Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times: Kathryn Harrison

Institute for Tribal Government

Produced by the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University in 2004, the landmark “Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times” interview series presents the oral histories of contemporary leaders who have played instrumental roles in Native nations' struggles for sovereignty, self-determination, and treaty rights. The leadership themes presented in these unique videos provide a rich resource that can be used by present and future generations of Native nations, students in Native American studies programs, and other interested groups.

In this interview, Kathryn Harrison, former chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, shares her tribe’s struggle to achieve federal recognition, her experiences as the first woman elected to lead her nation, and how she helped secure the tribe’s gaming compact with the State of Oregon. Preservation of her people’s history is her core commitment.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Institute for Tribal Government.


Harrison, Kathryn. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times" (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. Portland, Oregon. 2004. Interview.

Kathryn Harrison:

"Hello. My name is Kathryn Harrison. I am presently the Chairperson of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. I have served on my council for 21 years. Tribal leaders have influenced the history of this country since time immemorial. Their stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Their teaching is alive today in our great contemporary tribal leaders whose stories told in this series are an inspiration to all Americans both tribal and non-tribal. In particular it is my hope that Indian youth everywhere will recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by these great tribal leaders."

[Native music]


"No series of Great Tribal Leaders would be complete without Kathryn Harrison herself, the host of this series. Harrison, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon, served on her tribal council for 22 years and was the first woman ever elected chair of the tribe. Harrison has been profoundly influenced and inspired by members of her family including her aunt Molalla Kate. Harrison's mother, Ella Fleming Jones, was born in Alaska to an Aleut mother and Russian-Italian father. Her father, Harry Jones, was a full-blooded Molalla Indian who was the valedictorian of Chemawa Indian School's class of 1910. When Harrison's parents died in the flu epidemic of the 1930s, she was 10 years old. She and her siblings were separated and she was sent to foster homes. She then attended Chemawa Indian School where she excelled, made new friends and especially loved writing book reports. But she was always lonely for her brothers and sisters. Harrison then married and had 10 children. In the middle of raising this large family she felt she needed skills and went to school. She was the first Indian to graduate in nursing from Lane Community College. Always deeply spiritual she attended a gathering of tribes in Oklahoma in the early 1970s that helped invigorate her faith, especially in her own worth and what she might do with her life. At this point Harrison had been separated from her tribe for a long time. Members of the Grand Ronde had been widely dispersed in western Oregon after the tribe was terminated in the 1950s. In the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, the move to assimilate Indians into the dominant White culture eliminating federal trust relationship with tribes gained tremendous momentum. Termination for tribes meant that all treaty-guaranteed rights they had possessed were abolished. Reservations were terminated, health benefits abolished and tribes lost their best lands. Children in terminated tribes of Oregon could not attend Chimawa Indian School in Oregon. Numerous Oregon tribes were terminated but tribes were organizing in the 1970s to get termination reversed to get their tribes restored to federal recognition. Kathryn Harrison decided to return to Grand Ronde to rediscover her people's history and to join the movement to restore her tribe. Beginning as an enrollment clerk for the Grand Ronde she then became a community organizer. She spoke for the tribe before local governments, historical societies and churches. She became skilled in political craft working with members of the Oregon congressional delegation. When she spoke before Congress in 1983 on behalf of the Grand Ronde Restoration Bill, she was so convincing that the tribe asked her to be their chair. Harrison has represented the tribe's interests in numerous state and national organizations such as Oregon's Legislative Commission on Indian Services, Native American Rights Fund and Spirit Mountain Community Fund. She assisted the tribe in obtaining a gaming compact with the State of Oregon. Harrison has represented the tribe at several White House events and has received numerous awards for her work with tribes on women's issues and historic preservation. She received a Distinguished Service Award from the League of Women Voters and was named one of three Women of Achievement in 1995 by the Oregon Commission for Women. She has received the Tom McCall Award for service to the State of Oregon. A mother of 10 children, a grandmother and great grandmother of many more, she considers her greatest achievement to be her family."

Kathryn Harrison's parents and her Aunt Kate were the major inspirations both in her private life and her public work

Kathryn Harrison:

"Far back as I can remember they were always telling me, "˜we don't have to worry about you. You're named after Aunt Kate.' Not really knowing what they meant, I kind of carried that. "˜I can't make a mistake now because I'm going to hurt this Aunt Kate.' And we used to come and visit her too and she was elderly already and had the age spots. But we always brought her Royal Anne Cherries so for many years I thought she got those age spots from eating Royal Anne Cherries. I think maybe they...all the things looking back now it was almost like they were preparing all of us for when they would leave us and that was one of them. I know she had strength and I would always look at her hand because she was the basket maker and a beader."

