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, conducted in June 2003, longtime Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Allen discusses the role he played in his tribe gaining federal recognition and his work with the National Congress of American Indians. Allen thrives on challenge, greatly expanding the economy of his own small nation while simultaneously working on the national level with NCAI and other intertribal organizations.
This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Institute for Tribal Government.
Allen, W. Ron. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times" (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government. Portland State University. Portland, Oregon. June 2003. Interview.
"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."
"Ron Allen, a citizen of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe was born in Sequim, Washington in 1947. With his three brothers and parents he enjoyed a small town life full of the outdoors and sports. Ron notes that he was a wild child during his teens and was not overly fond of school but he also had a curiosity about people and a zest for work and eventually developed a zest also for studies earning accounting and technical engineering degrees from Peninsula College and a B.A. in Political Science and Economics from the University of Washington. Ron Allen's interest in his tribe was sparked in the mid "˜70s when he was unable to get a replacement tribal ID card. He had not really been following the tribal story or its politics. Trying to get his card, the tribe told him that the Jamestown S'Klallam was no longer a recognized entity by the federal government; but S'Klallam means "Strong People". Ron decided to pitch in with the effort to make the tribe's strength a present day, not just a past reality. He was asked to serve on the tribal council and by 1977 had become chairman. Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe was restored to federal recognition in 1981. He became its executive director in 1982 with responsibilities for the tribe's programs including education, health and housing, economic development, natural resource management and cultural/traditional affairs. He remains chairman and executive director today. In the tribe's quest for self sufficiency Ron has led it in establishing enterprises that include a seafood operation, art gallery, construction company and a tribal casino. Profits are plowed back into the tribe and the local community to create jobs, school improvements and health services. But one tribe alone cannot meet the many challenges Indian nations face. He is committed to alliances such as the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. He is one of four U.S. commissioners on the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Commission. The organization he holds to be most crucial to tribes is the National Congress of American Indians. He has served as president, vice president and treasurer. Not shy to speak and speak out, Ron has provided congressional testimony numerous times and has actively engaged in media and public relations to educate the public about tribes. On all levels Ron Allen is passionately driven to protect and fight for the sovereignty of tribal nations and treaty rights. He was a leader in a 1994 historic White House meeting with President Clinton and tribal leaders from across the nation. In his home state he helped develop the 1989 Centennial Accord between Washington and its 26 tribes. The University of Washington awarded him a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2001. His travels have taken him not just to tribes around the U.S. but to other parts of the world. The condition of Indigenous people internationally is a growing concern. Though he thrives on his work and calling he is also dedicated to his two children, his garden and his wife whom he says has exerted a strong influence on his life and work. The Institute for Tribal Government interviewed Ron Allen in June 2003."
Parents, brothers and childhood
"My early childhood was primarily just a small town, rural, middle class community. My father and mother were as middle class as you could probably get. My father was a mechanic; my mother was a waitress. So they were definitely very people-oriented type of personalities. And we grew up in Port Angeles in very small neighborhoods. When you think of the Norman Rockwell kind of childhood, that's kind of what my childhood was about. My mother was just as outgoing a personality as you could ever imagine, classic waitress and everybody loved... She knew everybody and she was just a veracious reader. Even though she didn't go, neither of them went beyond high school, she was just incredibly bright and we'd get into almost any kind of conversation that we wanted. They were very avid Democrats, even though they weren't active type of Democrats but they were just as loyal to the Democrat Party as you could possibly get. And when I went into college and I ended up shifting more into Republic philosophical perspective. My mother had the hardest time with that. That was kind of an interesting development. But as far as values go, we just lived a very classic life, a classic rural life I guess and I just enjoyed it thoroughly. I just have nothing but fond memories from grade school all the way through high school.
Ryan's parents and the world of Indian issues
"My father experienced a lot of racism and my father was more on the fair skinned side as an Indian. And it was always interesting; as he grew up he ended up buying booze for his friends and relatives because he could get it with less hassle than his colleagues. My mother was Scottish-Irish so half of my heritage is from my mother's side. They just weren't very active. My father's father, my grandfather was very active. He was a former chairman of my tribe and very active with the lands claim settlement and so he was very much a part of that aspect of the tribal politics. But my dad just didn't get into it and neither did his brothers. He comes from a large family and there were seven of them. But none of them got interested in it, dad never got interested in it. I was always interested in it when I was a kid. My grandmother was one of the last speaking S'Klallams in our village and I remember her speaking it and I was asking her to try to teach me the language but she had absolutely no interest in it. She felt very firmly that it was dying and that I just needed to learn English well and that was her attitude towards it. So they just weren't active. My mother was very interested in it. She used to listen to the stories that my grandmother used to share about the experiences of the village and her memories of her mother and father, my grandparents of course."
Preparation for leadership did not necessarily begin in Ron's youth: Play, work and the Vietnam issue
"We used to party and drink a lot and basically do those kinds of things so I was...I think I was known as a bit of a wild child in high school days. In fact I was such a wild child that during high school I basically got picked up a great deal, a minor and possession. It ended up being one of the reasons why I did not go into the military. When I graduated in 1966, actually '67, '66 is when I was supposed to graduate, I was always in so much trouble by the time '66 came around most of my colleagues at the time were graduating, moving on and the guys were all going to the Vietnam War. And of course I had one more year to go and '67 we were still immersed in the Vietnam War and by that time I'd already been picked in minor possession 19 times and I had a couple of assault charges, getting into fights and things like that. Often they weren't necessarily fights that I incited, they were just things I was defending people that were friends of mine, and you're at the wrong place, the wrong time. And that was a lot of my story back in the high school and post high school years. And so I was not really being much shaped as a leader. I was always interested, I was always vocal but I was not necessarily shaping my leadership skills at the time. And when I got out of high school and of course the Vietnam War was moving along and I got my draft notice. I remember going in and passed the physical fine and then you have to sign up all this stuff that you did and I had to tell them all these minor possessions and the assault charges. And I remember the recruiter was looking at it and kind of going, "˜What is this?' And I said, "˜Well, you know, I kind of had fun during high school.' And I put all the stuff down because I was not really interested in going to Vietnam. My friends wanted to go there, paratroopers and what have you, and I was not interested in the war at all. I did not like it, I did not feel good about it, everything I read about it I didn't like it and so I told the guy, the recruiter, I said, "˜I'm not interested. If this keeps me out of the military, fine.' And I got a notice months later that gave me a 4F and a little note on the side attached to it and the recruiter says, "˜Well, bub, this is the best I can do for you.' So that kept me out of the military. I always had mixed feelings about that as I grow older and think about my friends who did serve and sometimes I wish I would have and did, I wish I did do that but I just didn't. And that's just the way it goes and I don't think twice about it and don't look back at it and think lesser of myself because I didn't do it. I am proud of my friends and those who have actually served in the military and am very appreciative of them doing that. But after high school then I started getting, I tried to go to college and it didn't work. I was not interested in anything, I couldn't stay focused, my grades were just terrible cause I just...I was not interested in school. I was always, all the way from grade school all the way through, well, my whole life; I've always been a worker. So because we were really a poor family, we didn't have much, anything that I wanted I had to work for. So I remember even as a teenager when I was 15 and 16 years old, I went up to Alaska and fished on a commercial seiner up in southeast Alaska and I'd come home with a lot of money. I had a lot more money than most of my friends just cause I had a little connection and I worked hard and I made money and then when I was in high school I always worked. I remember working as a mechanic in a bowling alley all the way through high school. So I'd go to work at 7:00 or 8:00 at night and not get off until 1:00 in the morning and then go to school the next day. So working was never a problem for me. As a matter of fact, when I was grade school and junior high I used to have three paper routes. They didn't want you to have three paper routes but one paper route wasn't making enough money for me so I figured out a way...we had three different papers at the time so I had all three routes in my area so I'd make a few more bucks. So I was never...I was always working and never was afraid of working."
