After a long struggle with lung disease, Chinook Tribe Chairman Ray Gardner walked on February 3. He was 59.
The Chinook Observer reports how Gardner led his tribe during an important time, and came close to attaining federal recognition. He also oversaw the effort to have the tribe’s Middle Village included in Lewis and Clark National Historic Park.
“He was a gentle bear of a man, a determined worker and fighter for the Chinook people, a tireless advocate for long sought justice,” former Southwest Washington Congressman Brian Baird, current president of Antioch University Seattle and friend of Gardner, told the Chinook Observer. “His person and voice will be deeply missed but we will carry on for the cause he gave so much for. I’m sure the ancestors are proud of Ray and will welcome him home even as we grieve his loss and celebrate his life here.”
“Ray was not only a vibrant and passionate advocate on behalf of the Chinook Nation, but he was also a kind and compassionate member of the community in Pacific County,” U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said in a statement.
Gardner lived with his wife, Jill, in the Willapa River Valley, which was part of his ancestral homeland as a descendant of the Willapa Tribe on his mother’s side.
He served as chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation for 13 years, and also worked as a transportation specialist/investigator with Washington State for 24 years.
On October 12, 2013, he took a medical leave of absence from tribal leadership. Even though he continued to be a part of cultural activities, Vice-Chairman Sam Robinson and the council have been leading the tribe since then.
“For the past three years, I have lived with a condition known as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, and it has come to the point where I must focus my time and energy on beating this disease,” he told the Chinook Observer in November 2013.
According to his obituary there will be no service, but a Celebration of Life may be held in the future.