In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Delores Pigsley, tribal chairman, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.
Can you share with us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname?
It's not a Native name, but I go by Dee.
Approximately how many members are in the Confederated Tribes?
We have about 4,900 tribal members.
What are the criteria to become a member?
You must possess at least one-sixteenth Siletz blood. Originally it was one quarter, but that has changed over the years.
Where is your community located?
We are on the Oregon coast, three hours southwest of Portland. Our tribal headquarters is located six miles inland. Our casino resort is right on the beach, 30-plus miles from our headquarters and a one-hour drive from Salem, the state capital.
Where was your community originally from?
We were many bands moved from Northern California, southern Oregon’s Rogue and Umpqua Valleys, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and the entire Oregon coast—about 20 million acres of homelands territory in all.
The Coast/Siletz Reservation was reserved for over 30 bands and tribes to be a permanent home. Ten separate languages are represented in our confederation, and those languages are from five completely different language families.
Are your languages still spoken on your homelands?
Today we teach the Athabaskan language that a large number of members spoke. We have very few fluent speakers, but we teach our language on a regular basis in the community and the local school. We have a dictionary and many aids to learn the language.
How is your government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?
Elections are held annually in February. We have nine Tribal Council members. Three people are elected each year for a three-year term of office. Generally 12 or 13 people run for council seats in each election.
After the general election, the Tribal Council elects officers for that year—a tribal chairman, vice chairman, secretary, and treasurer. Our constitution and ordinances are our laws.
How often does the Tribal Council meet?
The Tribal Council meets twice a month but can also call special meetings as the need arises. The General Council—all enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes 18 years old or older—meets four times a year, chaired by the Tribal Council chairman. Special general sessions can also be called as needed.
What responsibilities do you have in your community?
I set the agenda for all Tribal Council meetings. I am the spokesperson for the tribe. I chair the Siletz Tribal Business Corporation. I have testified before Congress many times, as well as speaking before many organizations, tribal and non-tribal. I am responsible to our membership to follow all tribal and federal laws. I take my job very seriously.
To read the full interview with Tonkawa Tribal President Don Patterson visit the NMAI series here.