The 1960s: Skills emerge in the counter culture experience, as does a fascinating with people
"So then my organizing and management control skills started emerging. I was always the one who handled the money for all my friends. If we were going to do anything, if we were going to...just manage everything from the household responsibilities to special events and we lived on a big farm out in the field and we would throw these small little mini rock festivals. I was the one who organized it, I was the one that put everything together and organized getting the beer and getting the bands and making sure the bandstand was all organized and figuring out how to hook up, make sure all the electricity was there and so forth and orchestrating who could park where and that's pretty much the world I came out of. And I was searching for something higher and searching for understanding of life without really knowing it. And then I was driving a logging truck and making pretty good money and all of a sudden I found myself reading a lot of magazines. I was just kind of fascinated with what it took to understand the people around me and people's personalities "˜cause I was always fascinated by people and wanted to understand what made them tick and why they acted and responded in a certain way, where their disposition led them as people. So I was trying to understand those issues. So then when I started reading and studying these different topics I just realized that driving a logging truck was not going to be a good enough deal for me. That was not the kind of vocation I was interested in. I was interested in something much more than that so I decided to go back to school."
Playing basketball in Indian tournaments, Ron gets carded
"I would always at the rebound and that was my main job, go get the ball and then get that thing out in the fast lane and I'd rough people up pretty good. And then pretty soon people were wondering about me cause I have fair skin, probably taking more after my mother, the Scottish-Irish side of my family. And they kind of went, "˜Who's this White guy out here? Is he really Indian?' I'm going, "˜Those are my brothers over there. You're not questioning them,' "˜cause they were more darker skinned than I was. And so they said, "˜We don't care. We want to see your ID.' And of course I didn't have it because I'd lost it on a fishing trip. I just loved basketball too much, I wanted to play so I went back to the council and said, "˜I need my ID, can you get me another ID?' And they said, "˜Well, actually we can't. The BIA has decided to no longer recognize our tribe and we are in the middle of reestablishing our standing as a tribal government and being recognized as a tribe.' That was the mid "˜70s, like 1974 pretty late in the fall cause we were playing basketball. So I was going to school and I was playing basketball and then all of a sudden that's when my whole career with the tribe emerged. I says, "˜Well, what's the deal with...how do we get the cards?' And they said, "˜we have to get recognized and there's a process called the Federal Recognition Process that they're...and we have a lawyer that we've hired,' through an organization the tribe was a member of called the Small Tribes Organization of Western Washington.'"
Ron is invited to fill a slow on the tribal council as he continues classes at Peninsula College
"So the guy says, "˜Well...' I said, "˜What does it mean?' And he goes, "˜Well, you just sit on the council and help us make decisions on what the tribe needs to do in terms of getting recognized and try to build up our ability to serve our people.' I went, "˜Okay, so I'll do that. If that means I can help get this card,' and that's all I was interested in was getting the card to go back and play basketball. So they appointed me to the chair or to the vacant council member in 1975. And then I started working with the lawyer and the anthropologist in terms of putting together the petition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Meanwhile I was going to school at Peninsula College and all of a sudden those two simultaneous tracks started in my life, which kind of changed what I was doing. All of a sudden I became interested in what the tribe was doing and started asking questions, "˜What do we do, how do we provide services, where do we get our revenues?' We didn't have a land base. We didn't...we would meet in people's living rooms or at the VFW in Skwim and so that was kind of how we would orchestrate ourselves. Our files were...whoever was going to keep the files in their trunk and bring it to the meeting and that's pretty much how we handled business. The second two years at Peninsula College I was much more interested in politics and I became the president of the student body and then became only the second person to ever be the president two years in a row and was just very active on the campus and got more and more active with the tribe. And next thing I know by 1977, I was well into the engineering program up at PC, into the politics, and by that time I got elected the chairman of the tribe. Then all of a sudden my tribal career took off."
Jamestown Village was a cohesive community, which Ron got to know through his grandmother
"She always wanted me to come down and stay with her and so I did. I used to...summers I would go down there and stay for weeks on end. We used to have this little tiny hut on the beach. It was basically a two room place with an outdoor toilet and it didn't even have a shower. You had this little tiny bathtub in it. I mean it was the dinkiest little thing you could ever imagine. It's a good thing I was small back in those days. But I used to spend time with her on the beach and so I knew the community quite well. In those days what we referred to as the Jamestown Road was just all Jamestown people with a couple of non-Indian farmers around us. Today, because it's such a beautiful beach, it got bought up by a lot of very wealthy people and eventually pushed out a lot of our people. The prices of land taxes went up and it got exorbitant for many of our community. And so we really only have about a dozen or so of our members that actually still own land down in the original Jamestown Village. We're working hard at preserving more and more of that property and picking up pieces here and there to try to restore it as much as possible, but it's pricey for us. So we're doing that. But I was down there and was very much a part of the village. I didn't really realize that we were not an organized tribal entity. Before I became aware of it, I knew that there was a tribal police, there was actual IHS, Indian Health Service assistance that was made available down there, we had our own Shaker Church and it was just a very organized village and I guess you just didn't think about it. So I never thought much about it either and then all of a sudden all those factors became factors with the petition."
