Regaining identity through restoration

Charles Wilkinson’s new book describes how a tribe “terminated” by the federal government fought to regain its identity.

  • Nee Dash dancers in the dance house at Siletz.

    Siletz tribal collection, image courtesy University of Washington Press
 

The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon
Charles Wilkinson
576 pages, hardcover: $35.
University of Washington Press, 2010.

When the U.S. Congress began terminating American Indian tribes during the 1950s — ending the special relationship between formerly sovereign tribes and the federal government — many Indians thought they would be better off without the Bureau of Indian Affairs meddling in their lives. They didn’t understand the consequences of “termination” until it was too late. “Tribal land was sold off,” writes Charles Wilkinson in The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregonand individual allotments ... passed from Indian hands. Communities broke up and dispersed. Economic and social conditions worsened. The Siletz people and the members of 108 other terminated tribes lost hunting, fishing, gathering and water rights. The search for employment scattered family groups, further decimating language, social and cultural traditions that had somehow survived the long Indian Wars of the 1800s as well as the government assimilation programs of the early 20th century.

Worst of all, as Wilkinson discovered, people from terminated tribes were no longer considered Indian — by either whites or Indians. I felt like I lost my identity, Agnes Pilgrim, a Siletz, told Wilkinson. Termination also affected tribal members far from Oregon. One woman lost her teaching job at Haskell Indian School in Kansas, Wilkinson writes, because she was no longer a member of a ‘recognized’ tribe.

Then, in 1966, Robert Bennett, an Oneida Indian from Wisconsin, became BIA commissioner. Things began to change. In the early 1970s, a small group of Siletz re-formed the tribal government and began the formidable legal process of seeking restoration. Although they were opposed by powerful commercial and sport-fishing organizations and legislators who worried that other terminated tribes might use (the Siletz) as precedent for their own restoration, the Siletz Tribe was eventually restored. Restoration proved to be only a beginning, however, as Wilkinson observes. The Siletz had to re-establish their identity and create a governing structure in a new time — all of which required cooperation and diligence.

The People Are Dancing Again presents a meticulously researched history of the Siletz people, who had asked Charles Wilkinson to write their story. It’s also the story of every terminated tribe that has had to fight to regain its culture, language, land and place in American society.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...