This is part 2 of the story that began last year. A Facebook message saying "I think my Dad served with your husband in Vietnam" led to the reunion last fall of Larry with Reyn Leno, the friend who was his closest buddy in the Vietnam jungles. They got together for the first time in 44 years last November, and Reyn invited us to Oregon to meet his family and to attend his tribe's (the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) annual Veterans Powwow.
We began planning almost immediately. Neither of us had ever been to Oregon; neither of us had ever been to a powwow or visited a reservation either. And we really wanted to meet the family of this man who was as close as a brother to my husband for almost a year when they were both 19.
The Grand Ronde tribe owns Spirit Mountain Casino and Lodge, and that is where we stayed during our visit. The Lodge was lovely and comfortable, built of natural materials and decorated with earthy colors so it fit well into its surroundings. It included a hallway museum that provided a good overview of the history of Grand Ronde with many pictures, videos and artwork.
Coyote, the gambler, greets visitors in the lodge's lobby:
One trickster to another!
Just a small part of the photo gallery:
Videos explain tribal culture,
and also tribal history. Larry's friend Reyn and Reyn's father were two of the speakers on the videos:
This tribe, we learned, was made up of many bands that were forced together onto the reservation at Grand Ronde in the 1850's through a series of treaties. Out of necessity they developed a common language, since they all had their own languages. The common language is Chinuk Wawa, also called Chinuk jargon, and is still taught in the tribal schools today.
Although life on the reservation was hard, a worse blow struck in 1954 when the US Government told the tribe they were no longer Indians. All 60,000 acres of their reservation, which was covered in virgin timber, was taken away except for their cemetery, and the people were left with no place to go. They stayed together in the area around the cemetery because they had nowhere else, and life was rough indeed. Most worked in the timber, or traveled to California in the summer to pick fruits and vegetables in the commercial fields there. This was the life Reyn knew growing up in the 50's and 60's prior to enlisting in the US Marines.
In 1973 a dedicated group of tribal members began to fight for the restoration of their status as Indians. A key point in their favor, and the pivotal part of their argument, was that by recognizing the tribal burial ground the government had recognized that this was a tribe. In 1983, after years of negotiations and struggle, tribal status was restored and 10,000 of the original 60,000-acre reservation was returned to the Grand Ronde people. I can only imagination the joyful celebration that must have followed that announcement!
Today the tribe is thriving. They provide free medical and dental care, mental health services, housing on the reservation, education programs and training opportunities, scholarships for continuing education, cultural programming and outreach and much more. Some, like Reyn, live off the reservation but are still covered by the services offered by their tribe. Reyn currently serves as Chairman of the Tribal Council, the Governing Body of the Tribe.
I will have many more photos and stories from our week in Oregon, so stay tuned! For more about the Grand Ronde's history and culture, check out this online audiovisual guide.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.