Juggling school, work and the rules of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
"Cause I pretty much had exhausted what educational assistance I could get from the tribe I had to basically earn my way through. So I used to work on a graveyard shift from 11:00 to 7:00 in the shipyards as a ship fitter. I worked down at Lockheed and there was one other company I worked for early on but basically that's what I did for four years. Then I would go to school during the daytime and then I would run over and deal with the tribe in the afternoon, come back usually on the ferry at night. So I'd go over the Skwim two to three times a week and come back and basically it was one of those sleep fast kind of periods for me where I just had to figure out where I could find 15 minutes to sleep, on the ferry. It's one of those things, you're exhausted so you just sleep that half hour and somebody's knocking on your window telling you to get off the ferry. And so it was kind of intense for me. But I had high energy and so I just kept chipping away at earning a living, making sure I had money to pay for school and living expenses with myself and my wife -- I got married in 1981 -- and going over to the tribe and managing the tribal affairs. During that time when I went to the University of Washington in '79 we were finally getting to where we got a handle on the federal recognition process and so the BIA, cause part of our problem was the BIA kept shifting the rules, kept shifting the standards, which you had to meet; the criteria, standards and criteria that you had to meet in order to be qualified, to meet their criteria and be recognized as a legitimate government. And we had full support, we'd gotten full support from our sister tribes, Lower Elwha S'Klallam Tribe and the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe and then also the surrounding tribes. So the support was really, was well established. When the process actually emerged they actually moved us up on the wait list, and so we went from I think #19 up to #2 behind the Grand Traverse Tribe up in Michigan. And so that was a fast track for us. That happened in 1980 and then all the anthropologists and all the BIA teams started coming out and visiting us and going through our documents and visiting the tribe and making sure that we were "legit". So we got recognized in February. We passed all their tests and criteria. And February 10th, 1981, we were recognized. The summer of '81 we got a $30,000 grant from the BIA to help set up our governmental operation. By October of '83 we received $180,000. So now we were opening up shop. We had opened up a small little two-room office in Skwim, in this place called the Boardwalk Square. And so that I was coming over and actually dealing with tribal affairs; I was hired as the executive director in the summer of '82 and that's when I became the administrative head for the tribe. So that was the pattern. And then in '83, a year later, while I was working half time as the administrator for the tribe I finally graduated so just everything kind of happened. In the summer of '83 my wife and my newborn baby, my oldest son Joe, we moved back to Skwim. And during that time we were able to also secure a HUD grant. So we had put together a HUD grant and bought a little two-acre piece of property. Couldn't do it in Jamestown because Jamestown was designated a flood plain zone so you couldn't spend federal dollars there. So we ended up finding a site near one of the other village sites on Skwim Bay, it was the best we could do and we said, "˜This works.' And so that's how we actually got located where we are because we had to move fast and we found a site that worked on the Bay. And then on that particular site was a little house and I moved into it and just basically lived the tribal politics ever since then."
Response of surrounding communities to the tribe's restoration
"Indifference; indifference without a doubt. I think that the local community really didn't pay a whole lot of attention to us. The local Skwim community knew us as the Jamestown Village and knew the families that lived there and lived in the Skwim community. They didn't pay any attention to us. They didn't ever even think of us as a government. It just never crossed their mind. They were just "those Indians" who lived on the beach who were here forever and we like them. Most of our people were very likeable people and if you asked some of the old pioneers of the community they would say, "˜Yeah, I knew the Jamestown. I knew Lyle Prince real well, I knew Bill Allen real well, I knew Bill Allen's dad Joe. Yeah, I remember him.' County commissioners, they didn't pay much attention to us at all and just shrugged their shoulders. There was actually...there wasn't all that much engagement with the Lower Elwha S'Klallam Tribe and they just didn't pay much attention to them. So they weren't going to pay attention to that reservation that was well established since the 1930s then they certainly weren't going to pay any attention to us. And so we were not on their radar screen for many, many years. I think that when we first got on their radar screen was after the settlement. There was a settlement in 1985 for the land and we purchased some property and one of the pieces is actually where our casino is at right now. But on that property we ended up selling fireworks and that got their attention. Okay, now there's this Indian fireworks stand. So that's the first time they really started resonating that, um, we've got to deal with these Indians and that respect that they had no control over what we did on our property. That annoyed them but we were still so small, we were only a tribe of 250 people, they didn't pay much attention to us. And as we started developing businesses, I think that they started developing a confident level of who we were and how we interacted with the local community. They looked at us...I think many would look at us with a jaundice eye or a little bit of a skeptical eye but many said that, "˜Well, actually they're doing quite well and they're taking care of themselves. They're being very resourceful and very independent,' which is a very strong characteristic that we always took great pride in. S'Klallam means 'Strong People' and so...we took a lot of pride in the meaning of our people's name. So I think the local community actually developed a positive attitude towards us. We were always very progressive and we were never afraid of pursuing businesses off the reservation or out of the area. Often in reservation communities the people want to see the businesses where they actually can see them, they can know where the business opportunities are, job opportunities are, and the idea of owning businesses out of sight, off the reservation is something that creates a bit of anxiety and distrust. We never had that problem at all so we had a number of businesses that started off the reservation, out of the area altogether and we managed them to develop business credibility."
Strategies for economic development
"Our fundamental philosophy was to go slow, go after capital intensive businesses, get them solidified and strengthened and then step off of them to go after labor intensive businesses that create more job opportunities for our tribe. And as we moved along we had more successes than failures. We had a couple of failures, disappointing but we had far more successes and we made it work and I think the community opened up to us with strong reception that we are part of the community. I still don't think that they thought of us as a government. I think they thought of us as a business entity, kind of like a little association and that they have this unique authority to engage in businesses as an association. That's the way I read their attitude towards us. So I think it worked quite well and as time went along our businesses became more and more successful and all of a sudden we became one of the stronger employers in the community. Then we raised the eyebrows of the political sorts and the general public realizing that we made a huge difference. But also at that time we started raising the attention of those who were basically the anti-Indian sentiment, the people whose mentality was, "˜We defeated these Indians, why do they have these special rights, why do they get these special opportunities and why do they not pay taxes.' And so all of a sudden you started seeing, people started throwing rocks at us because of jealousy and envy."
