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On Indigenous Peoples’ Day

I've been spending a lot of time today reflecting on the Nez Perce War of 1877: the last major armed conflict with Native people in American history, and one of our country's most shameful chapters.

The fighting occurred after Chief Joseph led 800 Nez Perce over 1,500 miles of rugged, impossibly difficult mountainous terrain, to arrive within a few miles of safety in Canada. But before they could reach safety, they were forced to surrender by U.S. forces.

The skill and courage of Chief Joseph and the strength of his people, including many women and children, stands in sharp contrast to the treachery and betrayal committed by the U.S. government during this horrendous war, which concluded almost exactly 144 years ago.

On Indigenous Peoples' Day, we must grapple with stories like this one, and commit ourselves to both healing the wounds inflicted on Indigenous communities by white colonizers, and to honoring Indigenous peoples' countless contributions to our communities.

Our district and surrounding counties, Clackamas and Multnomah, are named after some of the Indigenous communities who initially lived here. And there are still nine federally recognized Tribal communities in Oregon: the Burns Paiute Tribe; the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians; the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon; the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs; the Coquille Indian Tribe; the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians; and the Klamath Tribes.

We have a legal and moral obligation to do everything we can to rectify the wrongs our federal and state governments have wreaked on these communities. And in Congress, I have committed myself to using my role and privilege to fight to restore justice and critical resources for Tribes.

Central to that effort must be the recognition of Tribal sovereignty and strong partnerships between Congress and Tribal leaders.

I'm grateful to have teamed up with Tribes to create legislation – which was ultimately signed into law – to improve unsafe living conditions at Treaty Fishing Access and In-Lieu sites along the Columbia River, and to help pass pandemic relief packages that included $900 million in funding to help ensure that Indigenous communities have access to health care, housing improvements, and safe drinking water.

There's a lot of work ahead, and we all have a role to play in the fight for an equitable future for all Indigenous people. So let's roll up our sleeves and build that future.



Posted on October 11, 2021.