Coquille Tribal Chief Donald Ivy passed away in July following a seven-month battle with cancer. He had been chief since 2014.
Everyone knows what the definition of the word cousin is. I have many cousins in my family that I have little connection to except by blood. In Indian country we use the familial term “cousin” as a term of endearment, respect, or familiarity. Chief Don Ivy of the Coquille Indian Tribe was my cousin.
Even though Don and I are relatives, I only met him 26 years ago. Both of us were well into our adulthood and I remember listening to him speak and asking myself, “Who is this preposterous person?” If you knew Don, then you would understand this. He was big on opinion and very outspoken to the point of sometimes offending people in his path. Smart, well-read, and self-assured he could hold court and sway an argument by shear force of will. He was an army of one and his uncompromising standards resulted in many significant contributions not only within our Tribe but in his home state and across Indian country.
Over the years, Don and I became friends and someone I enjoyed debating on many Indian matters. I often sought his advice and input on political, cultural, policy, environmental matters and more. In 2014, Don became the cultural and spiritual leader of the Coquilles. A role that became the most fitting tribute to his life’s work.
On July 22nd the governor of the state of Oregon put out a press release talking about how she would personally miss Chief Ivy, his friendship, and his counsel. She is not alone.
When some people leave your life, you hardly notice, with others you feel the void immediately and it goes on indefinitely. In the Coquille language we have a word “Mah nee yas” that means ancestor, father, grandfather and embodies all of the collective spirit and wisdom of those who come before us and who are no longer with us physically. Cousin Don, you are Mah nee yas now and we will miss you, but we will expect your continued guidance. Tsu Tse Wass.
I met Chief Ivy when I first began working for the Coquilles in 1995. As Brady mentioned, he was passionate about Coquille culture and the betterment of all Indian people. At the time, my knowledge of Indian culture was like most Americans, completely lacking and wrong.
It was Chief, who was in charge of the Coquille Cultural Department, that helped me on my educational journey. For over 20 years, we worked together on a variety of projects. Together we created the first Coquille Indian Tribe brochure for public use, a task filled with much angst. He coordinated a Culture Conference that I was lucky enough to assist with and attend. When I asked for help on the hotel design for The Mill Casino, he personally hand selected rocks from the Coquille River for a decorative wall and fireplace that is the centerpiece of the hotel lobby.
In the Raving office, we have a large format photo of the Coquille Plank House. This is one of many projects Don willed into reality. Thanks to him, I will always carry with me the importance of protocol and appreciation for the stories that make us. I will do my best to tell his stories and how they shaped my life and others. (Example: Never call the Tribal chair by his/her first name. It should always be Chair & last name.) Thanks Chief Ivy!
Family and friends of Coquille Tribal Chief Donald Ivy have established the Donald Ivy Memorial Scholarship Fund to support Southwestern Oregon Community. The scholarship fund in his honor is directed to Native American, minority and underrepresented students who plan a course of study in cultural resource-related fields or nursing.
Ivy was a student at SWOCC and last year was named the SWOCC Distinguished Alumnus for his significant contribution to the community. If you are wanting to help students and the community in Chief Ivy’s honor, you can make a donation online at www.socc.edu/give or by contacting the SWOCC Foundation: firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-888-7209.