The 1855 Point No Point Treaty made clear that the signing tribes retain the right to fish, hunt and gather. The 1974 Bolt decision affirmed equal fishing rights
"We're fish people. We grew up being fish people. We lived on the rivers, we lived on the beaches, fish and shellfish, that's our way of life and that's who we are. And it was true for the Jamestown S'Klallam people too and that is how we basically lived. I remember grandma telling me how they used to go get crabs and go eat Elkin clams and load it up on a wagon and actually take it to Port Angeles to sell to make a few bucks. So when we got recognized then it became evident to me that first things first, we need to make sure that we intervene in the Bolt decision, that we have equal fishing rights. So that was a huge issue. The Point No Point was the vehicle that we should be organized to manage the fishery and enforce the fishery and provide the fishing opportunities for our community. And of course the Northwest Indian Fish Commission was the collective entity that the 20 signatory tribes, including us at Jamestown, was organizing to deal with the state and deal with the federal government. In those days there was just five commissioners. It was organized by treaty area. So there's the five treaty areas: Point No Point, Point Elliott, Quinault and Macaw and Nisqually, Medicine Creek and that's how it was organized. And we had representatives in that forum representing the Point No Point treaty council. Then I started getting involved in that forum as well and became much more involved in reorganizing the Northwest Indian Fish Commission and I got more active in both forums, Point No Point and Northwest Indian Fish Commission reorganizing. So I started spending a lot more active energy in fisheries itself trying to help protect our interests and make sure that we were carving out our fair share. That included we, that Jamestown needed to make sure that we were preserving our unique exclusive areas, which is in front of our village, inside the Dungeness Spit was a very tense and still is a tense discussion because our sister tribes have their exclusive areas, the Gamble Bay for the Port Gamble S'Klallam and Freshwater Bay over there in front of the mouth of the Elwha River in front of the Lower Elwha Tribe."
How to balance work for one's own tribe with work for multiple tribal issues
"That's not an easy question to answer. If you're out there in the political forum, whether it's in the local regional level or the state level or the federal level, there are political issues, policy matters, that affect your rights, your political fishery rights, whether they're legal rights or whether they're just policy matters, and you have to protect and/or advance your interests in those forums. Your tribe has an interest but somebody has to take the lead to champion our interest in those various forums. And so when you're doing one you're doing the other. If you're a part of an aggregate that really means that you're championing your interest as a tribe but it just so happens you're wrapped up in the interests of your colleague, your sister tribes. And so that's true at a local level like Point No Point among the four tribes, it's true at Northwest Indian Fish Commission with regard to the 20 tribes, it's true in the Northwest if you're dealing with the northwest issues in the multiple forums. And some of the best examples are the Pacific Fishery Management Council forum where they manage the fishery from Puget Sound all the way down the coast, up the Columbia River and down the coast of Oregon or the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Commission forum where you're dealing with the management of harvest management of fisheries from Alaska all the way down to the Oregon coast and up the Columbia River. So that's a very extensive area and in each of those forums you have an interest because the fish do not know any boundary, they don't know borders, they don't know do they belong to this tribe or to that non-Indian or to this Alaskan and so forth. So what you have to do is you have to go out there and negotiate and try to manage a fair share in terms of even defining what fair means to each respective party and you just get very involved in it. So while you're doing that, you're advancing the interests of the collective good. The collective means you're inside it, inside you're affected by it so you look at that with a very close eye to make sure that your interests are being protected as well. But you happen to be, because you're an active tribal leader in those forums, you're in a very fortuitous position to protect your tribe's community's interest in those forums."
Ron has participated in many fish forums and is one of four U.S. commissioners on the Pacific Salmon Commission, which represents treaty tribes from Washington and Oregon
"And actually since 1985, I've been active in the U.S.-Canada Fishery forum and eventually I became active on what's called the Frasier River Panel that actually actively manages the Frasier River Sockeye and Pink Salmon which was a big fishery for our people, the S'Klallam people and the Jamestown people. And so I was very actively involved with that for eight years. And then you take those issues and move them back to Washington, D.C. where you have the Magnuson Act and other fishery legislation whether it's being passed or whether it's being amended or whether it's being proposed and then you have to be back there championing those issues including the appropriation process that allocates budget for managing fisheries, protecting the habitat, advancing enhancement programs and so forth."
In the years of fish negotiations, the most difficult decision
"Persuading the tribes that...it basically is two fold. In the PSC forum, Pacific Salmon Fishery forum, in '85 there was lots of people who really believed that this was a bad deal for us, that it was a bad deal for the tribes and I believed that it was a good deal because even back then with limited experience and expertise and knowledge about fisheries and politics, it was evident to me that we were in a fish war and that war had to be stopped and we had to try to...we had to stop the bleeding of the decimation of our fishery. And that treaty was the vehicle to make it happen, to start forcing some actions. So I was pushing real hard to make that happen and likewise it ended up having its problems in implementation and lack of definition. And back in '85 we ended up negotiating another settlement, a revised and amended settlement of that treaty in 1999. And that was very difficult because it was not just the 20 tribes, which included my tribe, but it was the four tribes of the Columbia River that we had to persuade this was a good deal for us and we needed to move it forward and trying to make something happen that satisfied everybody was impossible. There were many others that were similar, shellfish negotiations or negotiations of exclusive areas even for my own tribe among the Klallam tribes. It's about trying to find some sort of common ground. And in every community you have a set of positions that can be the extreme and you can't...you can never settle any dispute on any end of the extreme. It just can't be done so you have to find that common ground and I've done it in countless forums. Sometimes people have accused me of being the negotiator of the middle ground and that that's to the detriment of the interest of the tribes. I don't agree with that at all. I agree that if you're going to lead then you need to lead and provide a path which you're going to be able to build and then if you make adjustments because you were not observant about one factor or another or a key issue then you go back and try to correct it. You work hard at trying to correct it because you now have more knowledge and more information with regard to that matter in terms of making some adjustments to improve it."
How resistance to tribal fishing rights changed over time
"The non-Indian community, over the course of the last 20-25 years, really has shifted its attitude towards the tribes as managers, the tribes as experts. The last, oh, gee, 5-7 years it's been real interesting because the state and federal government are essentially robbing our staff in terms of getting better staff. So for...from the "˜80s, early "˜80s all the way through to the mid "˜90s I think that we probably had among the best staff, the best technicians, best managers in the northwest. And then in the mid "˜90s then there became new problems. The ESA Act emerged and other kinds of problems emerged on its heels and there was a need for more and better expertise. And so they started providing the tribal staffers with better opportunities, more salary, better benefits and so forth and we had a tough time competing with them. The good part is that we trained them and they understand our rights and who we are and they have a stronger propensity to work with us. But on top of that, politically, the different organizations who represent different interest groups, the sport groups, the commercial groups and so forth. They started realizing that we are a friend and an ally and that we're really working closer together. And so you found us actually working on solutions in that forum, in the political forum in Olympia and in Washington, D.C. mutually going after resources to do a better job for management, to do a better job for enhancement and habitat protection. The alliances started shifting dramatically. There were still a number of very negative biased and racists personalities and organizations that are out there, they're still out there today. Some are even getting stronger in their organizational capacity and trying to be very clever in how they're spinning their attitude and the general public's notion of the tribe's unique rights."
