November 28, 2007
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Roberta Conner, curator of the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Indian Reservation east of Pendleton, has won the 2007 Buffett Award for Indigenous Leadership.
The cultural center tells the story of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes that make up the Umatilla Confederation and the effects of white settlement.
Conner, 52, who has led the center since 1998, says the award recognizes the importance of preserving and sharing tribal cultures.
"It is a recognition that the work we do is important," she said Wednesday.
"It is important that we are serving a purpose that is valuable to Indians in our own community, elsewhere and to our non-Indian neighbors. We hope we can carry on the good work stated by our ancestors."
Meetings she organized with tribal elders, tribal and non-Indian scholars and tribal students have produced a new book on tribal history and the development of an atlas of Sahaptian language place names that's due out next year.
Conner also encourages young scholars interested in tribal culture by developing work opportunities with historians and authors at the institute.
The institute includes an interpretive center, library, photo archive, gallery and theater.
"We try through exhibits, in person and activities to bring to life a culture that's still living so people can identify with the reality of tribal culture today and the challenges we face," she said.
Conner is on the board of the Wallowa Homeland Project and the Oregon Cultural Trust as an adviser for tribal issues. She also served as vice president of the National Council of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial board of directors and on the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission, the Oregon Council for the Humanities Board and the Gov.'s Task Force for Cultural Development.
Before returning to Pendleton to direct the cultural center, Conner worked for the U.S. Small Business Administration from 1984 to 1997.
She has a journalism degree from the University of Oregon and a master's degree in management from the Atkinson Graduate School at Willamette University.
The award is administered by Ecotrust, a conservation group dedicated to preserving communities and the environment in the Northwest. It is supported by the families of Howard and Peter Buffett, sons of billionaire Warren Buffett.
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