Carina Miller, the First Ever Indigenous Chair of the Gorge Commission, Was Recently Elected

Carina Miller: An Indigenous person has been elected as the chair of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, a first for the organization.

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs member Carina Miller will assist the commission in achieving a delicate balancing act between the two goals of preserving the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and fostering economic growth in the region.

Carina Miller, the First Ever Indigenous Chair of the Gorge Commission

Indigenous people have lived in this beautiful region for millennia, and it’s no surprise considering all the amazing waterfalls, plant and animal diversity, and endangered salmon flows in the vicinity. Tribal members continue to have a strong connection to the river despite the fact that they ceded land in the scenic area to the United States government as part of treaties.

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As of her nomination as commissioner by Governor Kate Brown in 2019, Miller has been in office. On the 13-person commission, she is one of just three tribal members. Pah-tu Pitt, also of Warm Springs, serves as vice chair of the commission, and Jerry Meninick, an elder of the Yakama Nation, serves as a commissioner. Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, appointed them both.

With only a small number of Indigenous commissioners previously, this is a huge step forward for increased tribal representation on the commission. Pah-tu Pitt’s father, Louie, was the first Indigenous person to be nominated to the commission in 1993. Five Indigenous peoples’ representatives have served on the board.

Miller said it was significant that she was named chair because “the state of Oregon has had a history of not fully supporting tribal sovereignty or always being a good political ally.”

Carina Miller, the First Ever Indigenous Chair of the Gorge Commission
Carina Miller, the First Ever Indigenous Chair of the Gorge Commission

The commission, which was created in 1987 by the states of Oregon and Washington, is in charge of enforcing policies to protect lands in the gorge that are not federally owned. Additionally, it hears appeals of local land-use rulings. Its next order of business is to approve the first climate change action plan for the gorge, as required by the management plan passed two years ago.

Miller, the incoming chair in January, has extensive experience in business expansion. She was one of the youngest members of the Warm Springs tribal council and she advocated for the legalization of marijuana and the establishment of a carbon trading market on the reservation. Her current position is with the NGO Vibrant Tribal Economies, where she investigates issues related to the financial well-being of indigenous communities.

Miller went to the beautiful location with her grandmother and great-grandmother when she was young; they educated her on the history of the tribes’ expulsion and emphasized the significance of the river to their culture. She picked up the ability to be creative while working inside a system that has historically repressed Native people in order to preserve tribal values.

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Miller: “My grandmothers genuinely wanted me to be visible, but they also did not want us to be tokens.” “They (taught me) that even though these systems were built to destroy us, we had to really go in and understand them, master them, and find different ways forward, better ways.”

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