The Rafeedie decision, one of the most significant advances for Indian fishers since the Bolt decision
"Particularly, in light of the fact that shellfish became the new core fishery program as the fin fish continued to diminish and the market continued to diminish, the shellfish industry for gooey duck and crab and shrimp, sea cucumbers, started to emerge. So that Rafeedie decision was a huge deal for us and now we're still in the middle of settlement. We're just now closing that settlement out in terms of clarifying the relationship between the tribes' rights and the growers who also were acknowledged in the treaty days and so we had to work out some sort of a compromise and we're doing just that. The Bolt decision dealt with only the fin fish, the salmon. It did not deal with the shellfish, the crab and the gooey duck, the little necks and manila clams, which was an introduced clam to the northwest area. And it made it real clear that we preserve 50 percent of the harvest of the shellfish. So that made it real clear to the state that they had to co-manage the fishery with the tribes for those fisheries. Because those products became very marketable and increased stronger than the fin fish, it became more important to the Indian fishermen because they shifted their gear and their ability to harvest from fin fish to shellfish."
Elected officials in the State of Washington: friends and enemies of tribes
"For the longest time it was either hot or cold. Either you were supportive and sensitive to the tribes' rights and interests or you just were dead against it and you just, philosophically, did not agree with the tribes' rights. Over the time we've had a lot of different personalities out there. The former senators Magnuson and Jackson, they were strong supporters of the tribe. They unequivocally were supporting our rights and were huge champions, well liked by many tribal leaders and they had a very strong relationship. Then you move forward and then you had a series of different kind of players out there but Senator Slade Gorton was one of our deadly enemies, no question about it. He just philosophically...it's not that he...I don't think he hated Indians. I just think that he philosophically did not believe that the tribes should be dealt with differently and specially and that the treaties did not mean that they have special rights. Philosophically he didn't agree with that and he did everything he possibly could to object to that. From the time when he was the attorney general in the appeals to the Bolt decision and he lost all those appeals all the way to the Supreme Court to the time he became a Senator and tried to introduce legislation. We've had numerous congressmen in the area trying to introduce legislation that would undermine the tribes' treaty rights and they worked real hard at it. Fortunately we had a lot of friends and from the senators, Jackson and Magnuson, to today Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell -- I'll come back to Maria Cantwell in a second here -- but they have been good friends to us and we have worked well together. We've had numerous congressmen led by Norm Dicks who actually used to work for Maggie as the chief of staff and moved into Congress himself and has become quite powerful as a ranking Democrat in the House and has been a very, very strong supportive. We've had numerous congressmen who started off being against the tribes and being supportive of the non-Indian constituency and always being influenced by their contributions to their campaigns and so forth and advancing legislation that was detrimental to the tribes and trying to undermine the tribes' legal standing and rights. They lost a lot of battles and they started realizing that the tribes' political clout and knowledge or skill at fighting political fights in Washington, D.C. was ratcheting up dramatically and we had become, tribes in the northwest, including tribes across the nation, had become very good at watching what's going on in Congress in these different forums and spotting these riders that are being slipped into these various bills and generating support to oppose them or get them removed. In state politics for years and years a lot of the politicians didn't realize that they had absolutely power over the unique federal tribal relations that the authority over the tribes' unique right was at the federal level, was in Washington, D.C., it wasn't in Olympia. And they would try to pass pieces of legislation that was absolutely illegal that would get thrown out by courts left and right because they had no authority over tribes' jurisdiction. One, a Republican Representative currently, a job named Jim Buck, he's from my area as a matter of fact, and he was very much against the tribes' unique rights and thought that they should be changed. But this is where Billy Frank entered into the picture and really persuaded him, "˜Well, read the treaties and then if you still believe we don't have a right, then let's talk about it.' So he did. He actually sat down and read the treaties, read the unique relationship between the tribes and read the Bolt decision and all of a sudden came out, as conservative as he is, he's a very conservative, not a right winger but he's a very strong heavy to the right conservative Republican and he flat out believes that the tribes are right, that they're absolutely...they're co-manager and he's become convinced that we're good managers and that the state benefits from our collective efforts and has become quite knowledgeable about the truth of harvesting and protecting the fishery, which is a high interest of his."
The impact of Washington tribes on the Senate race of 2000
"Slade Gorton had been a senator for a couple of terms and introduced countless pieces of negative anti-Indian legislation and we had to spend a lot of energy and a lot of money fighting those bills and those riders that he was introducing and beating them. We finally said, "˜Well, we can either keep fighting him in those forums or we can fight him in the political election and just flat out tell him, we don't like you, we don't agree with you philosophically and we don't want you to be our senator anymore.' And so the tribes got more actively involved in that particular election in 2000 and I was an early proponent of Maria Cantwell. I remember her as a former congresswoman. She'd dealt with the Tulalip Tribe and was very fair and understood their position and was probably a good candidate. There were a couple others out there that we were interested in but she's the one that resonated; she's the one that rose to the top from my perspective. So we did two different things. One, we started generating money for her to help her campaign and number two, we started getting our people registered and we kept convincing our people that we have 100,000 Indians in Washington State and if we can just get half of them, if we can get 40 percent of them in the elections and to vote it's going to make a difference. And so we initiated some vote registration campaigns throughout the different communities, different people took responsibility for it, we held different meetings to get people enthused about it and help with Maria's campaign in terms of getting signage up and doing whatever we could to help the campaign resonate and that worked out quite well for us and we stuck by our guns. I remember that I had conversations with Slade Gorton's chief of staff, Tony, but his comment to us was, "˜Well, we're going to win and when we're done we'll talk about Indian rights and Indian issues.' His comment was, "˜You don't understand us.' I says, "˜Well, actually we do understand you. We understand when you're advancing legislation that is terminating our rights, that is eliminating our unique authority and that's undermining our governmental status,' I says, "˜we know exactly what you're doing. So I don't care how you want to rationalize it, you can do that all you want, but you're against us and we know it.' So we championed that legislation, excuse me, that campaign and we won. And in the end the 2000 votes, we contend were Indians votes. If those Indian voters, we got an additional we think somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 voters out there, if they'd stayed home, Maria would have stayed home too and Slade would still be in office. We chalked it up as an Indian victory, no question about it. Yes, when you're talking about the two million votes that are out there, that a lot of people contributed to it, no question about it, but without the Indians they didn't win the election and we think that was a statement from the Indians to politicians that we're not afraid of you, that we're willing to weather the consequences of any kind of retribution that you may want to levy against tribes. And I remember talking to a lot of my colleagues and they were very, very skeptical of doing this. They thought, "˜No, he's going to come back, he's going to win and he's going to nail us.' And I went, "˜He's nailing us now so what difference does it make, so stand firm, stand strong.' And we've started to get much smarter about that in terms of getting our people out and voting and getting our people motivated to contribute money to campaigns and we're getting smarter about how we contribute. We just don't dump money into a Democratic or Republican Party. We want to know, what is it you're going to do with this money? How is this money going to be able to benefit our community? How are you going to spend money to help us get more of our people registered and get engaged in politics? And how are you going to reach out to the tribes and so forth? So tribal politics has shifted in the "˜90s and now in the 21st century. You're now starting to see tribal people become more players, you're starting to see fundraisers and tribes being much more active. The numbers are rising because the tribes now have money because of the success of the gaming industry primarily, that has made a big difference in our ability to participate in the political process at all levels. I think the Republican Party really does want to try to mend fences between them and the Indian communities and its leadership."