Before her parent's death, Harrison attended public schools in Corvallis, Oregon, where her parents were active in the school

Kathryn Harrison:

"We were the only Indian family in school and I can remember in first grade my father going down arguing with the teacher that, "˜If I wanted to use my left hand, by gosh let me use it.' So I'm left handed to this day. But the other thing was there was tryouts for a play for Goldilocks and the Three Bears and I tried out because my father and mother were both musical and we had to sing to try out and I got the part as Goldilocks. I said even then, I thought, "˜Well, way back then my only claim to fame was probably the first Indian Goldilocks they had in the United States.'"

Harrison and her brothers and sisters were painfully separated after their parent's death. She lived in foster homes before going to Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon

Kathryn Harrison:

"My two older brother and sister were sent to Chemawa and the four younger were sent into a foster home right there and they were Indian people, an Indian couple that didn't have children. And then my brother and younger sister both got sick and they took them to the hospital there too. So that just left my sister and I. From there we were sent to another foster home and ended up at Chemawa. But when I went to Chemawa I always like to say, "˜I thought I'd died and went to Indian heaven,' because ran into some of the people I had known earlier when my parents were still alive. It was just like a big family reunion and having been deprived of the social part in those foster homes I learned to lose myself in reading. So I read a lot so by the time I got to Chemawa part of the lessons were to make book reports. And so I used to make book reports for my classmates cause I'd already read all the books that they were trying to read and was willing to read more. And I still do that to this day, try to read a book a week. I think one of the things I always thought the last day when I graduated myself, I can remember standing at that window again hearing that train. I think I said a prayer that said, "˜God, I'm so alone, don't let me be alone the rest of my life.' So here I am. I have 10 children and a lot of times people have told me, "˜You're the grandmother of this tribe.' So here's my family and I'm not alone anymore."

In the middle of raising her own large family, Harrison went to Lane Community College and became a nurse. She had been separated from her tribe for a long time

Kathryn Harrison:

"I kept in contact with people here, most of the elders that knew my parents and it wasn't until I got at Coos Bay and was working there but by then I'd worked in Lincoln County, Lane County and Coos County. I was in the Coos County Council on Alcoholism and was down to two children. Even then there were the monthly trips at least up here to Grand Ronde and would send things up here for their raffles and attend the general meetings and knew they were trying to be restored again. So I finally just made the break and came up here, moved up here."

While working in Coos Bay Harrison heard of a spiritual gathering in Oklahoma with tribes from all over the country. Her urge to attend was so strong that she would have been willing to lose her job if she hadn't been granted the time off

Kathryn Harrison:

"There were tribal people from all over that all came there with their own special problems. And so it was during one of the times that it was my turn, they were asking, "˜Well, why are you here?' You know you always say there's people next to you or run into somebody that has worse problems than you and here I was just feeling so bad because by then I just hated the kid's father so much that it was just...I might as well still been with him cause every day and it was eating me up too so that was the reason I knew I had to go. I just had the feeling I needed to go and pray with some other people. So I got a chance to tell other people and here there was a lady that lost her son but couldn't accept that he was gone, a young married couple that begged me to stay to watch, they wanted to have their marriage blessed and be remarried by the spiritual leaders there. And I thought, I thought I was bad off but it seemed like my problems were not near as big as theirs. So by the time I went in, went in to the ceremony in the sweat lodge and asked for the help that I wanted and then came home. But there was something that happened when I came out and they put the water over you and I guess I must have had this certain look because one of the spiritual leaders said, "˜Well, we didn't say it was going to happen right away, but it will happen.'"

From the spiritual gathering Harrison gained a clarity about her life that served her well as she developed into a leader

Kathryn Harrison:

"Well, again I thank my parents because they were always there and I think because I lost them so young it's always a continuation of, "˜Are you proud of me now? What you taught me, I remember all you taught me now and I remember it and I carry it with me.' After I did each one of those things I would wonder, "˜Now I wonder what they would want me to do.' And they gave good examples."

