Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cancer Does Not Define Me

Through Jeanne at The Assertive Cancer Patient (, I've been reading the blogs of other cancer patients and survivors. Many of them state that while they have cancer or have had to deal with cancer, cancer does not define them as people. In other words, their lives are more than just cancer.

Two of them, that I can think of off the top of my head are Sara and Carver. Sara's blog is at: She specifically says that while she is an amputee, being an amputee does not define her and she tries to live as normal a life as she can. Carver's blog is at: Carver says that she started her blog as a way to deal with melanoma and her treatments, but is now happy that her blog is more about her photography and her life than about melanoma.

I couldn't agree more and yesterday I attended an event that really served to remind me who I am as a person and what my work is all about.

First, a disclaimer. The history is below my interpretation of events and I may not always be accurate. If I've made mistakes, please forgive me.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde invited a whole host of us from Oregon State University to join them and their elders and other tribal members in celebrating the repatriation of a significant collection of artifacts that had been in Oregon State University's possession for 30 to 80 years. It included baskets, a few photographs (I think), mortars and pestles, and many other artifacts. These artifacts came from what used to be the Horner Museum and is now referred to as the Horner Collection. There is a whole history involved in how they came to be at OSU and I won't go into it here. However, in 1995, due to state budget cuts, OSU closed the Horner Museum. At the time, several of the Oregon tribes (including Siletz), including Grand Ronde, requested that if OSU ever deaccessioned the collection, to please consult with Grand Ronde, and the other tribes so that they may get their materials back before going to private collections. The then-OSU President said that he would. But then there was a change in administration. Our local historical society then entered into negotiations with our administration to take over the collection, but the negotiations left out the tribes. Needless to say, the Oregon tribes were upset.

In addition, OSU closed the museum in 1995 without ever complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). In addition to protecting Native American burial sites, the law also stated that any institution that received federation funds and who also held Native American human remains and other cultural artifacts, must report those collections to the tribes to which the artifacts might belong. Tribes can then claim these artifacts if they fall within certain categories. The institution then accepts a claim and through a long process, the institution and the tribe will hopefully reach an agreement to have those items returned. Then, they send the agreement to the National Park Service, the federal agency in charge of repatriation efforts. Once they agree, after they publish the intent to repatriation, items can finally be returned to tribes. (Trust me, that was the short version!)

Thus, in 2000, OSU began to put resources into complying with NAGPRA. This meant that OSU started conversations with the tribes, which then brought into question the negotiations between OSU and the local historical society. Eventually, an Oregon State administrative rule was created for this case (and which will apply in future cases) which gave precedence to Native American tribes to receive Native American artifacts from deaccessioned state agency collections.

I got involved in the repatriation process with the Horner Collection in 2002. The tribes and OSU had already discussions about the return of their items. Six long years later, after a significant amount of energy, financial commitment, and professional respect on both the tribes' and OSU's part, the materials were returned. The effort continued despite miscommunications and changes in staffing both at OSU and Grand Ronde. My own part in the whole process was small in that I actually did very little with regard to the day-to-day paperwork, documentation, phone calls, photo copies, etc. My role was of an advisory capacity.

At the celebration, the Grand Ronde tribal members expressed emotion and excitement upon viewing their materials, some of which they KNOW were made by their grandparents and great-grandparents, back into their own hands. They were also grateful to those elders and other people in their tribe that worked so hard to get those items returned. I certainly do not deny that it was the return of the artifacts that was most important. But for me, the most powerful part of the celebration was seeing all the people there who have touched my life in one way or another through these past few years. Those personal relationships have enriched my life and I am so thankful for them.

I have been fortunate to get to know the following tribal members. Although the descriptions of our relationships are brief, know that they are meaningful connections for me.

First, David Lewis, the current Director of Cultural Resources at Grand Ronde, was present. David and I met when he was an anthropology graduate student at University of Oregon. About 3 or 4 years ago, we began to co-author a chapter that eventually was published last fall in a book entitled "Teaching Oregon Native Languages".

Eirik Thorsgard, a tribal member and now on staff in the Cultural Resources Department, just completed his master's degree in anthropology at OSU last summer. I wasn't his main advisor, although I served on his committee. Last month, he and another tribal member, Bobby Mercier, smudged me (purified me using white sage and sweetgrass) along with one of their colleagues, Travis, something that has helped me more than I might realize. He and Bobby, along with several others, sang the blessing and prayer songs.

Eirik's wife, Misty, was also in attendance. I was her major advisor and she finished her thesis about 18 months ago. It was great seeing her, especially since a publisher contacted me last fall to ask if I knew how to reach her since they wanted to publish her thesis. I found out yesterday that this publication is almost out, or that they are about to finalize the agreement for the publication. I was happy to hear about the outcome of this publication, because it recognizes a significant effort on her part to improve her writing.