Ron is a moderate Republican who has supported, admired and learned from Democrats
"First and foremost, I defend tribes rights, tribes sovereignty, tribes treaty rights. That's the bottom line for me. In college I developed a much more conservative philosophy towards independence of individuals and communities and the laissez faire economic development philosophies. And so I was actually quite conservative coming out of college. Since college and because of my experience in politics, watching how politics works, learning how it actually works and how you work out the differences of opinion about different philosophies and different issues that affect our communities from so-so issues to natural resources to political institutions that are important for us and so forth, it's come to my perception that my notion is still strongly Republican from economic development perspectives but I've become much more moderate. And a man who's really influenced me on that philosophy and approach is Dan Evans. I thought Dan Evans was a fabulous governor for Washington, I thought he was a fabulous Senator. He advanced a lot of legislation that advanced our issues in a dramatic way. And so his approach, his philosophical approach made sense to me. So it wasn't about your philosophy, it is about the objectives...goals and objectives you're trying to advance. And for me, my primary goal and objective was creating a political, legal environment that tribes could pursue their goals and their objectives and become truly self-determined and self-reliant on their own terms and that they could co-exist with their colleague governments that are out there, whether they exist on the same actual political, legal level or not. In other words, we primarily deal with ourselves with the federal government but we have a relationship with the state government. So for campaign purposes, it's about what do you stand for and how does your political position and platform mesh with the tribes' agenda? Are you going to be respectful of tribal governments? Do you believe we exist as sovereign governments and we have that unique relationship? Do you believe that our treaty rights are a very special contractual commitment between the federal government in our communities that cannot be broken, that holds the sacred...the sacred promise of the nation to Indian peoples or not? So the issue is if it's positive then my disposition is that you're a friend."
The need to educate the American public about tribal nations
"So I think that we really need to continue to work harder in terms of educating the society and the policy people. It's ever changing. The fundamental knowledge about who Indian tribal governments are or our communities and how we co-exist in the state, is a topic that really is developed in grade school and the middle school years. That's where the seed is really planted and we just have to work harder at shifting the curriculums and shifting the materials so that they more accurately reflect who the tribes are and what our history is because you're dealing with 250, well, actually more, 500 years of history but 250 years of history within this state, within the United States in this political relationship and most of them don't quite understand how we fit. And as you see the changing of the guard in Olympia for the state legislature or in Washington, D.C., it's about people who don't have a good fundamental educational background about tribal governments and treaty rights and the unique relationship between the United States society including Washington society and the Indian communities. So we're very conscious that we have to ratchet up our ability to change the curriculum in the educational institutions but also to work harder through the various other educational communication vehicles. It's using the media; all forms of the media -- the broadcast media, the print media, the magazine media -- every form of media that's out there in terms of getting our messages out there. Not just the controversial stuff, which is easy for them to print and cover, but the stuff that are fascinating stories, spending money to basically cause people to have a better understanding of who we are and how we make a positive contribution to our society and to our economy and to our mutual goals and objectives, and then reaching out to the special interest groups that are out there. It wouldn't matter whether it's associations or organizations of different sorts, whether it's church groups or whether it's Rotary and Lions Clubs and chamber of commerce organizations, you're reaching out to them to cause them to know who you are and staying engaged in that way while you're doing that you're educating. And you don't try to overwhelm them, you don't brow beat them but you just take a very subtle, very soft educational approach. So it's never too late but if we're going to change a society, a cultural attitude, it's more at the grassroots and more at the younger level. That's where you're going to make a huge difference. Indians can't stamp out racism faster than African Americans or Asian Americans and so forth, Latinos. It's just racism is racism out there and it's ugly roots are deep and it's going to take a long time to root them out. We're just a part of it and our focus just happens to be with regard to the Indian communities and our unique governmental relationship that the other ethnic groups don't have that unique relationship."
The extreme importance of an effectively run tribal government
"I firmly believe that the success of a leader or the success of a tribe is relative to the quality and effectiveness of their staff. You really need to have quality staff in order to get the job done. We're governments. That means that we have all the responsibilities of governments. Our community depends on it. It's easy to take shots at the governmental leadership and the governmental programs and the bureaucracy, if you will, but the bottom line is, if you're performing, you're not providing the kind of services that is expected. And as governments we have every responsibility that any other government has it just changed in scope relative to the magnitude of the size of your reservation and number of people you serve. But you have to take care of natural resources, you've got to take care of enforcement in court systems to protect the public safety, you need to take care of the educational interests or the healthcare interests, which is a very volatile arena and a very important one for us to focus in on, and housing needs and jobs opportunities and employment mobility and support systems that are important for our community, and all the family and community support systems that's important to strengthen, protecting and advancing your culture and your traditional practices with languages and stuff like that, taking care of your elders, having special programs for your youth so they are very comfortable with who they are. Those are all governmental functions and responsibilities to just mention a few. The Skwim community where Jamestown tribe is set up is very pretty, it's very rural, it's very safe, it's very comfortable and throughout the year and we've been blessed by being approached by some talent, some people who have just some talent. I've been a real strong support of women working in our environment and an upward mobility opportunity for women. So the majority of the heads of my different programs for our tribe are women. If they're the ones that get the job...I have one woman who is a high school graduate and she is just brilliant, absolutely brilliant and we've moved her up, against the objections of some people who have...who insist on higher collegiate degrees and training but this person has been able to do the job as well as anybody. And so we provide the opportunity for those who perform and produce the products that we're looking for, the service that we're looking for. So we've been doing quite well as a small tribe. We're only about 525 people right now. So that makes a huge difference. And then personally, it's about leadership and leadership is about being accessible. I firmly believe that. I've always been a high tech personality. When they first started making portable computers, I remember the first compact computer and it was as big as my suitcase. And I remember having to carry that around trying to get it on the planes and just to be able to get to where I needed to go and to get the job done. I remember Wilma Mankiller, the former chief of the Cherokee, at our big White House meeting that I helped orchestrate, she referred to me as the Cyborg chairman because I was so into technology and producing documents and briefing materials and data. So I had a lot of real strong technical skills. And in those days we didn't have a lot of money so I basically did a lot of work myself. I do a lot less now because I don't have to. I've got too many talented people around me but I review that kind of stuff myself very closely to make sure that it reflects the professionalism. That old notion, you only get one shot at a first impression, I don't even care if it's just a draft document, I want it to look good; check the grammar, check the spelling, check the format, making sure that it looks good. So I pay a lot of attention to that kind of stuff. If people call me then I call them back. If they email me, then I email them back. If I'm busy and I can't get back to them right away, I'll just leave a simple message saying, "˜I'm really, really busy. I'll call you in day or two.' And so I let them know. So they know that I got their message and that I'm going to respond to them. As a general rule I don't have to do that. As a general rule I will stop almost anything I'm doing to deal with my people cause they're my priority."
Ron's paramount commitments and concerns
"Sovereignty is the foundation of tribes, it is who we are, it's what we're about, it's our land base, it's our people, it's our culture, it's our way of life, it is the basis for our unique standing in America and it has always been under siege. We have some new challenges today dealing with the Supreme Court and its new political desire to redefine 200 years of law and interpretations of that unique relationship. So that's a new challenge for the tribes without a doubt. There's other issues that are out there that take a higher, they take high profile. Nothing's more important than that particular attack and that attack has got some momentum from the anti-Indian coalitions that are out there that are organizing themselves throughout the nation and you'll see them everywhere. You see them in Washington, Idaho, Montana, the Great Lakes area, down here in Arizona and so forth. So they're organizing and that means that we have to be better organized. I think that the importance of tribes being united is probably one of the most important ingredients to preserve our...preserve and protect our unique way of life in this society and its political, legal, cultural system."
The real tasks for the President of the National Congress of American Indians
"I learned a lot of difficult lessons as the president of NCAI for four years. One, if you're going to be the president of NCAI, it's not just dealing with Washington, D.C. and the politics, it's understanding the unique interests and issues of all of Indian Country. The Iroquois Confederacy Tribes have different interests than the Seminoles and Miccosukees in Florida. They have different interests than the Great Lakes, the Chippewas or the Crees over in Montana or the Lakota people in the Dakotas or the Northwest tribes, the Alaska Natives. Those interests and those issues are very different and the California tribes, the Southwest tribes, the Pueblos, knowing the difference with the Pueblos and the Navajo, understanding the Navajo/Hopi conflict. And that's just only just touching, there's many elements. Who knows the unique differences in the Hualapai and the Havasupai in northern Arizona down in the Grand Canyon and up on the ridge of the Canyon, what their unique problems and interests are. My good friend Billy Frank, I say one of his favorite phrases and I love it, "˜It's for the cause. It's bigger than you.' Mel Tonasket, another good friend of mine from the Colville Nation, the guy was just always, "˜the cause is bigger than you. You didn't know it was your time, you just rise to it.' Joe de la Cruz, I couldn't speak highly enough for Joe de la Cruz. Influenced me wholeheartedly about getting out there and getting involved and I used to challenge him about the international stuff. I said, "˜You know, Joe, we've got so many battles here in the United States, we're watching the Congress constantly, we're dealing with the administration and we're dealing with ONB, we're dealing with the White House, we've got to go back up to the Congress, we've got to back out to Indian Country and we've got to deal with the state legislatures, the Association of Attorney Generals, all these different organizations and you're basically covering your bases, you're trying to protect your turf.' And I says, "˜I don't know if we can deal with this international stuff.' And his comment to me was, "˜Ron, these are our brothers and sisters; they don't have what we have. We complain about not having enough support, we complain about not having the right kind of setting, the right kind of conditions because of all the economic, social and political factors that you use to measure the welfare of your society and your people. They're worse. We think that we're so low on that totem pole in measuring that criteria, they're worse, they're worse off. They've got worse conditions. They've got people killing them and genocide going on in different forums. They need our support, they need the exposure.' So I became convinced by Joe that those are things that we have to do."
What keeps Ron Allen going
"First of all, I'm always a very active personality. They always refer to the Type A personalities; I'm definitely triple A. So I've always had good energy. I've always been a runner. I've always thought my legs were Indian without a doubt cause I can run, I always could run. That was back in my basketball days cause I'd run the dickens out of them. I may not be able to out shoot them but I'll out run them and I'll beat them that way. And I think of my career the same way. I just have an ability to stay focused and don't worry about...there's lots of stuff going on, there's lots of pressures in all different kinds of forums, lots of things to do and it's just a matter of what's the most important thing you need to deal with right now, what's the most urgent crisis, deal with it and move on to the next, deal with that one and move on to the next. For the last number of years I actually didn't take care of myself as well as I used to. I was always a runner and I took very good care of myself and kept my weight down and then for about five years or six years or so I didn't and got real heavy. So I just now recently over this last year shifted and got my weight back down and started becoming more healthy conscience. I didn't want to trigger diabetes and that kind of stuff. I just felt I could contribute, I really feel I could contribute well into my 70s and 80s. And I saw some of my friends who I think a great deal of... Joe de la Cruz died at 62. Merle Boyd the second chief from the Second Flocks Nation, a good friend, died at 62. And I've had some friends having strokes and heart attacks at early ages and it dawned on me that I've got to start taking care of myself. So that's another issue that caused me to become more conscious of taking care of myself so that I can be a better servant to the Indian people, to my people and Indian people in general. And I just stay motivated; I just love doing what I'm doing. I don't know why. I really think it's spiritual, I think it's beyond me that the Spirit has caused me to have certain skills and I'm just driven by those skills. There's certain things I kind of perceive and understand and I just want to share them and want to provide it. I do have a strong voice and I think my voice should be out there."
In 1988 Congress authorized a project called Self-Governance that allowed many programs run by the BIA to be transferred to tribes themselves. Jamestown S'Klallam was one of the first seven tribes to participate.