Harrison decided to return to Grand Ronde. She began working with the tribe in its campaign to be restored to federal recognition

Kathryn Harrison:

"Well, I moved up here without a job and applied for one and was first hired as an enrollment clerk because restoration had started and we didn't know where our people had gone. They left home after termination and so our job was to look for them and we had in mind to start a newsletter. But there were already people here that had started the restoration efforts and so I just joined that team and went door to door actually with some of the people locally here to get them to enroll and help actually enroll for them, just fill out the papers. And then from there I went and got the Administration for Native American Grant even though I didn't come under that but that gave us a full force to go into the restoration effort. I became the community organizer then and they applied for different grants for me to...I think it was three or four grants but I still got basic wage. But it became my job and responsibility to educate other people around the country of what we were trying to do and why they should support us in what we were doing. It became a justice issue. And I was so surprised to find myself out speaking to audience after audience, churches, colleges, high schools, libraries, historical societies."

In the early days of the campaign fundraising was very grassroots

Kathryn Harrison:

"Oh, there were a lot of different ways. Bake sales, always bake sales, had a pie social one time, had a basket social and turkey shoot, those are some of the things...turkey shoot had before I came. But there was always raffles, we always had a raffle to draw the people in I guess. But here you were like they said with the bake sale they just bought each other's donations but they were willing to do it. I think a couple of times they passed the hat for postage to send out letters and eventually they got around to a newsletter and we just kept applying for grants. I think those things you look back and everybody sat around after we got the newsletter together and mimeographed that, then stapled it together and we hand addressed every one of them. And even during those days, maybe 2:00 in the morning we'd be finishing up and say, "˜One of these days we're going to have all this and have a machine.' We have that, somebody else takes care of our newsletter, it goes out twice a month. We just prepare or make the news."

The challenge was to let people know the story and the history of the tribe

Kathryn Harrison:

"Well, we felt the main thing was to let them know we wanted to be who we actually are. You always hear the statements from the tribal leaders in the past that said, "˜In order to go forward we have to reach into the past and take what's the best part of that.' And learning about how our people had lived here and the harmony that was there then that on the most part after we got here that...and have the entitlements. We weren't asking for a handout, we were asking for what we were granted in those treaties that were signed by our people and having made that awful walk from Willamette Valley in a massive military roundup, we had a duty to come through with what their vision was so that walk would not have been made in vain. And I think having our little walks by the cemeteries, by those tombstones, sometimes you felt pretty guilty and wanted to just kind of sneak by them because there they were and had given their all and thinking that here we were still a tribe."

Non-tribal groups and individuals began participating in the campaign. Restoration coordinator Elizabeth Furse encouraged Harrison to make the tribe known to Congress

Kathryn Harrison:

"We had Elizabeth Furse who later became a congresswoman. We had her as our restoration coordinator and she just had such great foresight that she was the one that said, "˜Well, we need to make some of these trips just to let the congressional people know we're coming,' let them know what we're doing cause we knew they had never heard of us. Everybody thought then the Grand Ronde was in eastern Oregon. And so we would make, I think I still have notes that she made of the trips her and I went to and of course those days it was with, stayed in hotels I guess or what you'd say small hotels with people that were Quakers. You had to make your own bed and there was this nice granola for breakfast and all that. We were grateful then too and I think we walked a lot. I remember Elizabeth doing that. One day it was so hot in the summer we got in front of the Capitol and she said, we still had to go see Lester Coin, she said, "˜Would you like to sit here in the grass in the shade and I'll run over to Lester Coin's office?' I said, "˜Oh, yes.' So she took the message and took it over to Lester Coin's. I could see his building across but it was just so hot and we were so tired."

Harrison reflects on her development as a leader with the Grand Ronde. Her work with the Siletz Tribe, which was restored to recognition in 1977, had been useful experience

Kathryn Harrison:

"Even still today I have to stop and think, whoever thought I'd be in this position. I never thought I would. Looking back I can see and I still say today at restoration that working with the Siletz gave me the kind of a tailor made to come and help my own people but I didn't realize it at the time. So helping my own people here was just like the frosting on the cake. Looking back and talking to some of the people that are still around, I don't think we ever thought we wouldn't win and maybe it showed, maybe we had that feeling because when we went back to testify it was three members of my family including myself, my oldest son, my youngest daughter and myself and of course Jackie Whistler and Marvin Kemsey. It was just like, I think with Elizabeth first too, we just all got to encourage each other I guess and I think faith too. It was a justice issue. This was what we were supposed to be, this is where we're supposed to be, this is taking our rightful place among the family of Indian nations and that's what we were going to do. So to have somebody against us and I know there were a few but that just meant extra, an extra meeting, go on out and try to reeducate them because lack of communication and I think the stereotype of where they always put us. I think the Cowboy-Indian movies didn't help either because we always lost. So I don't ever think of us ever thinking that no matter who it was that was against us...and we didn't expect everyone to support us. Well, I guess we did in the beginning but after awhile you figure you can't...there's always one or two. But I think even those have eventually come around when they see that we've kept our word in giving back, help us and we'll help this whole community."

The many meanings of sovereignty, or tribal self-government

Kathryn Harrison:

"Well, to me that's what we've been exercising all these years, even through the 29 years of termination there was always the effort here to hold meetings, to keep track of the deaths and births and to keep the language going, that's sovereignty, and knew where the people were. And when we all came back together for the restoration effort the first thing we did was look for our people. And we know who our people are and then after that of course there was new births and people that were not enrolled, teenagers and people up to 29 years old, that's all they knew was termination so we had to find them. And we put together the constitution saying who was going to be our tribal members, that's sovereignty. We knew where our place was, where our reservation, the land that was given to us. We designated where we wanted, that we needed land. The whole effort, we spoke for ourselves and for our people and held up our right to those entitlements that our ancestors had fought so hard for and that was promised to us in the treaties. That's sovereignty. No one else can speak for you, you speak for yourself and for your people."

On dealing with the complexities of tribal leadership and the inevitable conflicts

Kathryn Harrison:

"Well, you have to, otherwise you're not you. You have to come forward with how you feel because maybe your idea is better but you have to be open to say, "˜Well, maybe yours is better too and I'm willing to listen,' because you get the respect that you give out, that's the same that you get back. I think that's the best way to deal with conflict and then there's no conflict once you agree. It's got to be teamwork and with nine people, first it's hard to get everybody together at the same time and then how do you expect us to all agree at the same, on the same thing. You're not human beings if you do. But ours, as a council we have to keep in mind our pledge that we're here to bring up a better quality of life for our tribal members so that's your guiding sign I guess cause you took that pledge."

The restoration of the tribe in 1983 had many impacts

Kathryn Harrison:

"Oh, it is a wonderful change. Look around...when I come to work every day I just have to kind of take a deep breath and think, "˜Wow!' We had that one little office, that was our office and our borrowed coffee pot and our outside water faucet, outside bathrooms and look what we have today. Each program office has their own little depart...well, they do have their own department but not only that the tribal council has their own office. But we've graduated now I think, from that little office to the depot, the train depot, we were all crammed into there but we still...even that one room office where we started. We held USDA food; we gave out the cheese for the county. We always...I don't think we even worried about confidentiality then and our desks were side by side. No compartments or no divisions or anything."

Harrison reflects on the dangers of prosperity for the tribe

Kathryn Harrison:

"Oh, yes, there's...especially I think for our young people and something that's on our minds a lot as a council is how do we keep our children in school when they have this money coming in that's being set aside for them. Cause even my own grandson says, "˜Well, how much money do I have now grandma?' We have to prepare them for the future when we won't be here so they can take care of themselves and this tribe. It's quite a concern but also I think those of us my age and maybe a little older or younger, we learned how to work in the fields and I think that's the mistake the State of Oregon made was taking the children out of the fields to harvest the crops because not only did got your fill every day and had a healthy life but you learned how long it took to make a dollar so you were able to better manage your money. And to this day I don't gamble. I think I've got $10 in our casino and I think $5 of that was given to me by my daughter. It's too hard to part with that money cause you know how hard earned it is even though we're pretty well paid here now compared to where we started with a little bit of money and the struggle we made with the different grants. We usually had to comply with those grants to have it coming in the next year."

