Inclusivity program highlights Siletz history, culture

In the mid-1850s, a boy of around 9 or 10 years of age endured the challenges of losing both of his parents and starting a new life on the Siletz reservation.

“We assume he was born right around 1847, so he was a few years old when the Rogue River Wars broke out,” said his great grandson, Robert Kentta, following a presentation at Philomath City Hall on Oct. 20. “Both of his parents were killed during the Wars and then he was brought to the reservation in 1856.”

The people who were natives to the region that would become Oregon had to overcome many hardships through the decades. Kentta, who is the Cultural Resources director for The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, can share in great detail all of the events that shaped the tribe’s history. He’s able to personalize those experiences through the connection with his great grandfather.

“My great grandfather was born on the Applegate River in southern Oregon and he was orphaned by the warfare,” Kentta said. “Lots of our families have similar or the same stories and lots of hardship and differences of understanding between tribal people’s beliefs about what their rights were and U.S. constitutional law.”

Kentta, who also serves on the Siletz Tribal Council, gave a concise but thorough presentation on not only history, but also their culture (click here for a comprehensive history of the Siletz). In fact, he brought a few artifacts to share at the program from an elk-hide dress to traditional Siletz-style baskets to a miniaturized version of a baby basket.

Kentta said he’s been giving educational programs on Siletz history for nearly 30 years.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians
Robert Kentta, Cultural Resources director (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“It’s good to know that other people are interested in it,” Kentta said. “It’s good to know, too, that all of the time that I put into learning all of that gets put to good use to represent my people and their history.”

Based on the number of people tuning in to Kentta’s presentation via Facebook Live — the online audience was reportedly more than 60 — there was plenty of local interest.

“People have other things they could be doing but they chose to log on and check this out,” Kentta said, grateful for the exceptional virtual turnout.

In the room at City Hall were Mayor Eric Niemann, councilors Ruth Causey, Doug Edmonds and Chas Jones, and City Manager Chris Workman.

Kentta answered several questions following his presentation, including those on controversial subjects such as the use of American Indian mascots as well as land acknowledgements. (View the full presentation in the video section of the city’s Facebook page).

The presentation served as a third installment in a series of educational programs that had been arranged through the efforts of the city’s Inclusivity Ad Hoc Committee.

“Philomath recently passed an inclusivity resolution, refocusing ourselves on learning about different races and culture with the goal of becoming a more informed and welcoming community,” Niemann said.

The Oregon Black Pioneers organization gave a presentation on Sept. 22 and the Oregon Historical Society followed on Oct. 8 with a discussion on the history of racism and justice in the state.

Niemann read a mayor’s proclamation, issued earlier in the month during a City Council meeting, in recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day “to reflect on our friendship and consider our future together.” Niemann presented Kentta with a framed copy of the proclamation.

Kentta said he enjoys giving the educational programs.

“It helps me to refresh my memory and actually as I’m talking, I sometimes have a fresh perspective on it myself — just how the conversation or how the question is asked,” he said. “It makes me think about it in a different way, in a deeper way.”

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