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Oregon leaders plan congressional hearings on Chemawa Indian School

March 30, 2019
In The News

Twice in nine months, at least three members of Oregon’s congressional delegation have paid a visit to a little-known school in Salem run by the federal government.

Chemawa has drawn Native American teenagers to its Salem campus from all over the western U.S. since the 1880s, though its mission has changed away from its racist, assimilationist past. But tribal leaders and members of Oregon’s congressional delegation have been concerned that Chemawa is mismanaged and falling short of its mission, to serve as a refuge for Native youth, in search of stability and education.

Schrader visited the school Wednesday with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Sen. Jeff Merkley.

All three members came away disappointed and frustrated. Bonamici recalls reading up on Chemawa Tuesday night, before the visit.

Bonamici was disheartened to learn of Robert Lee Tillman, a teenager from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming who died last November, shortly after Chemawa kicked him out.

“I actually read Robert Tillman’s obituary, to just, you know, make it real that this is a student who was just at Chemawa not very long ago, and now he’s in a grave in Wyoming,” Bonamici said. “Fifteen years old — I’d love to know what happened and to know if there was a teacher there who said: ‘What’s happening? Why are you letting him go?'”

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