To promote cross cultural understanding, the regional health equity coalition Let’s Talk Diversity is asking community members from different cultures to share their stories about living in Jefferson County including Warm Springs. This column features Ron Mulkey, of Metolius, and Jolene Estimo-Pitt, of Warm Springs, both of whom are Co-Chairs of the Let’s Talk Diversity Coalition.
About Ron and Jolene:
Ron was raised in Silverton, Oregon, which he describes as a small, predominantly Euro-American farming town at the time. While Ron comes from an accepting, welcoming family, he acknowledges there was a tension and defined difference at school between children from families in town and those from families who were migrant workers. Discrimination happened at school and Ron explains, “You fell into it because no one raised the question of why do we say these unkind things about others?” It was not until leaving his community that Ron credits getting to know people from different backgrounds and cultures than himself.
Coming from an agrarian background, Ron recognizes that his family’s culture of working and eating together kept him healthy physically. Ron also comes from a Christian background, and as a Quaker, Ron’s faith includes the belief that you can see a bit of God in each person. Ron expresses the significance of this as having “less fear, less stress, more peace, and more possibility of building friendships.” Ron also speaks about his family’s and community’s multigenerational interconnectedness as a source of health. Ron explains, “All of that interconnectedness is important. We need each other.”
Jolene grew up in California, Oregon, and Washington on and off the reservation. Jolene reflects, “I think that as a young person, I was a bit confused about who I was or what I was, and it took me moving back here [to Warm Springs] for a while to kind of get grounded and figure out who I was.” Similar to Ron, Jolene’s culture is also vital to her health. Jolene asserts, “My culture defines me.”
Later in life, Jolene started going into the longhouse and learning songs and traditional foods. Jolene speaks of these practices and her connection to the land as defining her way of life. She states, “My culture is important to me because it tells me where I come from, which is the Columbia and Snake River areas, and that grounds me in a really profound way knowing that my ancestors are literally making up the dirt, the ground for all those years.” Because of this connection, Jolene explains, “For me a really important healing thing is going back there each year and reestablishing the bond. We do our traditional services there with traditional songs and traditional foods.”
On our Community in Jefferson County:
Since moving to Jefferson County Ron reflects, “The diversity of culture is a strength of Jefferson County.” However, his first impression upon moving to Jefferson County was very different. He describes, “Coming in I heard stories of the tension that some people viewed between the different cultures here. I wouldn’t say there’s fear but there’s apprehension. The glorious thing for me has been to be able to be part of our Coalition. I’m meeting people that I might live here for years and never meet and discovering in some way my own narrow-mindedness.”
Ron acknowledges the beauty of embracing diversity and getting to know people different from you. Ron explains, “It’s affirming the things that in my spirit I hold as a high value, and that is that we are to love everyone. The cultural competency training really talks about that. How can you love if you don’t step outside of your own shoes, take off your own glasses and be willing to put on someone else’s glasses to look at things a little bit differently?” Similarly, Jolene agrees, “We need to grow as a community. We need to evolve.” Overall, Ron asserts, “This is a special community to be part of and I think every distinct part of the community makes it a precious community.”
Healing and Overall Hopes for the Community:
In order to grow as a community, Ron and Jolene also speak of the need for our communities to heal. Specifically, Jolene speaks of her own family saying, “If I came from these families of leaders for hundreds, even thousands, of years of leadership, then today my family is basically broken. I had to ask myself at one point: what happened to this great heritage?” Jolene further explains, “I live it every day. I think the thing that has been distinguished for our family, and a lot of families, is the breaking of the people from their land and [therefore] being lost. The reservation is one thing, but I know this is not where we really come from. I know where we come from and that is on the Columbia and the Snake River. So for me, going back there gives me that sense of who I am and that wholeness again. It took me a lot of years to accept that this is where we were put and this is where most of my family now lives. I’m working on restoring all of that healing in the family. It’s going to be an intergenerational healing process.”
Jolene continues, “Our healing as Native American people is very different than other communities. It starts with our family then our ancestors before them and the connection they have to the land, and then as kind of the last thing- the individual. So, now I’m beginning to be educated about who are the original people from each area and then getting to grieve for them. Now it’s a regular practice and a teaching. That’s the first thing you do is you respect the place, the land, and the ancestors that were there.” Overall, Jolene states, “The whole healing thing, it’s a huge process not only with myself and my family but with the whole community.”
Ron echoes Jolene’s words on healing and the need to heal and grow together. Ron explains, “We aren’t just healed and then we’re done and take the rest of our lives off. It is an ongoing experience and training and equipping. But, it is very much community. It’s family; it is not just the individual. I think that’s important. There are two sides to that. There’s being culturally relevant but also recognizing that there are things for me to understand. It is within the community that we long to see healing. We want to see wholeness and health and happiness for our community.” As Co-Chairs of the Let’s Talk Diversity Coalition, Ron and Jolene are working towards just that: the healing of past and present wounds and building stronger relationships and community in Jefferson County and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.