Legal scholar to discuss Siletz tribal history on Earth Day

University of Colorado law Professor Charles Wilkinson will speak on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, at Willamette University about the history of Oregon's Siletz tribe prior to colonization by American settlers. The free public event is at 8 p.m. in Hudson Hall in the Mary Stuart Rogers Center and is part of Willamette's Indian Country Conversations series.

Wilkinson's lecture, "Every Year We Go to the Center of Our World: Society and Governance of the Siletz Tribe of Oregon before the Americans," will feature research from the book he is currently writing about Siletz culture and history. The book, slated to be published in 2010, will be the first comprehensive history of the Siletz tribe.

This event is co-sponsored by the Oregon Historical Society and is part of the Mark O. Hatfield Distinguished Historians Forum. The lecture at Willamette marks the first time that the Hatfield Forum has been conducted outside of Portland.

Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Colorado, Wilkinson practiced law with private firms in Phoenix and San Francisco and with the Native American Rights Fund. His primary specialties are federal public land law and Indian law. He worked closely with the Siletz tribe in the 1970s during its struggle for federal restoration, achieved in 1977. In 1975, Wilkinson became a law professor, teaching at the law schools of the University of Oregon, Michigan and Minnesota before moving to Colorado in 1987.

Author of 13 books on law, history and society in the American West, Wilkinson has received teaching awards from his students at all three law schools where he has taught, and the Universities of Colorado and Oregon have given him their highest awards for leadership, scholarship and teaching. The National Wildlife Federation presented him with its National Conservation Award, and Outside magazine named him one of 15 "People to Watch," calling him "the West's leading authority on natural resources law."

The many ancestral groups that make up today's Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians once occupied about 20 million acres across Oregon and California's coastal region and inland river valleys. Indigenous languages, arts and lifeways were immensely varied. In the 19th century, these diverse groups were forcibly removed and relocated to a coastal reservation, with headquarters at what is now known as the town of Siletz, Ore. The Siletz tribe, with other western Oregon tribes, was subject to the federal policy of termination in the 1950s. In 1977, after a protracted effort, the Siletz tribe became the second tribe in the nation (after the Menominee of Wisconsin) to be federally restored.

The Indian Country Conversations series was established in 2005 by Willamette President M. Lee Pelton to bring guests from Indian country to the campus and broader Willamette Valley for dialogue, teaching and learning. The series is sponsored by the President's Office and the College of Liberal Arts, and coordinated by anthropology Professor Rebecca Dobkins, in consultation with the university's community-based Native American Advisory Council.