'Just because we were terminated didn't mean we weren't Indians'

GRAND RONDE, Ore. - This past November marked the 28th annual Restoration Celebration for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The commemoration is considered the most important in the history of the tribe.

"Restoration was a dream after we were terminated," said Kathleen Tom, who currently sits on the tribe's council. "Just because we were terminated didn't mean we weren't Indians, we were always Indians."

The tribe might not have an annual celebration if it weren't for Margaret Provost, an unassuming housewife who became the catalyst for getting the tribe restored.

"I was working at Teledyne Wah Chang in Albany when my supervisor asked me why our tribe wasn't working on getting restored," said Provost. "I told him I didn't know who would do it, and he suggested me."

With the encouragement of her boss, Provost started the process that took 21 years to complete. She enlisted the help of her brother, Marvin Kimsey, and another tribal member, Merle Holmes.

"They told us the first thing we had to do was get a census done," said Provost, who knew finding tribal members would be difficult after termination. "We had tribal members all over the United States."

After applying for and receiving a small grant, Provost, Kimsey and Holmes began the task of finding tribal members and gathering the 900 required signatures.

"It was hard," said Provost of the enormous task ahead of them. "We met in restaurants and used our own money for travel."

Eventually, with the help of Oregon Legal Services and Rep. Les AuCoin, the small committee was able to submit a bill to Congress that would restore the tribe.

"I used to know the number of our bill," said Provost, speaking of Public Law 98-165. "There were over 400 bills before the Congress and only 12 passed. Ours was one of them."

Restoration has brought many changes for the tribe.

In the early 1990s the tribe explored the idea gaming and eventually built Spirit Mountain Casino on the reservation.

With the new revenue stream the tribe was able to become more self-sufficient and provide members with education grants, health care, and per capita payments.

"We are doing well," said Provost of all the tribe offers its members.

"I'm blessed every day," said Tom, "and it's because of this tribe."