The tribe decides in the late 1980s to start a casino

Kathryn Harrison:

"When the timber prices went down and we went and looked at other tribes to see how they handled, how they diversified their resources we found that they had Bingo and also casinos so we visited the tribe in Minnesota. They're about our same size and all that and they offered to help us. But we knew then we had to put together a corporation, a corporate board and had some good experiences on that. I think it was the third one around we finally kept and that was only because we had a tribal member that was interested by then. During the restoration effort he had come into our little office there one day and said, introduced himself and said, "˜I'm going to law school and I hope someday to come back and help my tribe.' So he showed up and was really interested in what was going on. It was him that we finally said, "˜Well, why don't you be...' He said, "˜If you'll trust me,' he first said, "˜maybe I can do this.' So we said, "˜Okay.' So that's how Bruce Thomas came into our lives and he had gone as a corporate board member to different trips we had made. Of course from then on he went on other trips and educated himself on what was going on but he was already an attorney, practicing attorney and so the different things that he put together then, what he learned he would come back and present to the tribal council and we had different management companies come and present what they had to offer. But they all wanted so much percent of our earnings and here's a tribe that passed the hat for postage. It's too hard to give away any amount of money that you're going to be running yourselves. And so in the end when Bruce felt he could do it himself and put together his own management company that's where we went with. And so we started the building and we ran into a problem right away even though we'd already had groundbreaking that the land we had chosen had not been put into trust. So we had to go back and find...cause according to the National Indian Gaming Association it has to be part of the original reservation and it has to be in trust by 1988. So we had to go and make sure that one part there was in trust where it is now."

The programs of the Grand Ronde Tribe of which Kathryn Harrison is most proud

Kathryn Harrison:

"Well, next to elders I'd have to say education because I think that's something that we have found our place. We have to take our place among our community and humanity and that in order to get along nowadays you have to have an education with the technology as it is and then we have people come to us that wanted to be educated, wanted to go to school and they couldn't. And even the Chemawa School to me was a great loss for our youth not to be able to attend, it's changed too. It's not like it was when we were there, going to school half a day and vocational training the other half. But I think education to me if you can educate your people that's certainly a better quality of life and then next to that I would say the elders to be able to like say not today they're trying to decide where they're going to next month. They've had to count their pennies, still support us all these years and to be able to say, "˜Yes, now you can go where you want to go.' We established a burial fund early on too because as any elder anyplace else they never wanted to be a burden to their children or their family. So that was one of the first things we did and now we offer that same burial to bury their spouse too if they're not members. So I think those are the two, of course I could go on. Next would be the housing. We have housing for our elders too and a lot of the ones that wanted to come home and we have to remember those that wanted to come and never made it because we had a water issue and it took us awhile. But once restoration happened we had people calling, "˜We want to come home once...' but there was no houses and there's no jobs. So I think those are the ones that mean a lot to me. And then of course the buildings I think. Having the education building, that's going to be great."

How she balances public and private life

Kathryn Harrison:

"Well, nothing hard about it at all, I'm still me and I'm just amazed that they think I've done something cause I think all I've done is live by what my parents taught me to not only...of course the Golden Rule, "˜Do unto others as you'd like to have them do unto you.' How can you go wrong and I'm just grateful and I've often said I don't know what people do that don't know how to pray or that don't have faith. And I know there's...I worked in the alcohol program again down in Coos Bay and it wasn't until one of the clients asked me, "˜How come you didn't become an alcoholic?' I just, "˜Why would I?' He said, "˜Well, look at your life, your life's worse than mine was.' So there I could say because of my parents. They already instilled in me that I don't care how far people try to knock you down, I'm still me and I'm a human being and I'm worth something. I think I told him once that somebody didn't want to wait on me in the store. I said, "˜I don't care, I'll stand there until 5:00 for closing time until they wait on me cause that's their job and I deserve that.' I'm amazed at what they think I've done. I think I've just lived my life under my best choices. I've taken my share of punishment because I think in my testimony early on some other places I think with all the teachings and the Christianity and religious, when I lost my parents I hated God but I was only 10 years old. And I can remember like I said how they carried out their faith giving helping hands to whoever came to the door, taking their children to church, that was their doing, it wasn't mine. But they were instilling us then no matter how little you have you share it and look how good you feel. So to me that's all I've been doing. But I've had help along the way with different ones being there to say, "˜Yeah, you can do it.' And I think being knocked down for so many years as a woman, my alcoholic husband, I really didn't think I was much and that's what can happen to women that are in abusive situations. You have to have something to reach back long enough to get the courage to say, "˜Yes, I am worth it and I am somebody and my children deserve better.' I think I said a couple of times to somebody, "˜When I meet my Maker, the first thing I'll say is did I live up to what my parents taught me? Are you proud of me now?' And then it would be maybe by the grace of God they'd say, "˜Okay, yeah, you did okay.'"

