Roberta Conner: Grandfather Reintroduced to His Homelands

Roberta Conner tells how her grandfather was reintroduced to his homeland and the importance of “stories about the land and how the land takes care of us.”

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 the 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.


So my grandfather was, in 1903 as a 6-year-old kid going into the Wallowas with his father, EJ Conner and his mother, Sarah Conner, to fish. People don’t go to the Wallowas to fish, maybe for certain kinds of trout, but they didn’t go salmon fishing but they didn’t go salmon fishing in the Wallowas today, the way they did then. So those stories about the tributaries and the resources and the people are stories that you get through the generations. And when you have a loss–when you lose a generation–you’ve lost a chapter in our history. So most of those chapters in our family were regained by my grandfather’s friendships with Indian people and non-Indian people. He had a fabulous friend. An attorney in the Wallowas and an old ranchman in the Wallowas, Gib Marland and Max Wilson. Took my grandfather all over the Wallowa country and reacquainted him with his own land. Because his mother died when he was a teenager and he didn’t have anybody to take him there. His old, his own old people, there were other old people and so he worked with Yellow Wolf and the old men that survived the war and knew them and spoke Nez Perce with them and translated for them, but he borrowed other people’s grandparents. And it’s ah, I think that’s kind of why the work in the museum is so important because every single employee here that has a tribal history has a set of stories not unlike mine. And not unlike my mother’s. Every single family here. Ours are not unique stories, these are typical stories. Every single family has these stories. They’re different in every single case, there are different names, there are different locations, but they are all stories about being on the river–any one of the river tributaries, streams, creeks–they’re all stories about the land and how the land takes care of us. And they’re all stories about people, you know families taking care of each other. And they’re all parallel in that way.

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