Siletz Indians create new way of life for tribe

December 08, 1991|By Timothy Egan | Timothy Egan,New York Times News Service

SILETZ, Ore. -- Deep inside the coastal forest of Oregon, a small American Indian tribe is building the reservation of the future.

After clearing a swath in the woods, the Siletz Indians have constructed a new community of big homes and broad streets. Unemployment is well below the national average. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed.

And the budget, enriched by tribal businesses and a portfolio of outside investments, is showing a healthy surplus.

But what is most remarkable about the Siletz is the simple fact that they exist, still holding millennium-old ties to this land.

The Siletz tribe, like nearly 70 other tribes and bands of American Indians, was officially abolished in the 1950s as part of a government policy known as termination, which took their land, their sovereign status and their tribal identity.

In return, the government made cash payments to the Indians.

Since then, the 2,000-member tribe has waged a 35-year struggle for the restoration of what was taken.The Siletz say they are far better off with a reservation, even a tiny one.

But as they work to build a new reservation from the ground up, the Siletz are determined to avoid the mistakes of the past. There are no handouts or cash payments to individuals; they limit budget growth to 2.5 percent a year.

They make some use of the old economic standbys, forests and fish, but are not afraid of trying new business ventures or investing in the stock market.

And they still have ceremonies dedicated to the salmon god and teach children how to speak the tribal language.

"This tribe is a real prototype for the future because they are trying to take the best of both worlds," said Nelson Witt, an Oglala Sioux who was hired to manage the tribal business interests here. "They are a part of the outside world, but they have not driven the Indian from their hearts."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.