WWU Alumnus discusses indigenous community relationships
Stories of reconstruction and ideas of kinship were brought to campus Thursday evening in a lecture given by Western alumnus and tribal lawyer Gabe Galanda.
Around 100 students, faculty and community members attended the lecture, titled “Restoring Indigenous Kinship Amidst America’s Nationalist Movement.”
The lecture described internal problems facing tribes today, external problems from colonialism they’ve faced in the past and attitudes that he believes are destroying “what it means to be tribal.”
“Kinship [is] this very basic notion of belonging,” said Galanda. “Unto your mother, unto your parents, unto the land, it’s the way we need to reidentify ourselves as Americans before it’s too late.”
Galanda is a 1997 Western graduate and Native American who founded Galanda Broadman PLLC, a law firm focused on advancing tribal legal rights.
“I think we are fundamentally in very, very scary time,” Galanda said. “A significant portion of our country is not just ardent nationalist, but restrictive nationalist, meaning white supremacist.”
Galanda spent part of the hourlong lecture discussing the 19th and 20th century history of the Grand Ronde tribe, who lived in what are now the central regions of Washington and Oregon.
Like many other tribes, they were forced to reservations in western Oregon, and nearly vanished after a genocidal assimilation process forced upon them by the U.S. government.
In recent years, Galanda has defended Grand Ronde tribal members facing disenrollment, meaning tribal leaders were forcing them out of the tribe for various reasons, sometimes under the guise that it was because they couldn’t prove genetic heritage in the tribe. This isn’t consistent with the values of kinship that he thinks should bring tribes together.
During his years at Western, Galanda always had aspirations to go to law school, but never saw himself taking on the role he fills today.
“What I didn’t realize is that when I entered my tenth year of practice I would basically be doing Indian civil rights defence and predominantly defence against civil rights infringements by tribal governments,” Galanda said. “I went to law school so that I would represent tribal governments, and now I find I find myself defending tribal clients who are being oppressed by tribal governments.”
He’s now at the top of his field for the work he has done with Pacific Northwest tribes.
“His ability to speak to social justice, to kinship and relationships in indigenous communities and to go to bat for people who have been oppressed is really impressive,” said Marc Geisler, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
As the lecture began to wind down, many audience members were left feeling hopeful, inspired and well-informed on issues they may not have previously been aware of.
“I hadn’t thought about [tribal issues] before just because it’s not part of my life,” said junior Angela Hope, who attended the lecture. “[The talk helped me] to think about that and how that’s affecting people around me.”
Galanda delivered the final words of his talk amidst unanimous applause.
“In the face of this nationalist movement,” he said. “I submit to you that unless we return to this fundamental, this basic understanding of who we are, how we got here and why we belong here, I think our country is in for an awful hard time.”