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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

Chief Donald Boyd Ivy was well known in Oregon as a champion of Indigenous people and a scholar of tribal heritage. Described by his wife Lucinda DiNovo, he was a dynamic speaker, an incredible listener and a strong leader.

“He always said ‘leader’s don’t always lead from the front, they lead from behind,” she said.

Ivy died July 19 after a seven-month battle with cancer. He was 70. He is survived by his wife, son Jon Ivy, grandson Elliott Ivy, daughter-in-law Soo Lee, sister Corrine Burnum and brother-in-law Greg Burnum.

His commitment to the Coquille Indian Tribe dates back about 30 years when he was hired to be the tribe’s economic development specialist. He helped write the constitution and the original tribal government management ordinances. Then, he became the cultural resources coordinator for 15 years and seemingly retired.

However, he was soon approached by tribal citizens to run for chief. He was elected in 2014 and stayed in the position until his resignation, which he specifically requested for. Subsequently, his cousin, Jason Younker was elected in late October.

“Don would have been pleased to have known that we have a new chief in place now so that the work of the tribe can continue because that was incredibly important,” DiNovo said.

Don received many awards for his leadership and contributions to the state of Oregon and Indian Country, including the Potlatch Fund, the Antone Minthorn Economic & Community Development Award, and the Oregon Heritage Commission’s Heritage Excellence Award. He was also a member of the Elakha Alliance that is dedicated to reintroducing sea otters back to the Oregon coast. Most recently in May, the Southwestern Oregon Community College honored him as its 2021 Distinguished Alumnus.

DiNovo said it was a particularly important honor for Don because of his dedication to education.

She recalled many times coming home and seeing Don on the computer, working on a recommendation letter related to education.

“That’s how he lived his life, just giving to others and that’s what he did with everyone he encountered,” she said. “I was incredibly lucky to have known that type of love.”

In his memory, the family set up the Donald Ivy Memorial Scholarship fund with Southwestern Community College and have raised more than $20,000. The Coquille Indian Tribe contributed $10,000. The award will be given to Native American, minority and underrepresented student populations focusing on cultural resource related fields or nursing.

DiNovo first met Don 25 years ago at the Mill Casino in North Bend, Oregon — where he was born and raised — when he was working as the Coquille Indian Tribe’s cultural resource program coordinator. She helped him put together a yearly culture conference and noticed early on his work ethic and ability to bring out the best in others.

She said as the conference continued for 10 years, Don’s need to push the standard, translated to the casino’s exceptional service and hospitality.

“He pushed and encouraged us to be better than we thought we could,” she said.

They married May 15, 2010. 

Lucinda and Chief Don Ivy. (Photo courtesy of Lucinda DiNovo)

She said Don was a visionary whose perspective was shaped around what things could be. And as chief, he became the tribe’s cultural and spiritual spokesman.

“He changed people’s lives. One of the things I loved most about him and I think others is that it was always a privilege to look at the world through Donald’s eyes — because it was such a big world,” she said.

She said he helped build the Coquille Indian Tribe’s plank house, modeled after a traditional plank house envisioning, “a community gathering place in traditional style that resulted in a structure that became a symbol and foundation of cultural revitalization for the tribe.” 

Many years ago, Don worked on the Confederated Tribes of the Coos Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians and the Coo History Museum. They created a multi-part Indian education program that introduced fourth graders to cultural traditions and technologies.

DiNovo said the program attracted almost every elementary school in the county and nearby counties, reaching thousands of students. She said they received many cards from tribal citizens and children who went through the program about how he inspired, encouraged and mentored them.

She added, it inspired the passage of Senate Bill 13, an Oregon law that directs the state’s department of education to create a K-12 Native American curriculum in collaboration with the nine federally recognized tribes to create an individual-based curriculum.

“What a legacy to leave for so many people,” she said. “The fact that now, for the culmination of all his work, kids are participating in culture camps and they’re stewarding their ancestral homelands.”

She said it was significant considering Don’s childhood where his Indigenous heritage and culture wasn’t talked about.

DiNovo is working on a film about Don to show at his service on May 7. So far, she has interviewed over 25 people.

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“Even as I, his wife, did not know how far his reach was and so this film to me is a way to honor his legacy,” she said. “My hope is it’s kind of an Oregon experience setting and people will tell great stories about Don — the impact he had on them, the impact he had on the state, in Indian Country and the Coquille Indian Tribe.”

DiNovo summed up her husband’s core values.

“Donald has left an incredible legacy that is at once distinctly his own, and his particular embodiment of potlatch, a tradition of many northwest tribes including the Coquille Tribe. As Donald once explained it: ‘To Potlatch is to give and receive; to share and to care; and to pay back (and pay forward) for the blessings and benefits we have received- or hope to receive. It is about helping those who need help now, with hopes that they can and will help us later. As we are helpful to each other, so too are we helped in our own lives.’” 

The people who worked with him

Nancy Nelson, Valley Region archaeologist for Oregon Parks and Recreation, worked closely with Don for many years. She fondly remembers one of their first interactions being a boat trip up the Umpqua River for her master’s.

Later, Don helped create the Cultural Cluster Group that united Oregon agencies and the state’s tribes. He was a strong proponent of protecting archeological sites such as hosting an event for police on how to identify looters.

“He had a real gift just pulling everyone together, to be on the same page,” Nelson said. “Such a benefit to the state of Oregon.”

DiNovo said Don helped change the state park’s management policy to protect and improve tribal access to camas, an important cultural food. The state parks previously routinely mowed park lands, where camas grew, not allowing the plants to mature. He brought the issue to attention and persuaded postponing the mowing.

Coquille Indian Tribe Chairman Brenda Meade said about her friend and colleague:

“Chief Ivy was a consistent source of wisdom and kindness for the Coquille people. His voice was an invaluable asset to those of us who were privileged to serve with him in tribal leadership, and we will miss him terribly. We offer our prayers for his family, along with our enduring gratitude for his many contributions to the tribe’s wellbeing.” 

Planting Trees at the Coquille Forest with his grandson Elliott. (Photo courtesy of Lucinda DiNovo)

Father to son 

His son Jon Ivy, tribal vice chair of the Coquille Indian Tribe, said his dad taught him how to be independent at a young age and is thankful for how it shaped him to be successful and self-reliant.

Jon remembers being in third grade and telling his dad one morning that he didn’t have any clean clothes. His dad responded then he better learn how to use the washer and dryer.

“His message to me, father to son, was that you need to be accountable to yourself, you need to be responsible to yourself, you need to be responsible and respectful to all those around you, but number one if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t be expected to help others.”

He said Don’s work ethic began early. He was 16-years-old when he began working at Albertsons as a box boy and eventually became a store manager for other stores in Portland.

For many years Jon and his dad worked for the tribe together, but in different capacities. Jon said he tried not to have a co-worker relationship with his dad until years later when he was elected as vice chair in October 2020.

Over the phone, they talked about specific tribal issues and topics.

“I came to appreciate him as a source for knowledge and more of a teacher, regarding my professional career,” he said. “The great thing about chief and now the sad thing about it for us is he probably carried as much or more institutional knowledge of the Coquille tribe than any other individual, whether elected or not.”

They both liked to travel and he remembers their trip to Cambodia in 2005 to see Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the form of a temple complex in the world by land area.

Not much for the touristy style, the father and son liked to experience the country authentically. Therefore on one hot day, they were walking on a red dirt road and came to an intersection. Don suggested going down one road and if it led to nowhere then at least they would know.

It was a lesson that stuck with Jon.

He described his dad as someone who was strong headed and stubborn, but reasonable if you presented a strong argument. However, the personal side of him was different.

“He was a joy to be around, and he loved to be around people. He had a huge sense of adventure and he liked to laugh -- he had a great sense of humor,” Jon said.

And he feels for those people who didn’t know him that way.

“I’m glad that I got to know the whole person and know the whole story,” he said.

Don Ivy’s service will be held May 7.

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