Kenneth L. Smith
March 30, 1935 - May 13, 2020
Kenneth Leroy Smith, "Walladawish," was one of the most important leaders of Indian Country and the most influential leader the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs had ever seen. He passed peacefully May 13, 2020 in his Warm Springs home overlooking the Deschutes River, surrounded by family.
He was a passionate advocate for the Indian Nation, giving a voice to those who had no voice. He believed the highest priority was to invest in the future generations of his people with the utmost respect and integrity, and to work together to make long-term strategic approaches instead of short-term gains. His philosophical outlook was taken from his grandparents. He said, "My grandparent's legacy will not end here. They instilled so much in me that I will carry forward my studies, my career direction, and a heart full of love for my family and a passion for my people. I will carry all they gave me with hopes the younger generations will follow, as I did them." He followed his roots to give Indian Country the voice it deserves. This included regulations and policies so Tribes could protect the forests, the wildlife, water, air, economics, the people, the children and the Tribal governments. In addition to creating economic sovereignty with his own people, he traveled all over the Country helping many other Tribes in numerous ways. He said, "I believe in the strengths of Indian people which have enabled them to endure and survive. I believe Indian people have the will and the ability to self-govern. The fulfillments, hopes and aspirations of Indian people and their Tribal governments must come from within."
Ken was born into the Wasco Tribe March 30, 1935 and raised by his grandparents, Annie and Wesley Smith, on Dry Hollow Ranch on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation. The ranch did not have electricity, running water or paved roads. He said "I learned what self reliance was growing up on the ranch with my grandparents. They taught me good work habits, to always show up 15 minutes early and the value of education. As a kid, my grandma Annie, Aunt Zelma and I would go pick huckleberries, raspberries, strawberries, and in the fall dig up potatoes." Ken and his grandfather fished for salmon and eel at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. He always said that the ranch life of cattle and horses taught him about hard work, respect, listening, learning and how to be effective in what one does. He was taught how to take care of his physical body, mind and spiritual soul.
Ken attended boarding school in Warm Springs grades 1-6. He was Junior Class President at Madras High School and excelled as running back in football, 100 yards sprinting and long jumping for the track team.
In 1959 he earned his BS degree in Business Administration with emphasis in accounting, from the University of Oregon. At which time he was the second Native American to graduate from U of O.
Ken and Sybil Cowapoo were married in 1959 and later welcomed their children, Greg and Michele into the world.
In 1959, he immediately went to work for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs as an accountant. Thereafter, he worked as Head Accountant, Controller, Assistant General Manager, Acting General Manager, and as General Manager 1971-1981. He also served three years as an elected member of the 10th Tribal Council. Under his guidance the Kah-Nee-Ta Lodge Resort was built and the Warm Springs Power Enterprises completed, which was the first federally licensed hydro-electric project on any Indian Reservation.
His leadership style was believing in working together and ensuring the team was strong. He was a humble and fair man who always smiled and strived to keep the workplace in balance. Although he enjoyed joking around, he kept everyone on task towards accomplishing their goals for the benefit of all.
In 1981, he married Jeanie Marie Bussey Thompson, and their epic romance and adventures continued for 34 years, until her passing in 2015. Along with Jeanie, her two daughters, Debra and Becky Rae were brought into the family. In their retirement, Ken and Jeanie traveled to many countries experiencing different cultures. They lived between their homes in Warm Springs, Portland and Palms Springs. Their life together was full, vital, rich, diverse and full of mutual respect.
In 1981, newly elected President Reagan, asked Ken to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior Department for Indian Affairs. As Assistant Secretary, Ken controlled a budget of one billion dollars, oversaw a workforce of 16,000, worked with 300 Tribes in the lower 48 states and provided services to 190 Alaskan Native Organizations. He administered 52,000,000 acres of trust land for Tribes and Indian people. Tim Giago, President and Publisher of "Indian Country Today" wrote, "Ken Smith was the best Assistant Secretary Indian Tribes have ever known."
From 1989-1995, Smith returned as Chief Executive OfficeSecretary-Treasurer for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. He was responsible for the second largest work force in North Central Oregon with an annual payroll of more than $24 million dollars at the time. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs was renowned for being one of the most progressive and successful tribes in the United States. His actions provided the major impetus for cultural awareness, education, health and economic sovereignty among tribal members.
-$7.6 million dollar Cultural Museum at Warm Springs
-$5 million dollar Early Childhood Education Center
-$5 million dollar Health and Wellness Center
-Launched a major breakthrough in diatomaceous earth technology that created the Warm Springs Composite Products
-Launching of Indian Head Casino
-Development of Warm Springs Plaza Shopping Center
After his tenure in D.C., countless Tribes asked Ken to assist them. One example is the Coquille Tribe where he became the Coquille Economic Development Corporation leader, which became a national model of effective leadership and business among Tribal enterprises.
Smith's contributions were innumerable and he was a holder of many honors:
-Member, National Board of The Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.
-Member, Board of Trustees, High Desert Museum, Bend, Ore.
-Member, founder and past President of the Board of Directors, Museum at Warm Springs, Warm Springs, Ore.
-Member, Board of Directors, Portland Branch of The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
-Member, Board of Directors, World Forestry Center Council, Portland
-Member, Board of Directors, Redding Rancheria Economic Development Corp., Calif.
-Member, State of Education, Oregon
-Member, State Banking Board, Oregon
-Member, Oregon State Executive Board, U.S. West Communications
-Member, Board of Directors, U.S. National Bank of Oregon
-Member, Board of Directors and past President, Inter-Tribal Timber Council Warm Springs
-Member, Board of Directors, Oregon Heart Association
-Member, Board of Trustees, Oregon State University Foundation
-Member, Board of Directors, Oregon Historical Society
-Member, Board of Trustees, Oregon Business Council
-Member, Board of Directors, Futures for Children, Santa Fe, N.M.
Other recognized Honors and special achievements:
-1970, Chosen as one of five outstanding young men by the Oregon Junior Chamber of Commerce
-1974, Chosen to work on the American Indian Policy Review Commission Task Force, D.C.
-1979, published in National Geographic Magazine
-1984, Jay Silvers Achievement Award for "Leadership in Managing Indian Resources and Steadfast Commitment to the Economic and Social Betterment of American Indian Communities"
-Member of Bureau of Indian Affairs Reorganization Task Force (under President H.W. Bush and President Clinton)
-2017, Honored by Madras Union High School as one of its Distinguished Alumni
-2019, University of Oregon included him in their "Top 100 Ducks who made a difference"
We are truly saddened by the loss of this great leader and loved one. The best way to honor his legacy is for each of us to go forward and make a difference in the lives of others when we can, and to embrace our personal gifts and talents as Walladawish did. Rest in peace Walladawish. Don't worry. The work will be done. The focus will happen and movement will be made for our people. Thank you for creating the foundation for your family, the Reservation, Indian Country and most importantly future generations.
He is survived by his daughters, Michele Hensel (Kendal), Becky Rae Olson Schroeder (David), Debra Olson Daniels; eight siblings and so many others that this page is not big enough to hold them all. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jeanie; and son, Greg. A celebration of his life will be announced at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, we request contributions be made in his memory to the Museum at Warm Springs, P.O. Box 909, Warm Springs, OR 97761.
Please sign the online guest book at www.oregonlive.com/obits
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