The ugly abuses of the past toward First Nations Peoples by the governments of the western hemisphere are not in the past. There are still many reasons that governments continue their war on native peoples, continuing to confiscate our resources, break treaties and displace persons. The article I reprint here (permitted by Mr. Fry) describes the ways this war continues and the ways these tactics keep us seperate and divided. (TVC15)
BROKEN BONDS AND TORN TRIBES
South coast Indians’ efforts at recognition prove divisive.
COOS BAY — A few summers back, Donny Fry and his brother Larry packed supplies and headed up the Rogue River, guided only by the memories of their ancestors, passed down the generations.
They were looking for tombstones: small triangle-shaped rocks marking the graves of long-dead members of the Chetco and Tututni Indian tribes, who once roamed the southern Oregon Coast by the thousands.
The brothers are descendants of these ancient people, who fought and died in the Rogue River wars, who were driven from their homelands by U.S. Army-backed white settlers. Larry and Donny Fry installed plaques at the six grave sites they found and set up fencing to protect them, using money from a state grant. The funds ran out quickly, though, and the brothers had to halt their search.
They would like to keep looking, to protect these and other artifacts scattered throughout the Coast Range. They’d also like to build health clinics and low-income housing, create scholarships and acquire Indian fishing rights for their people. But the Fry brothers, and 200 other descendants of the Chetco and Tututni Indians, can’t tap into the kinds of resources available to the state’s nine federally recognized Indian tribes.
They don’t belong to any of them.
In 1954, the federal government “terminated” the Frys’ tribe and more than 100 other Oregon tribes from federal recognition, meaning the United States no longer recognized the treaties that afforded them status as sovereign nations, no longer honored their reservations held in trust and no longer exempted Indians from state laws and taxes. Nine of the state’s tribes have since been restored, allowing them to access funding to build health clinics, museums and casinos. But 67-year-old Larry and 71-year-old Donny Fry say they don’t qualify for membership in any of the nine existing tribes, and that their connection to their southern Oregon Coast ancestors remains unrecognized by the United States.
There are at least 200 other people like them, most of them in Curry County, the brothers say, which is why they’re waging a new campaign on behalf of a lost people. They want Congress to restore what they say is the state’s 10th Indian tribe, a coalition of Chetco and Tututni Indians who have newly named themselves the Confederated Tribes of the Lower Rogue, with Donny Fry as the chief.
It would be the first such restoration in the state since the Coquilles regained their status in 1989, and it’s an effort that could reshuffle the tens of millions of dollars that flow into the state via the Bureau of Indian Affairs, siphoning money from every other federally recognized tribe in Oregon, and one powerful group of Indians in particular: the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, which owns and operates the Chinook Winds Indian Casino and which represents close to 5,000 members culled from 29 tribes and bands. Siletz’s leadership is adamantly opposed to federal recognition for the group they derisively say is “calling itself” the Confederated Tribes of the Lower Rogue, and they’ve made that clear to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, most recently in a letter mailed to him Monday from Siletz chairwoman Delores Pigsley.
Pigsley contends that the Chetco and Tututni Indians are part of the Siletz. Both bands of Indians were among dozens of different tribes marched to a reservation in Lincoln County at gunpoint, after the Rogue River Wars of 1855 and 1856, forced to set aside their individual heritages and form one new tribe, under an arbitrary name: Siletz.
Like it or not, Pigsley contends, there is no longer a separate Chetco Indian tribe, no Tututni Indian tribe, and there never was a Lower Rogue Indian tribe.
It’s all Siletz now. If Larry and Donny Fry want to be part of a federally recognized tribe in Oregon, they should apply to join the Siletz, which means verifying that they meet the blood quantum to do so.
But both brothers say they’ve already applied to join the Siletz tribe, decades ago, and were told by tribal administrators that they didn’t qualify because they don’t have relatives who live on the tribe’s 3,600-acre reservation.
