Delores Pigsley, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
Delores Pigsley, tribal chairman, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.
Can you share with us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname?
It's not a Native name, but I go by Dee.
Approximately how many members are in the Confederated Tribes?
We have about 4,900 tribal members.
What are the criteria to become a member?
You must possess at least one-sixteenth Siletz blood. Originally it was one quarter, but that has changed over the years.
Where is your community located?
We are on the Oregon coast, three hours southwest of Portland. Our tribal headquarters is located six miles inland. Our casino resort is right on the beach, 30-plus miles from our headquarters and a one-hour drive from Salem, the state capital.
Where was your community originally from?
We were many bands moved from Northern California, southern Oregon’s Rogue and Umpqua Valleys, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and the entire Oregon coast—about 20 million acres of homelands territory in all.
The Coast/Siletz Reservation was reserved for over 30 bands and tribes to be a permanent home. Ten separate languages are representated in our confederation, and those languages are from five completely different language families.
Are your languages still spoken on your homelands?
Today we teach the Athabaskan language that a large number of members spoke. We have very few fluent speakers, but we teach our language on a regular basis in the community and the local school. We have a dictionary and many aids to learn the language.
How is your government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?
Elections are held annually in February. We have nine Tribal Council members. Three people are elected each year for a three-year term of office. Generally 12 or 13 people run for council seats in each election.
After the general election, the Tribal Council elects officers for that year —a tribal chairman, vice chairman, secretary, and treasurer. Our constitution and ordinances are our laws.
How often does the Tribal Council meet?
The Tribal Council meets twice a month but can also call special meetings as the need arises. The General Council—all enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes 18 years old or older—meets four times a year, chaired by the Tribal Council chairman. Special general sessions can also be called as needed.
What responsibilities do you have in your community?
I set the agenda for all Tribal Council meetings. I am the spokesperson for the tribe. I chair the Siletz Tribal Business Corporation. I have testified before Congress many times, as well as speaking before many organizations, tribal and non-tribal. I am responsible to our membership to follow all tribal and federal laws. I take my job very seriously.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
No, there is not.
What is a significant point in history from your community that you would like to share?
There were eight treaties entered into in our history. Seven treaties were ratified promising a permanent reservation. One was not ratified. We had a reservation of over a million acres, established by presidential order as called for in our treaties, that was overtaken illegally for settlement by non-Indians. In the early 1890s we were devastated by provisions of the Allotment Act.
Our tribe was terminated in 1954, then restored by an Act of Congress on November 18, 1977. Most unfortunate is that only a 3,600-acre reservation was re-established, and very limited hunting, fishing and gathering rights are recognized, not our treaty rights. We have had to purchase very expensive land for housing and for economic development, land that we once owned and should still own.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead?
I had little preparation but was always interested in politics. Growing up after termination and experiencing being an Indian without any benefits was an issue for me. I could not get Indian preference to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, nor could I get services at an Indian Health facility. Education benefits were not available.
My dad served as tribal chairman prior to termination, as well as my sister; my brother was a tribal chairman just prior to restoration. So politics were always part of our family. When I was a child our whole family attended Tribal Council meetings.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
There are many! Forrest Gerard, Frank Ducheneaux, Mel Tonasket, Lucy Covington, Joe DeLaCruz, Joe Jay Pinkham, and Hiroto Zakogi were people I had great respect for in the early stages of my time on the Tribal Council. In the later times, I think of Ron Allen, Rick Hill, Wayne Ducheneaux, Kurt Luger, Pearl Baller, and many more too numerous to mention.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader?
Not in the sense of anyone who was known nationally.
What economic enterprises do the Confederated Tribes own?
The largest enterprise is our Chinook Winds Casino Resort. It is a major attraction in the Northwest, located right on the beach in Lincoln City, Oregon. Our golf course is just a mile or so from the casino. We have the Logan Road RV Park next to casino property and a very large park, HeeHee Illahee RV Resort, in Salem, Oregon.
We own office properties in Eugene, Portland, and Salem. Some are large complexes that include office space rented out to the general public. All of these places have tribal offices that provide tribal services to our membership. We own a restaurant in Depoe Bay, Oregon, and several other individual properties that are rented or leased.
The tribe received property that was once part of Chemawa Indian School in Salem, and we are currently developing it with the Grand Ronde Tribe to be a business campus called Chemawa Station. We are part owners in USAeroteam in Ohio; they manufacture aircraft parts. The Siletz Gas/Mini-Mart is located in Siletz. The Siletz Community Clinic is also considered an enterprise.
Chairman Pigsley speaking about the economic contributions made to the State of Oregon and local communities by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. 2013 Oregon Governor's Conference on Tourism, Salem, Oregon. Photo courtesy of the Confederated Tribes.
What annual events does your confederation sponsor?
The huge Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow takes place in August in Siletz, as well as our Restoration PowWow in November at the casino in Lincoln City. Each year in September we “Run to the Rogue." It's a three-day, 240-mile relay from Siletz south to the Rogue River. We run or walk to honor our ancestors who were removed from that land.
In July of each year we sponsor a Culture Camp for all of our members. In addition we have the usual Easter Egg hunts and Christmas programs. In June and December we celebrate the solstice at our ceremonial dance house; many tribal members participate. We show our appreciation for veterans at a celebration at our charter school each November.
There are many other activities that happen annually, such as gathering eels at Willamette Falls, salmon fishing at Euchre Creek Falls, and gathering huckleberries in the mountains. Other annual gatherings are for basketry material, pine nuts, roots, and shellfish.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
The Chinook Winds Casino Resort is our biggest attraction, but we also have the most beautiful coastline in North America. The Siletz River is well known for steelhead fishing and for floating the river. Our weather is mild, so outdoor activities are very popular.
Our Siletz Community Clinic serves many people. The nearby town of Toledo is known for art work. Newport, Oregon, is the largest city and seaport nearby, and it features an aquarium, the Hatfield Science Center, Yaquina Bay, and many other attractions for visitors.
How does your confederation deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
We are a tribal government, and having lost that status once by an Act of Congress, we vowed that it would never happen again. We take sovereignty seriously. We negotiate as a government and have several agreements in place to protect our status.
We must constantly defend our rights in the State of Oregon as well as in the United States and with other tribes. We abide by our laws as well as the U.S. laws.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?
To be good students, listen to parents and those you admire. Stay in school, don’t be a follower, don’t be a user. Ask for help when you need it and know that you can be anything you want to be.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our tribe.
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips.
All images used with permission.