Lindy Trolan, who is on the Cultural Resources staff, was the primary liaison between the Grand Ronde and OSU through these six years. I know how hard she has worked to make this all happen.

There are other Grand Ronde tribal and staff members who worked very hard on this process, of course, but those individuals are the main ones I wanted to mention.

From OSU, there are many people, too, whose lives have touched mine and who worked on this effort.

First, and the one for whom I am most proud, is Brenda Kellar. Again, I was not her major advisor, but I served on her committee. Back in 2002, I had some money to hire a grad student. I hired Brenda and part of her duties were to work on the repatriation effort at Horner, since I had too many other demands on my time. She worked for four years there, eventually taking over for Keni Sturgeon (who I knew when I served on the board for the Jensen Arctic Museum and Keni was the director) I can't say enough for what Brenda did - the records were a mess, there were items that had been misplaced, but most important was the respect she showed the tribes and how well she worked with them throughout the process . Grand Ronde blanketed her with a Pendleton blanket (a big sign of respect) for all the work she completed. I felt very proud of her accomplishments!

Second, shortly after I started working with the Horner Collection, OSU hired Keni Sturgeon, the Director of the Jensen Arctic Museum, to work on the repatriation effort. She taught Brenda about museum collections and documentation and while working for us, she did what she could to straighten out the mess that was the NAGPRA effort at the Horner. She was able to come to the celebration - I hadn't seen her in a couple of years, so it was nice to see her.

Irene Rolston took over from Brenda, when Brenda left for another job in 2006. I was Irene's major professor. I recommended that she take over for Brenda because of her conscientious work ethic. Even though she was offered another position right beforehand that may have paid her more money, she decided that the work of the Horner repatriation effort was ultimately more important and she wanted to do what she could to see it through. Irene was also blanketed yesterday.

Also present was Cathleen Osborne-Gowey, her husband Jeremiah, and their 20-month-old daughter, Finn. I was Cathleen's major advisor in anthropology. She finished her thesis in June 2006, about a month before Finn was born.
A few months after Finn's birth, she started working on behalf of the Horner repatriation effort. Cathleen had worked for me for five years, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. She and Jeremiah were an integral part of the King Island placenames project; Cat also went with me to London, when I taught there for a term, so that she could help me take care of my then 4-year-old son. Cat and I have a lot of history and now our families are tied through an Inupiaq Eskimo naming relationship - Finn was given the Eskimo name of Aunt Cecilia Muktoyuk, who died two months before Finn was born. The belief is that Cecilia is now part of Finn. Her name is UGathluq (the capital "G" is pronounced back in the throat, like you're swallowing it). UGathluq danced for many years with the King Island dance group in Nome and taught her children to dance, too. I'd always referred to Finn as "Miss Finn", but when I was holding her yesterday, I saw her intently listening and watching the drummers and singers of Grand Ronde. It was then that I resolved to start calling her UGathluq more often, because I figured that UGathluq's spirit revealed herself yesterday by really listening to the drums. I also resolved to make sure Cat and Jeremiah have DVDs of King Island dancing, for UGathluq to watch.

Angelo Gomez, Director of OSU's Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, has headed the Horner Repatriation effort for the past three years - he took over for Orcilia Forbes (who was also there yesterday). He spent a considerable amount of time at the beginning trying to understand the history of the Horner and the events that had transpired over the years. He and I, along with his wife Patty, have developed a friendship, that started through this professional relationship. I feel privileged to know them both and I appreciate the support they've given me through these cancer treatments.

My colleague, Loren Davis, of "My Xeloda" fame (see an earlier post), kept me company yesterday driving back and forth to Grand Ronde. We had a great conversation about our respective research and other happenings in our department. He was Eirik's major professor.

Other celebrants included Robert Kentta, the Cultural Resources Manger for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. I was happy to see him - it'd been awhile. He and Lindy worked very closely together through all of the repatriation negotiations.

Most of these people have supported me in multiple ways as I negotiate cancer. But that wasn't why we were there, yesterday. We all witnessed the culmination of years of hard work on everyone's part to accomplish this repatriation. It was very emotional for me - tears bubbled up occasionally. But it wasn't until last night that I realized why. While part of it had to do with the return of these meaningful artifacts to the tribe, the rest of the emotion was there because so many people that I know and respect and even love were also there and also because I was proud of all the effort that went into this repatriation. I am proud to have been part of the whole process.

So, this is my story. It is events like this that make life worth living. Cancer does not define my life. But this is one thing that does.

@ Deanna Kingston 2008


Carver said...

Excellent post and a fascinating read. Great work to be a part of.

Dee said...

Thank you, Carver. I've really taken to heart the things that you and others say about living with cancer - we have to, but it's important to make sure that it isn't the center of attention all the time, or even most of the time. It's important to keep our lives as normal as possible. Thank you for making that point in your blog!