Eyithe’, I AM

Written by: Jaylin Hardin | Sports Editor

Content warning: contains mentions of death and substance abuse

Look at the ground beneath your feet. Who’s walked here? Who lived on the land long before you came into existence?

The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians is one of nine federally recognized Indian Tribal Governments in Oregon. It has its own Tribal Board of Directors and its own set of laws pertaining to and governing tribal members. Located in Southwest Oregon, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians has over 1,800 members spread from Canyonville, Roseburg and Myrtle Creek. I am a recognized member of this tribe.

Ancestral tribal grounds were primarily located along the South Umpqua river and the surrounding watershed but also stretched to parts of the Willamette Valley, Crater Lake, the Klamath Marshes and the Rogue Valley watershed. 

On April 12, 1854, a treaty was signed between the natives and the United States government — ceding more than 800 square miles of land. The tribe was paid 2.3 cents an acre and these were then resold to pioneer settlers for $1.25 an acre.

There were, however, issues with this treaty. The natives had no concept of land ownership or land boundaries — hunting, fishing and gathering sites were all well established. The treaty also promised healthcare, housing and education to the Cow Creek Tribe, but this was ignored until 1954 with the passing of the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act, legislation to “set the Indians free.”

When settlers arrived and began to live on the ceded land, tensions began to rise. Disease swept through the tribe killing many members, including Chief Miwaleta, who now has a campground named after him in Azalea, Oregon. 

Efforts began to remove the Cow Creek to reservations in Northern and Eastern Oregon, with promises of wonderful lives on the reservation. Scouts were sent to these locations, and their first sight was that of an infant suckling on its dead mother. This is still shared among the tribe and told to people who ask why we do not have a reservation. I remember I was 10 when my mom first told me this story. 

Due to this, the tribe resisted relocation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent exterminators to Oregon for the main purpose of killing the Cow Creek people. Many had already died in the Rogue Indian Wars, an armed conflict occurring in 1855 and 1856, which fueled settler-native rivalry. Many who survived this were chased to Table Rock in Medford, Oregon by the calvary and forced off the side of the plateau to their deaths.

The surviving members lived in seclusion and eventually married pioneers, miners and fur traders in the area. Seven families survived, taking or keeping the names Dumont, LaChance, Rainville, Pairseau, Rondeau and Thomason — Rainville and Rondeau are still the most prominent modern names and figureheads within the tribe. 

Though not Federally recognized, the tribe still held their councils and their way of life, ensuring to document these meetings. When the tribe pursued an aggressive approach towards restoration and recognition in the 1970s — an effort my great-grandmother and two times great aunt and uncle all played a part in — they began the process for legal validation of the tribe’s existence. 

Today, the tribe is buying our ancestral land back, owning acreage in Canyonville, Myrtle Creek, Roseburg and the surrounding areas. Seven Feathers Casino and Resort, which started out as a bingo hall in the 90s, now boasts six restaurants, a spa, an RV park and countless events within the various lounges and event centers. 

I grew up intertwined in my tribe’s culture. Until my middle school years, I spent summers at culture camps and Pow Wows, crafting and dancing in ways to honor the ancestors. There are still skills I learned at these that I remember today, my favorite being flint knapping — the art of taking obsidian and sculpting it into arrow and spearheads — and beading. 

The tribe knows the effects of intergenerational trauma and issues; my grandmother and great aunt both passed due to their drug use — both starting in their early teens.

Into my adult years, I have become distant from the culture I grew up in. I distanced myself from toxic people within my family and have not spoken to them in years. I still make my attempts to have connections; reading literature by native authors, using a sage wax melt when I want to cleanse my space, wearing my beaded earrings and keeping my hair long when so many in the past couldn’t.

I still have connections with my tribe, they help pay for my college and they are blood, after all, but part of me likes to think they can’t catch me. I am proud of my culture and the survival of my ancestors, but I choose to uphold my own traditions and my own way of life, far from them and the lifestyles many have chosen for themselves. I am not running from the culture I grew up in. I carry it and the blood of my ancestors with pride and honor. But I am far from those who wish me ill.

This Thanksgiving, think of the people who lived on the land long before the settlers arrived from the New World those years ago, the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Children, the thousands found buried under residential schools. Especially think of those who are in the cycle that was created for them, hundreds of years before they were born. Not everyone is as lucky to break the cycle like I am.

Contact the author at howlsports@wou.edu