The day-to-day life of people in Warm Springs is in many ways similar to that of people on any reservation, or in any small town. High school students attend Madras High School, 15 miles south of the reservation’s southern border. The school’s nickname is the White Buffaloes. Kindergarten through 8th grade students attend a brand new state-of-the-art school completed in 2015, located on the reservation. There is a Catholic church and Indian Shaker church, and numerous Protestant denominations on the reservation. The CTWS owns and operates KWSO 91.9 FM, a well-loved community radio station that first broadcast in 1986 and transmits from Eagle Butte with 4,300 watts of power. If you are driving through the reservation on any given day, you will hear the voices of deejays Sue Matters, Liz Smith, Brutis Baez, Marge Kalama, or Delson Suppah. The station’s programming includes music, local, national and world news and public interest stories, and programs on CTWS tribal language and culture. The Spilyay Tymoo is the reservation’s newspaper, publishing on a bi-weekly basis and operating out of the same building as the radio station. The CTWS maintains a 25,000 square foot museum, constructed in 1993 at a cost of $7.6 million, and also operates a police force, a courthouse, a fire and safety department, health and wellness and early childhood centers, and a senior center. The health and wellness center is a common lunchtime gathering place for people who play basketball or volleyball, take exercise classes, or lift weights.
The hub of the reservation is an area known as “downtown”, “campus”, or “agency.” The police station, courthouse, post office, Warm Springs Market, and Re-Use It Store are located here. Community members commonly bump into family members and friends at the market and post office, as well as at Tacos Colima and Kalama’s Frybread. Community members are known to set up tables inside and outside the Warm Springs Market, either in front of the large community bulletin board or on the sidewalk in front of the large mural on the side of the market, selling beadwork, jewelry, or baked goods, or raffling items to raise funds for local school events or other causes.
While many on the reservation are working in good jobs with good pay, with intact, healthy families, and with their children thriving in school, many reservation residents face significant challenges in their day-to-day lives. The average lifespan of tribal members is significantly lower than that of the public at-large. Dropout rates, teen pregnancies, substance abuse, violent crime, diabetes, alcoholism, and other social and health maladies also exceed state norms. Economically, the situation is also challenging. The BIA’s 2005 American Indian Population and Labor Force Report indicated that the reservation had a 43% unemployment rate. At that same time, the median Warm Springs Reservation resident had a per capita income 44% that of the median Oregon resident. In 2010, reservation residents were three times more likely to live in poverty than other residents of the state (CTWS data, 2010).
Over 37% of the reservation’s population is under the age of 18, and 17% is under the age of 9. A high percentage of these children live in single-parent, low-income families. Low-income families and individuals form the majority of the reservation’s population, and they spend most of their incoming resources on basic necessities, naturally restricting their ability to save. Many of those who are able to save a few dollars support not only their immediate families, but members of their extended families. In this climate, made even more challenging by the isolation of the reservation, it is difficult for people to feel a sense of hope and to actively plot a course towards achieving their goals.
The people of the community are relatively young; the median age on the Reservation was just 26 years old in 2010. The youthful Warm Springs community brings with it both challenges and opportunities. Those of working age on the reservation who succeed in entering the workforce have limited professional experience, both because of their short time in the workforce and because they lack access to professionally fulfilling work. This lack of professional experience inhibits community members from turning their career trajectory upward. WSCAT helps young people overcome this barrier by providing them with the resources necessary to carve out new professional paths. WSCAT programs enable young community members to gain the skills and expertise to lead fulfilling lives of their own design and to envision a positive future for themselves and their community.
Most importantly, the young people of the reservation bring the energy necessary to revitalize the community. When community members feel empowered, the community grows healthier, providing greater opportunity and stability for all. The young people that WSCAT serves today will be leaders of the Tribes and of the reservation economy in the future. WSCAT strives to ensure that young members of the community can see beyond their current struggles to see better future for themselves, their reservation, and their people.
The people of the Warm Springs Reservation are its greatest resource and strength. The Warm Springs Community Action Team and its partners are working steadfastly to address the many social and economic challenges on the Warm Springs Reservation, and to provide hope and opportunity for its residents. While these challenges are daunting, they are not insurmountable.