"In 1987 there was this big brew haw about the federal government's mismanagement of Indian programs, a huge exposé, a whole bunch of hearings and so forth. And out of all that process came a challenge by the leadership in Congress to tribal leadership. And people who I was very motivated and influenced by, the Joe de la Cruz's, the Wendell Chinos from Mescalero Apache or the Roger Jordain from Red Lake Apache and Sam Keggy from the Lumbee Nation and so forth. They were all there. And they said, "˜How about if we just...you tribal leaders go up with Secretary Don Hodel at the time under Reagan and Ross Swimmer who was the BIA Assistant Secretary, "˜You guys go figure out what's the best way for us to better serve Indian tribes and Indian communities.' And we did. We came up with an idea of how that should work. Their proposal was a terrible one. Ours was, "˜Let us move this agenda forward on our terms.' We knew that it had to be on our terms. We were smart enough to know that they were trying to out finesse us and propose legislation that absolved the federal government of its treaty obligations or its trust responsibilities to Indian Nations and we said, "˜Absolutely not! There's no way we're letting you off that hook. But, we will propose a piece of legislation that allows us to negotiate our fair share of the federal programs that serve our community, our share from top to bottom, from the Secretary's office on down to the field, and then we will absolve you of any responsibility with regard to those programs and those services and then if there's specific legal matters then we'll negotiate them too so that we have our legal counsel with us in terms of making sure that we're real clear about how we're going to move this agenda forward.' When it started in 1988, they put out a notice to see who was interested in doing this. They said, "˜Let's get 10 tribes,' and they really wanted big tribes. And I kept, I was with them and I wanted our tribe to be a part of it. Here we were a small little 225 member tribe and they kept saying, "˜No, you're too small.' And I said, "˜No, we're not.' I said, 'Seventy-five percent of the tribes in the United States are tribes that are under 1500. Who represents them?' And so I kept making the case. Well, they couldn't find a 10th tribe so then I was leveraging with Congress and a guy named Sid Yates who was the Chair of the Appropriation Committee back then, they basically said, "˜Let them in,' and so that's how we got in. We were one of the first 10 and we have been a resounding success. And since then I basically was the technician and Joe who was the spiritual leader and Wendell and Roger, they're two characters that just was a real blessing to ever have experienced because they were in your face kind of tribal leaders. They did not back off from anybody and Joe used to always talk very fondly of those two. So we got in and then I got involved. Very early on I ended up being the Chair of the Self-Governance Advisory Council for the BIA. I decided that I was not going to get actively involved in the IHS side, just let somebody else spread the responsibility around. But I still am very actively involved."
Tribes today in the self-governance movement
"Today there's about 280 of the 560 Indian Nations that are out there. Like I said, we were one of the first 10 and we've expanded now so it's...self-governance is now being advanced in all the Department of Interior so not just the BIA but all the other agencies, Fish and Wildlife, Parks, Bureau of Reclamation, etc. IHS was hot it's heels and that law got passed in 1994. It's moving very fast forward and it's now moving into other agencies and programs in HHS as well. So it's under a program called Title VI and you see self-governance being advanced in housing, over in HUD as well now. So self-governance is really being a phenomenal success. It's about governments acting like governments. You take responsibility for it. That means if you make a mistake, then you own up to it. It's your fault, nobody else's fault. You can't point to the BIA or point to the federal government, it's their fault. You're in control of it."
The cultural programs of Jamestown S'Klallam
"I'm very actively involved with in terms of helping shape out what it is we're doing, helping make sure that we're providing resources and support for people who have an interest in restoring some of the artistic skills whether it's basket weaving, carving or other kinds of practices that have been utilized historically, understanding who we are as a people and making sure the programs are there. It was through my leadership that we just got a book published on the history of the Jamestown tribe. So that was really cool that we've documented it now."
Ron has noted numerous people who embody the spirit that drives him
"My wife; always there, steadily. When we got married she knew I was active, she knew how important the tribe was and as we had kids we'd talk through it and I told her, I said, "˜Look, I'm just going to travel a lot, it's just the nature of the game,' and we've got two kids to bring up. But she was always there. Always she has such a practical insight. I would share things with her more or less just venting and she was interested in what I had to say and what was going on. But she would ask some of the most practical questions and throw back some of the most logical, simplistic responses and it wads very helpful for me. I just kind of went, "˜Doggone it, that's the answer.' It was real simple, it was right in front of me and my wife just kind of responded to me and gave me the best answer I needed. So she was always there and I can't speak fondly and lovingly enough because of what she's done to influence me to do what I'm doing."
Grooming future leaders
"As far as mentoring goes, I always think about Joe de la Cruz's comment cause he got asked this question a lot and it's not...it's a challenging question and it's a difficult one for people. They kind of want you to take your skills and experiences and perceptions and just give it to some young person who's coming along. Joe's comment was that, "˜you have to wait for the right person and the right person has got to come to you and want you to share that with them and to teach you.' And I remember it vividly in terms of trying to be able to transfer what you know and your thoughts and your approach about dealing with Indian politics at a local level versus all the way up to the national level. And we haven't had a lot of kids who are interested. Today's society is a little different generation than what I grew up out of and I'm still trying to understand. But the good news is that we've got a young woman who is very interested in tribal politics and comes to our meetings regularly just to listen and observe and participate when and where she can. So we're working it out so that she works with me and spends time and I spend time talking to her, talking to her about politics and I have high hopes for her. Maybe she will, maybe she won't become a leader. I don't know. Only time will tell and the Great Spirit will make that decision within her walk. So I think the transfer to the youth and the mentoring is about when that opportunity can happen. That's why I liked the Institute for Tribal Governance program because it creates an opportunity to share your perspectives. I think I've earned respect among my colleagues in terms of being knowledgeable about the political process at all levels and how to interact with each other. I've tried to help solve some of the inter-tribal problems and some were successful, some not successful and you've got to roll with it. If you get too wedded to some of these matters then it's a huge mistake because you...it's too emotional."
The passions that drive Ron today and a look at the future
"I guess the passion of advancing strong tribal governance is one that drives me the most, that protects our sovereignty and treaty rights and so forth, that drives me the most, wanting the tribal governments to get stronger and more sophisticated. Some of our colleagues are doing a really good job and very, very impressive and I'm just a tip of the hat and huge smile at them. Some have got a long ways to go and there's a lot they need to learn. So that's a huge issue for me. NCAI is a huge passion for me. I love the organization. I think the world of it. I think that Indian Country doesn't really as a general observation appreciate how important it is to the welfare of our people and to be able to always protect the front lines of where the fight in this war with the American Indians and Native Alaskans with our society. It's the entity that makes the difference and I really want it to get stronger, I want it to develop a presence in Washington, D.C. I really...I have a passion that we're going to develop our own Hall of Indian Nations in Washington, D.C. that people are going to drive by and be very impressed with and want to go in and see. So it's not just the American Indian Museum as if we're relics of the past. We're alive and well and doing well as a political set of entities. So that's a big deal to me. And then personally it's just about my own family. I think a great deal of my kids and my family life. I kind of one of these just strange little backyard gardeners; I love gardening. I'm a gardener. I can go out and spend hours. I can be on trips like right now thinking about plants that I'm concerned about that I planted and I want to make sure they take good root and things I want to do to beautify my little five acre track that I think the world of. So I plant what I like to plant and I know what I think it's going to look like in 40 years. I think about that when I think about those trees. In that same context that's what I think about with the tribe and the tribes collectively, what we're doing. I want to think about what we're doing makes a difference to make it stronger and make it bloom better in 20 and 40 years. In that way you feel like you really have made a difference."
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: email@example.com.
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
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
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
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