Oregon Historical Society to honor Kathryn Harrison
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
Tribal Elder Kathryn Harrison will soon join author Jean Auel, movie director Gus Van Sant and Columbia Sportswear matriarch Gertrude Boyle as an Oregon History Maker.
On Thursday, Sept. 27, Harrison will be among four new History Makers to join the ranks of other “extraordinary Oregonians” at the fourth annual History Makers Dinner sponsored by the Oregon Historical Society.
Joining Harrison this year are former Portland Trailblazers President Harry Glickman; Gerry Frank, former chief of staff for Sen. Mark Hatfield; and former Secretary of State Norma Paulus.
“In just a few short years, the Oregon History Makers medal has earned a reputation as one of the most prestigious awards an Oregonian can receive,” said Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society. “We are delighted to honor four remarkable and iconic Oregonians as our History Makers Class of 2012.”
According to the Historical Society, History Makers are “contemporary individuals who have made a significant impact in their field of work or service during their lifetime. These individuals, with ties to Oregon, are making history through scientific discovery and exploration, innovation in business, communications, the arts, or service in their communities. Whether they were born here, lived here or work here, Oregon History Makers represent the best of what the state has to offer.”
Harrison is being honored for overcoming adversity to become “one of Oregon’s most influential and respected Tribal leaders.”
Harrison was born March 28, 1924, the descendant of her Alaskan Native (Eyak) mother Ella and Henry William Jones (Molalla), in Corvallis. She was named Kathryn May Jones in honor of her great-great-aunt Molalla Kate.
Orphaned at 10, she eventually graduated from Chemawa Indian School in 1942 and subsequently married Frank Harrison, with whom she had 10 children and endured years of poverty.
In 1972, she became the first Native American graduate of the nursing program at Lane Community College and started working at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene. She became an alcohol rehabilitation counselor for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, where she was instrumental in helping the Siletz Tribe regain federal recognition in 1977.
In the early 1980s, Harrison returned to her father’s Tribe – the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde – and once again became instrumental in her second Restoration effort, helping Grand Ronde regain federal recognition in November 1983.
Harrison and two of her children were part of the Grand Ronde contingent that testified before Congress about restoring the Grand Ronde Tribe, which was terminated in 1954.
Following Restoration, Harrison was elected to the Grand Ronde Tribal Council from April 1984 through September 2001, never losing an election. She served as chair of the Tribal Council for five years, helping to oversee the Tribe’s resurrection from Termination and guiding the development of gaming as a revenue source to fund Tribal educational, health and cultural efforts.
Harrison, now 88, continues to be an occasional ambassador-at-large for the Grand Ronde Tribe. Her life was detailed in a book, “Standing Tall: The Lifeway of Kathryn Jones Harrison,” written by Kristine Olson.
“She remains a revered voice in matters of concern to Native Americans,” the Historical Society said.
The History Maker’s medals will be presented during a sold-out ceremony and dinner at the Historical Society, 1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland.