The city of Ashland has begun a new tradition: At the beginning of city meetings, participants now acknowledge the Native American tribes that the city displaced when it was founded. The statement and the work making it a reality took many hands and many years.
Julie Akins is the mayor of Ashland, Oregon, and Belinda Brown is the tribal partnerships director for the Lomakatsi Restoration Project in Ashland. They joined OPB Host Geoff Norcross to talk more about the acknowledgment. The interview began with Mayor Akins reading the acknowledgement.
Julie Akins: We acknowledge and honor the aboriginal people on whose ancestral homelands we live: The Ikirakutsum Band of the Shasta Nation, including the original past indigenous inhabitants, as well as the diverse Native communities who make their home here today. We also recognize and acknowledge the Shasta village of K’wakhakha — “Where the crow lights” — that is now the Ashland City Plaza.
Geoff Norcross: Why is it important to have that in your meetings?
Akins: It’s important to have that in the meetings because we need to understand that we are not the first people here. That we, literally, stand on the ground of the greatness that was before us, the original people of this area. And we need to acknowledge their resources, their wisdom, and how we all got here.
Norcross: Belinda, I know you and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project have been working to get this acknowledgement into council meetings for a long time. And you worked very hard on the language that we just heard. What does it mean to you that it’s now a reality?
Belinda Brown: It’s very healing. I believe it’s a bridge towards more healing in our communities. When we can recognize we walk on the blood and the bones of our ancestors, and then honor that, we can provide some of the traditional values and answers we need to heal our land.
Norcross: How do the people — who carry the names that we just heard — how do those Indigenous populations, who live around Ashland still, how do they feel about the City Council adopting this practice?
Brown: They’re honored. And for some of our elders, they feel it’s about time. I would have to say that, and it’s a little bit heartbreaking that it’s taken so long. Chief Prevatt of the Shasta nation — chief and elder, who has provided us with a lot of these talking points and this language — and in fact, the whole area of the Shasta nation is called Kohosadi — was raised out in the Illinois Valley of the Rogue basin and was treated very poorly by people and families that are still there. So just recognizing that we’re not savages and and we are competent and people who bring intelligence to conversations and have traditional values that kept us as a people and honoring that is it’s bringing some peace. I believe it’s bridging that gap.
Norcross: Mayor Akins, I’m sure there might be people who will say it’s fine, but it’s not policy. It’s not direct help for Indigenous people in your community who may be suffering right now. So how do you answer that?
Akins: Well, I answer that by saying it’s a start, and I completely agree that it’s not a finish line, and that we need to do everything we can to help people who are suffering. And there are many people who are suffering. This is a way to come together and say, Let’s let’s work together and mitigate that suffering. Now let’s get on the front end of this now and start coming up with solutions and answers to our mutual suffering that is occurring and has occurred because the truth is no one benefits by harming another. So it’s time for us to acknowledge the harm we’ve done and move forward to doing better work in the future.