Now they don’t want to be a part of the Siletz tribe, they say, partly because members who want benefits such as health care must live in the tribe’s 11-county service area, which does not include Coos or Curry counties.
Avoided the “Trail of Tears”
The Fry brothers and other Rogue members have no connection to Lincoln County, because the people they represent avoided the march north after the Rogue wars. The men hid out along the river, or pretended they weren’t Indian. The women, including the Fry brothers’ great-great-grandmother, “Chetco Jennie” Tichenor Meservy, married whites, which allowed them to escape the march along Oregon’s “Trail of Tears,” as it’s known. While others were held in pens in Port Orford, then beaten and starved as the Army pushed them north, Fry’s people stayed behind, refusing to leave their homeland.
Brutal as the march to Siletz was, it eventually led to federal appropriations for that tribe, which now operates a thriving casino and golf course, doling out monthly payments to its members, along with health care, low-income housing, education and job opportunities.
Larry and Donny Fry don’t qualify for any of that, and even if they did, they say, it wouldn’t change their quest for a separate federal designation. They want to set up a health clinic on the south coast, so that the people they represent don’t have to live in Lincoln County to get services. They want the clout that a federally recognized tribe has in negotiating with state and federal agencies in order to preserve artifacts when timber is sold or parks are built. They want access to government funding to help preserve their language and heritage. They do not, they insist, have any intention of trying to build a casino.
“I don’t think anybody wants us to build a casino,” Larry Fry said. “Besides that, where are you going to put one? Gold Beach?”
The Fry brothers have been fighting for years to earn their own federal recognition, and they’ve amassed some key allies along the way. After the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the Rogue’s attempt to gain recognition administratively, the tribes began lobbying Congress. They have met with staffers from the offices of both senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. But mostly, they’re leaning on DeFazio, and they got some help with that, via a December 2004 letter to the Springfield Democrat from Ron Kortlever, then superintendent of the BIA.
“It is evident that this group of Native Americans has truly been ‘left out’ due to the independence of native women who married soldiers, trappers, and farmers, or were able to avoid being captured and moved to the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations,” Kortlever wrote. “Since they were never removed and officially enrolled, their children, grandchildren and further generations have not been members of a federally recognized tribe or tribal group, and have not been able to benefit from opportunities and assistance available through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Service, or other federal programs aimed at Native Americans. Yet, their native heritage is just as strong as any of the fully recognized tribes.”
Kortlever urged DeFazio to help, and the tribes have since acquired similar letters of support from both the Coos and Curry boards of commissioners.
“We laud your avowed mission to protect and preserve the history, culture and sovereignty of your tribal members,” wrote the Curry County board in a letter to Donny Fry last November. “Your goal to enhance the economic development of your tribal homelands and your commitment to the health and economic well-being of your tribal members contributes greatly to an overall healthy community.”
Earlier this month, DeFazio sent a letter to BIA regional director Amy Dutschke, asking her to help set up a meeting between the Rogue tribe and the Siletz. DeFazio outlined the underlying problem, that the approximately 200 people Fry claims to represent aren’t members of any tribe.
“There’s no question here that this group of people needs services,” DeFazio spokeperson Jen Gilbreath said. “The status quo isn’t acceptable and we are trying to find a way to get them services.”
DeFazio’s letter sets forth some of the questions involved:
“Are these individuals eligible for membership in the Siletz Tribe? If not, what requirements must they meet? Are they eligible for BIA services administered at facilities operated by the Siletz or other federally recognized tribes? Do Mr. Don Fry and members of the Confederated Tribes of the Lower Rogue have rights to protect artifacts and ceremonial grounds? If not, is there a mechanism by which they can work collaboratively with the Siletz and other federally recognized tribes to secure these protections?”
The answer to most of these questions is “No,” replied Pigsley, in the tersely worded letter she sent DeFazio on Monday.
In an interview with The Register-Guard, Pigsley said it would dishonor the Siletz’s treaty with the federal government for the Lower Rogue to form their own tribe, that her objection to recognition was not about money. Any new tribe recognized would receive its own appropriation, she said.
