were completed for the sale of a 25,791-acre tract at about $1.10 an acre. The reservation's low point in remaining land had occurred -- at 440 acres.
When the Grand Ronde people chose to be included under the federal Indian Reorganization Act in 1936, which signaled a liberalized change in policy toward Native Americans, the tribe became entitled to buy some acreage to start farms and houses.
In 1954, however, in an effort to induce Indians to enter the mainstream of American life, Congress passed the Termination Act that broke the legal relationship between the federal government and western Oregon tribes. The termination included the Grand Ronde Reservation, which was closed. For most Grand Ronde people, it meant a loss of home, identity as a tribe, and human services from the federal government.
Nearly 30 years later in 1983, the Congress reversed its policy with Public Law 98-165, the Grand Ronde Restoration Act.* Through the efforts of Grand Ronde representatives that had begun in the '70s, Congress in effect restored the federal relationship with the Grand Ronde community. From then on, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde would be a tribal unit to formalize government recognition and establish eligibility for federal benefits. In addition, the act provided for tribal self government, tribal enrollment -- and the establishment of a reservation.
In 1989 the confederation came into possession a 10,300-acre reservation, consisting largely of timber land, near the Polk County city of Grand Ronde.
In 1994, construction began on the multi-million dollar Spirit Mountain Casino, owned and operated by Spirit Mountain Development Corporation, an entity of the Grand Ronde Tribe. In 2000, the casino earned $63 million in profits for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. It was the most visited tourist destination in Oregon.
The Grand Ronde Tribe today
Today's confederation lists an enrollment of more than 4,700 members. A tribal council is the confederation's elected government. The council's basic functions are to enact tribal policies and laws.
To execute policies and laws, the council established a tribal administration. By and large, the administration sees to it that services to tribal members are properly delivered. Not all confederation members live on the reservation. The confederation's service area falls within Marion, Multnomah, Washington, Polk, Tillamook and Yamhill counties. There are more than two dozen tribal programs. The following is a sampler of services to members:
"Spirit Mountain Community Fund promotes Native American culture, history and values through charitable support of education, arts and culture, historic preservation and the environment."
The Education Division promotes lifelong learning from pre-school through higher education with an accent on quality and cultural relevancy, through on-site classes, scholarships and internships.
The Grand Ronde Health and Wellness Center delivers medical, dental and behavioral health care with an emphasis on high quality, accessibility, patient respect, wellness and prevention.
The Social Services Division provides such services as employment and training opportunities, emergency financial assistance, foster care, transitional housing and vocational rehabilitation.
The Tribal Court handles civil cases, such as name changes, divorce and small claims; domestic cases, such as adoption; and juvenile cases, such as child abuse and neglect.
The Member Services Division administers such programs as elder health security, Medicare reimbursement, health and dental plans, elder pension, SSI disability programs and tribal trust fund.
The council also instituted the Spirit Mountain Development Corporation, named after a sacred mountain, to advocate and enhance tribal economic well being.
Significant confederation activities
The Agency Creek Round Dance, hosted by the Grand Ronde Tribal Youth Social Services Program, celebrates the cultural and healing power of the drum, dance, song and prayer -- held to be sacred activities.
The Grand Ronde hosted a naming ceremony, whose purpose was to bestow upon tribal members names from authentic native tongues. Elders from neighboring tribes told stories and traditional foods were served.
The Cultural Resource Center accumulates (and repatriates) artifacts, photographs and other paper-based records of the tribes. In addition, the center creates recordings of oral history, Indian legends and rituals.
*Other Oregon tribal groups were similarly restored in different years.