Some steps the Grand Ronde have taken to strengthen their tribe

Kathryn Harrison:

"I can't speak for other tribes. I just think...with our tribe I think we had foresight I guess or people in place that we could turn a negative into a positive. I wouldn't like to see other tribes terminated but sometimes you have to lose something before you appreciate what you had and I think that's what happened to us. We always said our elders, "˜We'll pay you back whenever we can,' because they was always there for us. They brought the food, they brought their beliefs to us. I don't know, some of the other tribes were terminated the same time. And we were recommended to get to know our state legislative people better. Well, we know them and the second recommendation was to get a lobbyist. Well, we have a lobbyist that's a tribal member and have had one for awhile. And I think that comes from being a terminated tribe to have to go to your community and say, "˜We want your help,' and there again with that statement of, "˜Help us. Help us to help ourselves by helping us and helping this whole community.' We learned how to get along. I think a lot of tribes make the mistake of thinking the Bureau of Indian Affairs owes you or has to provide everything. Ah, they do to a certain extent but you need to stand on your own two feet too and that goes with our casino. We know the casino's not going to be here forever so we try to diversify our resources. Of course we have the timber and with that we made a 20-year agreement to not, we can't ship overseas. And that was 1988 so we're going to be out of that pretty soon but who knows where that's going with the prices like they are."

Harrison's most gratifying achievement

Kathryn Harrison:

"My family. I'm not alone anymore. Yes, my children."

The most important task for the tribe's children and young people

Kathryn Harrison:

"First of all, know your culture, learn your language and who you are and go to school and stay in school and it's a given to go to church. Shouldn't have to tell our people that."

The importance of educating non-Indian American citizens about tribal history

Kathryn Harrison:

"I don't think you should ever stop educating people on your history and the Indian law and all those things because I went through that when I was going to school at Chemawa. We put on dancing, there were seven of us. We went out and sang and each one told our history and then I went to school, got married, stayed in the house for how many years, then when I come out here and get in the politics again it's the same thing. So it's just an ongoing, by the time you get your point across and explain who you are, I know the next generation is going to have to do the same thing. I think until we get the media, it's more being able to include more about our history and who we are and I think until they can be on the same level with us and the movies I think it's going to be an ongoing issue all the time of educating people on tribes."

Wisdom Harrison would impart to other tribes from her tribe's experience

Kathryn Harrison:

"I think good communication. We set up that line of communication telling our story to say why it was a justice issue on the termination and I think the same could be used for any subject. Meet them face to face and be there to answer their questions. But I think along with that you have to say teamwork, you're working together and that's what it is, teamwork whether it's communication or negotiations or grievance, it all has to be teamwork. I think don't be afraid to give and take. I can truly say our council, we've been blessed with what our people have reelected. I know we have a new election year coming. I just hope and pray they put the right people in and when you educate them that's what they'll do."

Her tribe's position on who is an Indian

Kathryn Harrison:

"That's part of the sovereignty is naming your own, who can be a member of your tribe. I know in the beginning and it still is with the Bureau you have to be one quarter but our people voted and they chose one-sixteenth and I think we made a mistake in the beginning that we would take one-sixteenth and then whatever the blood quantum over another recognized tribe. Well, we got...we started having many people coming and wanting to change over to our tribe so now you have to have...we changed that, we have a constitutional amendment and our people voted that you have to have a parent on the roll at termination and you have to be one-sixteenth Grand Ronde blood. So to me that's going to keep our blood line going but even in the long run I hope we don't terminate ourselves again. And to be able to say that, each tribe has to designate their own. We've come under criticism because our blood quantum is so low but look at us, it works for us and they can't speak for us, we can't speak for them because that's sovereignty with the tribal Indian nations."

The legacy Harrison would like to leave

Kathryn Harrison:

"I think for me is if you live your life where any part of it when you're asked about it if you can tell it and tell it truthfully and where your parents and the good Lord, the Creator would be proud of you, how can you go wrong. That's what I'd like to leave. That's what I tried to do. Whether I did it or not that was always my goal and I know early on I learned to speak how you feel. Sometimes people didn't like it but they always know how they stand with you and if you're telling the truth and speaking...after I got into tribal business you're speaking on behalf of your own people to keep in mind that you want them to have a better quality of life than you had. No matter what the changes are you have to go with changes that's better for your people. You can't go wrong. But I think if you pray on everything, that's what I've done, God will answer your prayers. And if it doesn't come right away just hold on, it'll come."

