Warm Springs Reservation

Warm Springs on a summer day

Eight months ago, I made a quick stop in the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, about two hours east of Portland. The reservation, managed by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is bisected by Highway 26, which stretches from Mt. Hood to central Oregon. Mountain forests give way to the high desert as one passes to the reservation’s main hub, Warm Springs. You’ll find the local casino and beautiful cultural center. Almost no one stops to see the community.

I did a drive through. I found quite a few houses in somewhat run-down condition, which is not unusual in rural areas of the West. The reservation also has what I consider to be classical reservation architecture. I have seen similar designs in Washington State, Montana. Alaska, and Kansas. There is a school, administrative buildings, and older government buildings that are now shuttered and closed. This is the older part of the community. The modern health center is found further away from the highway. You can read my old post to see the controversy that has roiled the reservation and its members concerning the alleged overspending of nearly $100 million in funds in the last 10 years.

I stopped on the highway to photograph the Warm Springs billboard that captures in beautiful simplicity the symbology of the tribe’s identify–a circle with four features, stretching out from the center. I have always found Native American design powerful for the references to tribal history, the earth, nature, and tribal beliefs. This is one of the best. The flag for the reservation actually shows eight tribes who make up the reservation, as well as the natural landmarks and native wildlife.




Warm Springs on a winter’s day

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

I just passed through the Warms Springs Indian Reservation, which lies in northwest Oregon, on the east side of the Cascade range. It is managed by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. The bands that claimed ancestry in the region include the Paiutes, Warms Springs, and Wascoes.

The reservation was created by treaty in 1855, which ceded lands to the United States in exchange for rights and services. Those rights include fishing rights for salmon that remain today.

I will go back in the spring, when the weather is warmer. There is a lot I would like to see.

Today, the reservation has made a lot of news because of a tribal vote to allow cannabis cultivation. During the same election in December, there was a measure to remove lifetime members from the tribal council. The tribe reported this update in November that the petition needs to be submitted and approved for further review by the regional office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

This measure to change the tribal constitution likely stemmed from news that broke earlier in 2015 that the tribes overspent $100 million over the last 10 years, which put at risk  pensions and distributions from a tribal trust, and also impacted essential services.

The tribes’ former treasurer, Jake Suppah, was put on leave after identifying the mismanagement. These findings and the treatment of Suppah led to the tribes contacting the office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior to investigate tribal finances in March 2015. Since that time, the fiscal mismanagement, the connection between the reporting of the mismanagement and the petition last month to amend the constitution, and the impacts of these findings have not been widely covered in Oregon. I still cannot find out how this petition process turned out, yet.

As the Bend Bulletin in March quoted council member Carlos Smith, also general manager of Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa: “Our tribe was one of the richest tribes in the ’80s and now we’re broke. That’s why we brought Jake back, to figure out, ‘Why are we broke? What is this issue?’”

I am hoping the residents of Warm Springs have found answers to their questions about what went wrong. There are many reasons for silence in Indian country, but I think many on the reservation think otherwise with this matter.



Taking detours and discovering hidden treasures in Oregon


During a short road trip to central Oregon the first week of June, I accidentally discovered this amazing fishing area on the Deschutes River, north of Maupin. It is called Sherars Falls. I camped here, and I was in heaven. The fishing area is managed by the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and I’m fairly certain Native fishermen have been visiting these falls for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. This shot was taken shortly before 6 a.m. as the morning crew arrived to cast lines for spring Chinook. The night before, the guys did not stop fishing until about 10 p.m. I love salmon fishing and passion it brings out in anglers. And this was one of the prettiest fishing locations I have ever seen. (For a larger photo, click on the picture to open a separate picture page.)