The Oregon Tribal Flagpole project started in 2012 when the Native American Student Union (NASU) and students from the School of Business began proposing the idea of flagpoles in honor of tribes throughout the state of Oregon. A group of six students in the Lundquist College of Business, with then-junior Orion Falvey as lead, were motivated to increase the presence of Native Americans on the university campus.
The flags stand to acknowledge the rich Native history that exists not only in the state but on the campus many Native students call home. This idea also originated with the creation of the Many Nations Longhouse in 2005 which was a breakthrough for Native Americans at the university and in the community as well. After the completion of the Longhouse, it was not long before many members of NASU began to call for a raising of flags to honor the nine federally-recognized tribes in Oregon to honor their sovereignty and traditional protocol.
The plan was to position in a central location flagpoles which represented Oregon’s native populations. The project advisor was Gordon Bettles, UO Many Nations Longhouse steward. The flagpole project started in 2012 with a group of business students who recognized the importance of Native recognition on campus. Originally inspired by the creation of the Longhouse behind Global Scholars and the Law Library, the students wanted to bring further awareness to Native heritage on campus. They wanted to place the flags in a central location with the intention of spreading awareness and solidarity with the tribes and Native American Students.
This decision kickstarted a series of fundraising events aimed at reaching the estimated goal of $37,000 for the flagpoles. This goal was surpassed after only three years, raising a total of $58,000. Thanks to the support from ASUO and the consent from the State Capitol, the students raised enough money so that each of the nine flagpoles could be raised. The ultimate design places the nine flagpoles around the amphitheater of the Erb Memorial Union in locations that match the respective Native American tribal sites in Oregon. Each flagpole has at the base defining the tribe represented and clarifying its geographical place in the state. The dedication of the nine flags took place on October 2, 2014.
Now the flags wave proudly in the EMU amphitheater, allowing people to gather and celebrate them once a year on the first Monday of October: Indigenous Solidarity Day. This past October, tribal members from all around the state gathered at the University of Oregon to watch the changing of the flags and the Chemawa Indian School drummers perform. Held on October 9 and attended by UO President Michael Schill, Interim President Scott Coltrane, and Native faculty, staff, and students, each flag was exchanged with a new one preserving the old flags in the Longhouse for future generations to see. This yearly ceremony is intended to teach both students and adults about the state's brutal past that natives had to face, through constant bloodshed and violence, discrimination and sexual harassment, and even genocide. The flags stand to honor the Native Americans who were here first and who have are still here with strong sovereignty across the state and region. The flags have started a conversation about the way the history of our country is remembered and are emblems of a campus that is striving for a community that is open to its own history.