In her letter to DeFazio, however, after taking issue with “any reference of acknowledgment” of use of the term “Confederated Tribes of the Lower Rogue,” because “there is no such Indian tribe,” Pigsley went on to say it would indeed threaten the Siletz for Fry’s group to form their own tribe.
“Such access would only take services and benefits away from members of recognized tribes,” Pigsley wrote. “We all know that funding and services for recognized Indian tribes is woefully inadequate and a violation of treaties signed by many Indian tribes, and it would be a further offense against Indian tribes and people to further diminish the limited funding and resources that are already provided.”
Pigsley said the Rogue should simply apply for Siletz membership if they want benefits, but she also made it clear that the decision about whether to grant membership is “the exclusive inherent authority of each tribe.” And two paragraphs after that, addressing the idea that the Siletz might collaborate with Fry’s group on artifacts, she refers to them as “non-Indians.”
“Mr. Fry and his group are not an Indian tribe and have no authority to meddle in this area or to interfere with the authority of the Siletz Tribe in this area,” Pigsley wrote. “The Siletz Tribe will not work ‘collaboratively’ with non-Indians to give non-Indians authority over tribal artifacts and remains.”
To Larry and Donny Fry, calling them “non-Indians” was like spitting in their faces, they said. The brothers said they grew up duking it out with classmates in the small town of Powers, who picked fights with them daily for no other reason than that they were Indians, the brothers said. They said teachers would isolate them in the classroom, robbing them of their education.
They fish for salmon each spring to feed the annual “Gathering of the People,” a tribal pow-wow of sorts that pays homage to their heritage. Larry Fry carries sweet grass beneath the seat of his pickup truck, which he’s braiding into pieces of jewelry he will offer to tribal elders at this year’s ceremony, a ritual that he hopes will conclude in him being granted the Indian name “Little Beaver.” They are very much Indian, they say, and they have plenty of documentation to back it up.
But the brothers say they understand why Pigsley feels threatened. The Siletz tribe has less than 5,000 members, and fully 3,500 of them are estimated to be of Chetco and Tututni heritage. Were the Lower Rogue to gain federal recognition, it might mean some of those members defect south, weakening the Siletz influence and potentially affecting its federal funding.
“It’s a de-confederation movement,” said Wayne Shammel, attorney for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians. “It tears apart the existing confederacy and brings into question the Siletz’s territorial prerogative and reach.”
Pigsley herself is descended from Indians that lived on the Rogue River, she told The Register-Guard. But it doesn’t make sense to split the tribes back up again now, she said.
“We were moved to Siletz,” she said. “That became the reservation for the Rogue River Indians, for 29 tribes and bands. Everybody moved.”
Only about two-thirds of current Siletz members live in the tribe’s 11-county service area; the rest are spread out across the country. She can understand why the Frys want services closer to home, she said, but “so does every Indian that lives in Seattle, Portland and everywhere else,” she said. “If you did it for them, you’d have to do it for many Indians.”
The Siletz tribe is applying to the BIA to expand its service area to include Douglas, Jackson and Curry counties, which may face opposition from other tribes. When the Grand Ronde tried a similar tactic, other tribes rallied against it, worried that it could only mean smaller slices of the federal pie for those tribes that were left, Shammel said. Pigsley contends an expanded area “is not going to increase the amount of money we get. We just have to be more frugal with it.” But she also acknowledged it could affect how money gets divvied up “down the road.”
Donny Fry puts it a different way.
“They want more money for themselves, is what it is,” he said.
Even if the Siletz reached into Curry County, it wouldn’t satisfy the Rogues, Larry Fry said. He has seen three relatives die for lack of health coverage, he said. The tribe wants its own autonomy to cater to its own people, and it has no intention of backing down.
“They think we’ll go away,” he said of the Siletz. “That will never happen. We’re just as hard-headed as they are.”
— Larry Fry, of the confederated tribes of the Lower Rogue