Bobbie Conner: Native People Have “Intestinal Fortitude”

Bobbie Conner (Cayuse, Nez Perce, Umatilla) talks about Native fortitude.

Bio: Roberta “Bobbie” Conner is the executive director of the Tamástlikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, Oregon and has been so since 1998. She is a 2007 recipient of the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award and was inducted into University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication’s Hall of Apollute achievement in 2013. She was also the 2007 recipient of the Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation.


“Maya Lin wanted to know why our elders were being so gracious and polite and politic. And why wasn’t there more expression of rage or anger or even hate? And she kinda took me by surprise and I thought ‘what?’ I thought ‘how do I answer that?’ and I said well, ‘I’ve learned something…most people don’t understand how much injustice and hardship our people have endured already. And we haven’t left. We’re still here. The attempts to evacuate people, annihilate people, assimilate people, have been experiments that have somewhat failed, thank God. And we know something everybody else doesn’t know–we’re never leaving.’ …our people have an intestinal fortitude that nobody else has because this is our country. You can’t get us out of here. And the same is true of the river. We’re always going to be–no matter what they do to the river, pollute it, dam it, change it in many, many ways, no matter what they do it’s still our river. And I think people think that you have to have property rights to own something but that’s not the way the river is for us. We belong to this place, we belong to this river, we belong to these tributaries that our people had villages on and that’s never going to change. The only thing that frightens me is not having the knowledge about those places and about those life ways and about the technologies. And the language that expresses all of that. That scares me. But the notion that we’re ever going to be separable from this land–it’s unfathomable to me.”

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