Bryson Liberty: Chemawa School Sports

In this excerpt, Bryson Liberty talks about his time at Chemawa and how his football team won the State High School, B school championship.

Bio: Bryson Liberty is a tribal elder of the CTUIR. Liberty has a military background and is a published author, as well as working as a health administrator and actor. His article about fishing at Celilo titled “On the Rock” was published in Cowboys and Indians magazine in 2011. He was on “The Cellar,” “Northern Exposure,” and “Little House on the Prairie”.


High-school was pretty good. I just, my first year as freshman, like I say it was a cultural shock. You’ve been sitting next to Indian kids all your school life and it just, you look around and ‘where’s all the Indian guys?’ There weren’t any. There weren’t that many that went to school. So it was quite an adjustment. But I got through the freshman year and then in my sophomore year I heard about this Indian school in Salem called Chemawa. And a couple, three guys went to Chemawa and I talked them about it; they said yeah you get to play football, basketball, baseball, everything, they’ve got everything down there. They’ve got the best gym floor in the state of Oregon. And I so talked to the other guys and I thought gee I might go down there. Because I wasn’t too hot about being a sophomore in high-school, I didn’t know what that was going to be like. Anyway I had to really smooth talk my mother into letting me go. So she let me go. So about just before school year started, the tribe bought a bus, a school bus to replace that old yellow one. So that’s what they hauled the kids to Chemawa in.

So one day it come time to leave all the folks brought their kids to the agency, brought them to the Indian agency early in the morning. And everybody said goodbye and we were all loaded into this bus. And nobody, there wasn’t many tears falling that I know, which is I know that I wasn’t feeling sad or anything because I thought boy this is going to be something; play football, basketball and everything like that. So we got on the bus and they had the bus driver from the agency there, driving it and we left. It took all day to get down to Salem and we got to Salem and the guy dropped us off. They assigned us to our rooms and dormitories, then I went to school there for a year and a half– my sophomore year and part of my junior year there.

Well it was good. You got to play a lot of sports. And in the second year I was there our football team we won the State High School, B school championship. And that’s when they only had A schools and B schools. So we played some pretty good teams. But that’s the first state championship Chemawa had ever won. And I went back there a few years ago when I moved back up here from Arizona and I went down to Chemawa and I wanted to see if they had any pictures or a trophy or anything. They didn’t have anything that said Chemawa won the state B school championship back then in 1946. And it didn’t, there weren’t any paper clippings or anything. So I talked to the superintendent and blah blah blah and I got the idea, gee this would be a good place to start a golf program. So I looked into that but that fell through. Again, I don’t know who, they just didn’t have any…I was going to talk to Nike up here and you know get golf balls and all the worn out clubs and stuff everywhere I could. I thought it’d be, because there’s a lot of room up there. They got the best facility in Oregon for high school golf but they just don’t do anything down there.

But I went down there and we won the state B school championship in my junior year. And I had a little problem there, I wrecked a form truck; you had to work on weekends and they wanted me to pay it back. And I said no I’m not going to pay it back, I was doing this for the school. I was driving the truck and slid on the mud into another car and they said well we’re going to talk to your folks. So I thought I’m out of there. So that’s why as soon as football season was over I packed up my stuff and left. I said adieu to Chemawa and went back to Pendleton and went to school in Pendleton.

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