Skip to main content

Buffett Award money to be used for cultural projects

PENDLETON, Ore. - Roberta ''Bobbie'' Conner has dedicated her life to protecting the culture and history of her ancestors.

A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Conner recently won the 2007 Buffett Award, a $25,000 endowment from the Buffett family through Ecotrust in Oregon.

''I am very grateful to Howard and Peter Buffett for creating this award, and I am extremely honored to be in the company of the other candidates being recognized,'' Conner said. ''They have all made remarkable contributions to conservation.''

As the director of the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute on the reservation, Conner says she will use the award money to create camps for tribal members to learn about hunting in the mountains of the reservation as well as to continue research related to language and treaty projects already under way.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is comprised of Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla people, and with the Cayuse language no longer spoken, Conner said the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute works with the tribes' department of education for a language project.

''Most Cayuse began to speak Nez Perce between 1850 and 1930,'' Conner said.

By 1930, Cayuse was no longer a publicly used language.

Currently, the tribe works with a linguistics scholar helping them recover the sounds of the Cayuse language.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

In working to preserve the tribe's culture, Conner said what makes them distinct as a people is their intimate knowledge of their homeland.

''There's knowledge embedded in our land, family oral history and language,'' Conner said. ''We were very fortunate; we were given a bountiful place to live. For me, the opportunity to use the Buffett Award to strengthen that bond with the land is a gift my grandparents gave me; it's a gift not everybody gets these days.''

The Tamastslikt Cultural Institute published a history book, ''As Days Go By,'' on the three tribes last year, she said; and ''The Cayuse Indians: Imperial Tribesmen of Old Oregon,'' which was published 35 years ago, was reprinted. The second printing commemorated the 150th anniversary of the tribe's treaty signing in 1855 and includes a transcript of the treaty proceedings.

Next year, Conner said they'll publish an atlas of Native place names which includes more than 580 names.

''The reprint of the Cayuse book was to allow the tribe to be able to read their ancestors' words and see how well the ancestors protected the land,'' she said. ''Their perseverance and intelligence serves as a role model for our actions today. When there were no good proposals on the table, our leaders acquiesced until there was a proposal they could accept.''

This type of leadership, Conner said, is what the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation need to follow to keep alive today.

''For me, working with history and culture gives me the opportunity to honor the deeds and sacrifices of our ancestors and to teach others about their foresight and wisdom,'' she said.

Initially, in the 1800s, the U.S. government had wanted the Umatilla to move to Washington or Idaho, but today they remain in their homelands. To Conner, the fact the tribes remain in their homelands is just one example of many that shows how their elders made it possible for them to maintain their culture.

''Men and women who made decisions hundreds of years ago made it possible for me to go to the longhouse,'' Conner said. ''It's the idea that they endowed my life with all these gifts of culture, so it's my responsibility to make sure that these gifts get passed on.''