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Big Shoes to Fill
By Shanice Britton
Covelo, CA

 

     As a Native American growing up in a small town, I know everyone. I come from a large family with deep ancestral ties to our valley.  Many family members have worked for Round Valley Indian Tribes (RVIT), investing their lives in strengthening and securing a future for our tribe.  My parents and grandparents taught me to respect adults and support our tribal leaders. I was also raised to have pride in our culture with a belief that to keep our traditions strong, we need to continually improve our families, our communities and ourselves.  I see my family’s investment in the tribe’s future and protection of our culture reflected in its Mission Statement.  While RVIT has developed strong programs for the protection of tribal lands and resources, I find inspiration with its recent focus on promoting tribal business and enterprise for the benefit of the “economic welfare of the members of the tribe” (rvit.org). I pray for strength that my tribe is committed to its Mission Statement and continues to raise the economy and promote a self-sufficient community.

     My reservation was one of the first reservations created in California in 1856, originally called the Nome Cult Reservation and now called the Round Valley Indian Reservation. Many different tribes were removed from their ancestral land and forced to make a new home in Round Valley assimilating with the indigenous Yuki people. Economically, the valley’s tribes started with subsistence living - hunting and gathering, and then the government attempted to make the natives into farmers and ranchers. Later, timber harvesting and processing become a big employer in the valley; at one time, three mills in the valley employed many tribal members. With plenty of jobs the tribe thrived; we even had a bowling alley and a movie theater.
When the mills shut down in the late 1980’s, the valley’s economy crumbled and businesses closed, people lost their jobs and the unemployment rose to over 70%. At first, only the "hippies" were growing pot on the mountains, but when the mills closed residents became desperate. Cultivating and distribution of marijuana became the main economy, creating an "outlaw" community with an abundance of illegal drugs. Now, the tribe struggles to provide legitimate jobs and businesses to benefit the community. While my heart hurts to see the effects of an illegal marijuana industry in the valley, recent tribal initiatives inspire new hope.

     RVIT has invested in four new economic projects, each promises to bolster tribal self-sufficiency by providing the tribe with income and its members with jobs.  Last summer, RVIT purchased and refurbished the only motel located in our small town. The motel was derelict and an eyesore to all entering our small town.  Restoring and remodeling this business improves community pride. Tribal Program’s Manager, Cheryl Bettega shared, “The motel has taken months of hard work and it creates job openings for our tribal members, decreasing unemployment.” Taking on this challenge, the tribe displays a responsibility, which I respect.

     In 2012, RVIT opened a new convenience store near a casino on the reservation.  The Hidden Oaks Casino opened in 2007 as a family gaming facility.  The casino has “contributed to youth programs, social services, education needs” for our community and tribal members (Hidden Oaks Casino, 2013). Recently, the tribe has expanded this enterprise to include a convenience store with an ice cream and pizza bar. The new store increases employment for tribal members. Bettega noted, “Although the store is operating very well, we are still paying off the initial investment loans, but a profit is expected to be made within three to five years.”  Bettega believes the new store “Gives our tribal members something to take pride in.” 

     In 2009, Round Valley Indian Tribes started their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) which is funded by the state and federal government. Through this program, tribal families receive cash assistance, education development, career development, child-care stipend, transportation assistance and a kindergarten-high school senior clothing allowance. TANF assists families to receive essential tools in order to become self-sufficient to support themselves and their families.  TANF supports youth and adults education in both cultural knowledge and job skills.  While TANF has basketry and language classes, it also partners with a local junior college to make classes available for tribal members. Creating capacity within our valley gives tribal members hope and promise. 

     To meet the needs of our elders, disabled, and many single parents, RVIT recently built several new homes.  These new homes are part of Round Valley Indian Housing Authority’s ongoing mission to create new housing for the less fortunate.  The home construction provides needed jobs for tribal members. “Every effort will be made to see that tribal members obtain economic benefits through Indian preference in procurement, contracting, and employment.” (rviha.org) A decent home contributes to a sense of well-being and a promise for a fresh start.

     My great-great-grandfather, Arthur Anderson, was the first Tribal President for the Round Valley Tribes. He was a full blooded Yuki and one of the founding writers of RVIT’s first constitution.  My great-aunt, Delores Bettega, was the very first female tribal Chairperson on the tribal council. I have leadership in my blood and very big shoes to fill. The Round Valley Tribe strives to strengthen the economy, provide jobs and bring our tribe closer to self-sufficiency. Another goal in our mission statement is to create a “Stronger tribal government and promote honor, dignity, and respect along the tribe.” Aligning with this, my first goal, as a future tribal leader will be to reestablish RVIT’s Education Program. 

     Our tribe’s future depends on having knowledgeable leaders to strengthen the tribe. We need to begin when children are young with a strong Head Start/Preschool program that prepares students for grade school.  In grades K-12, we need tutors to assist struggling learners and cultural mentors to teach children about our heritage.  We need higher education incentives and support for students to further their education and return to serve the community; such as scholarships, housing support, and job placements within our local tribal government. Educated leaders are the first step to improving our community and becoming a stronger native nation.

     Heavy drug and alcohol abuse is high among youth on my reservation, a fact I attribute to the lack of activities for youth.  Community supports the youth when they engage in sports. As a leader, I would capitalize on this support to institute early prevention programs such as traveling sports teams, softball leagues or cultural classes. Youth need to be kept busy so they do not have time or energy for drugs or alcohol. For youth who do not like sports, we can support our local 4-H program and start Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Teaching youth early to be active, build skills, and create a support network can be fun and builds healthy habits.  Kids can learn they do not have to get high to have fun.

     I am excited to step into those “big shoes” of my ancestors and invest in my tribe’s future. My tribe has stepped up to promote self-sufficiency. I want to join my tribe in their fight against drugs and promote education and bring hope to our youth.

 

References

Cheryl Bettega. Personal interview. March 14, 2013.

Mission Statement.  Round Valley Indian Housing Authority. Retrieved at http://www.rviha.org/mission%20statement.html.  March 8, 2013.

Mission Statement.  Round Valley Indian Tribes. Retrieved at www.rvit.org.  March 8, 2013.

Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Reservation.  Wikipedia.  Retrieved at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Round_Valley_Indian_Tribes_of_the_Round_Valley_Reservation.  March 10, 2013.

 

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