She speaks about aspects of the tribal vision that would benefit the nation

Kathryn Harrison:

"Balance and harmony. Balance and harmony in everything because that's what we learned from our ancestors that when you take something you've got to still leave enough to carry on the species whatever, the salmon, or elk and we try to tell that story early on. There was something that they used every part of the deer for so how could there be waste to leave, how could...if you used all the salmon and took it in the right way and you knew you were going to drink that water, your children were going to drink that water, how could you pollute it? And the same goes with the air. If you're living everything in the right way. And it's a God given gift that you're supposed to take care of it and that's how tribes look at things. This was given to you, this land, this air, these foul, these animals to take care of, let alone their people. Then take care of it and that means balance and harmony."

How Harrison has persevered and kept up momentum for her work

Kathryn Harrison:

"I think I've just been lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the right people, the right parents who knew how to pray. I think there were times when I wanted to give up. I don't say that ever occurred to me. I know one time I was leaving here early in the morning and I was going to go to Washington D.C. with Elizabeth and I stopped at the tribal office to get something and here I had my little, I called it my termination car, and I was driving down that straight driveway and I was thinking, "˜Ah, I'm going on the most important trip of my life, there's nobody here to tell me goodbye or say good luck or anything.' And then I thought, I could see all the...back in those days there was a lot of wood stoves yet and I thought, "˜Oh, they're up,' cause I could see the smoke coming up and early in the morning the smoke would go straight up, it doesn't curve yet. I thought, "˜What's wrong with you? Gosh, you're not by yourself, you can always pray and I know those elders are up, they know I'm going and I know cause they always say we prayed for you.' And I'd say, "˜Oh, I just came... Oh, yeah, we know. We prayed for you.' So I got looking around and I thought, "˜Gosh, you're not alone.' And I think that's the greatest thing I have to offer and what always pulled me through. But there have been times I've been just...Elizabeth got sick on that trip. We stopped and ate seafood at the airport. I don't know what restaurant it was but she got sick on the plane and she came back and told me, "˜You might have to go to that first meeting by yourself.' And I, "Ah, I can't! You'll have to get well.' So the stewardess kept coming back and telling, "˜Oh, she's feeling better. They made her a bed, she's laying down in the back, open up some of those seats,' because in those days as soon as we got off the plane we went to our first meeting. Now we can go and be rested up one day and then go to a meeting but then we had so little money. But she got well or well enough to go to that meeting with me. There were times when I wanted to go back and shake her and say, "˜You've got to get well.'"

Her work will not rest after her retirement as chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. She is committed to keeping the history alive

Kathryn Harrison:

"Oh, it's quite a responsibility being a council member and being a chair. I kind of stepped back already on some of the things but I still enjoy traveling and I still don't mind doing the history. I think it's something that...I've been asked sometime in February to come here to some group and tell the history again. She said, "˜Somebody said you had a good story.' I said, "˜No, it's not a story, it's history.'"

The Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times series and accompanying curricula are for the educational programs of tribes, schools and colleges. For usage authorization, to place an order or for further information, call or write Institute for Tribal Government – PA, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207-0751. Telephone: 503-725-9000. Email:

[Native music]

The Institute for Tribal Government is directed by a Policy Board of 23 tribal leaders,
Hon. Kathryn Harrison (Grand Ronde) leads the Great Tribal Leaders project and is assisted by former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, Director and Kay Reid, Oral Historian

Videotaping and Video Assistance
Chuck Hudson, Jeremy Fivecrows and John Platt of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Green Fire Productions

Photo credit:
Kathryn Harrison

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times is also supported by the non-profit Tribal Leadership Forum, and by grants from:
Spirit Mountain Community Fund
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Chickasaw Nation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe
Delaware Nation of Oklahoma
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
Jayne Fawcett, Ambassador
Mohegan Tribal Council
And other tribal governments

Support has also been received from
Portland State University
Qwest Foundation
Pendleton Woolen Mills
The U.S. Dept. of Education
The Administration for Native Americans
Bonneville Power Administration
And the U.S. Dept. of Defense

This program is not to be reproduced without the express written permission of the Institute for Tribal Government

© 2004 The Institute for Tribal Government 

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