Native American activist to receive honorary PSU degree

Portland State University announced it has selected Kathryn Harrison to receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to be given at the 2003 commencement ceremony held in July.

Harrison, a Sheridan resident, will be awarded this honor based on her outstanding accomplishments and her ongoing service to public policy in the community.

Widely known as an exemplar of humanitarianism in public policy throughout the Northwest, particularly in the arena of Native American policy, Harrison displays a wealth of experience in her commitment to others. At present, she serves as ambassador for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and previously worked on a group appointed by the governor for the Oregon Council for the Humanities.

Harrison is also a board member of PSU’s Institute for Tribal Government, a component of the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government.

Harrison played a role in the restoration of the Siletz tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in their efforts to become fully recognized by the U.S. federal government.

As part of the Legislative Commission on Indian Services, Harrison was appointed by former Oregon Gov. Victor G. Atiyeh to advocate for the tribes and to later testify at Congressional hearings, a task she had the pleasure to share with both her son and daughter. The restoration of tribal sovereignty was powerful for Harrison and her people because it “fulfilled the vision of their ancestors” by conferring dignity and rights that they all were rightfully owed.

Over the years, she has shown her love toward people and a willingness to serve by working for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde as a nurse, a licensed practical nurse, a minority outreach worker, a nutritionist, and an alcohol and drug counselor trainee. For 22 years, Harrison held various high-ranking positions in the tribal council, including an elected position as the first female chairperson.

Harrison’s has received numerous awards for her community-inspired actions.

In 2001, she was awarded the Tom McCall Leadership Award from Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism (SOLV). In 1999, she won the White Crown Award from the National American Indian Business Leaders for exemplifying “an American Indian leader who has used her wealth of knowledge and experience to further the cause of American Indian people locally and nationally.” During the 1990s, the YWCA and the League of Women Voters have also recognized her passion.

Harrison said she was fortunate to work with the people in her numerous groups and committees she has been a part of.

“All I did was work,” she said. “I was always blessed by my family, my tribe and my God.”

Harrison was born and raised in Corvallis, and even though her family had little to eat in her childhood days of the Great Depression, transients down on their luck found solace and a warm meal at the Harrison household.

That spirit of service is now embodied in their daughter, as it was in their other children.

At the age of 10, Harrison was orphaned when her parents died of influenza. She was left to find her own path. After attending Chemawa Indian School in Chemawa, Ore., she went to Lane Community College and graduated as a licensed practical nurse.

Left alone to raise 10 children, Harrison had to depend on herself to provide for her family. Just like she did for countless others, she found ways to provide for, care for and nurture those around her.

Giving back to the community has always been Harrison’s hallmark.

“By helping the (Grand Ronde) tribe, we have actually helped the whole surrounding community and the state at large,” she said.

Commencement for her honorary degree will take place Saturday, June 14, at 10 a.m. in the Rose Garden Arena. James DePriest, conductor of the Oregon Symphony, will deliver the keynote address.