By CHRIS AADLAND
MISSION, Ore. – Recently elected tribal leaders officially began their terms Wednesday morning after a standing-room only swearing in ceremony at the Nixyaawii Governance Center.
Six freshly elected citizens of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation joined six re-elected members on the Board of Trustees, the tribal governing body that sets policy and priorities, makes final decisions on projects and decides how to handle tribal affairs. For its new two-year term, the BOT will be led by several new officers, including Chair Gary Burke, who defeated Kat Brigham to become the next Chair in the Nov. 14 election.
In addition, two new General Council officers – Chair Alan Crawford and Secretary Martina Gordon, who defeated Shawna Gavin in the November election – will join returning Vice Chair Michael R. Johnson and Interpreter Thomas Morning Owl. Former Chair Lindsey X. Watchman didn’t run for re-election.
Burke, who has previously held the BOT Chair position, said “it’s a great day today” and that “there’s many things that [have] to be done” during Wednesday’s event.
Under his leadership, he said the board would serve the CTUIR community – hopefully with some encouragement from the people – and honor the visions of previous generations of leadership by relying on the Treaty of 1855 and the CTUIR constitution and bylaws to guide them.
“It’s a big responsibility, and I take it that way,” Burke said. “I’m proud to serve you as your Chairman of the Board of Trustees.”
But before Burke and the other new leaders could officially begin working, they had to be sworn in and pledge to support and preserve treaty rights and the tribe’s constitution and laws, and work on behalf of the tribal members who elected them.
Upwards of 200 community members attended Wednesday’s ceremony, which included an honor song and opening prayers, followed by CTUIR Tribal Court Chief Judge William Johnson officially swearing in the new leaders after signing their oaths of office. The approximately 90-minute long event also included remarks from the new BOT and General Council members, cake and refreshments, hugs, handshakes and photos.
In remarks to attendees, the new officials and others who led the event, thanked the community for its support. Some acknowledged generations of previous leaders, with others saying that they were committed to honoring them, and the tribe’s treaty and constitution, by working to ensure the well-being of tribal members, the land and First Foods. Some said they were grateful for the opportunity and that they hoped CTUIR community members wouldn’t hesitate to offer feedback or guidance during their terms.
“We all are family, and I look out and see all of you, and it’s humbling,” new BOT Treasurer Raymond Huesties told those who attended the swearing-in. “It makes me feel good because all of you are going to help me do my job; you’re going to keep me honest.”
In addition, Roberta Wilson took over as BOT Secretary, taking over for Sally Kosey.
New Member-at-Large Steven Hart joins Toby Patrick, Corinne Sams and Lisa Ganuelas, who all kept their seats. Former Member-at-Large Boots Pond was kept off the ballot for his seat due to an error with his candidacy paperwork and ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for General Council Chair.
While the new board will jump right into meetings and work sessions beginning on Thursday, it will learn more about CTUIR day-to-day operations and set priorities during an upcoming retreat and four-day orientation.
“Everybody’s coming in with their fresh new ideas,” Vice Chair Aaron Ashley, who is in his fourth term, and second as Vice Chair, said during the ceremony. “We’re all going to come together as one and try to do the best that we can for the people.”
During Wednesday’s ceremony, the outgoing Board of Trustees and General Council members were also recognized and given Pendleton blankets as gifts for their contributions.
“The last two years, they made a great commitment, and Kat over many decades, to serve the people,” BOT member Corinne Sams said during the ceremony, adding that she had the “utmost respect and faith” in the new board and that it would work together to serve the tribe to protect – and enhance – treaty rights to ensure that future generations can thrive.
Members of the CTUIR Youth Council were also sworn in after their peers selected new leaders during a two-day summit last week. As Youth Council members, the emerging leaders will sharpen their own leadership skills, advocate on behalf of issues important to them and the CTUIR community and represent CTUIR outside of the community all while helping elevate and promote the perspectives of tribal youth.
“As future leaders, we the Youth Council are here to watch and learn from our elected leadership,” said Hiyuum Nowland, the Senior Youth Council’s new Cultural Ambassador. “My hope is that we, the newly elected leadership, lead our tribe and youth with one heart and one mind.”