When Ellise David was growing up on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, she used to take the less than 5-minute walk to her Grandparents’ house many times. It became one of the most powerfully impactful walks of her life. Years later, her Grandfather would take a walk into a tribal restaurant where David was buying lunch during a quick break away from her full-time-plus job at the tribal hotel. She had big dreams and a baby on the way and her Grandfather said, “I put some land in your name.”
“Before I could say anything, he was out the door. That’s just the way he is,” she said, looking back.
David has never been undaunted from taking the next step. Growing up, she said she learned traditional practices early on, “Gender roles weren’t a thing in our family. For my Grandpa it just wasn’t an issue – you had to learn to provide for yourself regardless of gender by learning to hunt, fish and dig for roots. This always meant a lot to me. As a woman I learned that regardless of whether we have a man or not, we need to know how to provide for ourselves.”
The spirit of the outdoors was alive and well for the Davids because they were also a rodeo family, “I was a judge for the rodeo for the professional Wild Horse Racing Association. I judged throughout high school and into college a bit.”
With the news of expecting her son Kasen, David continued to make plans for the future, “I initially had plans to go to Washington State for an Ag Econ Degree, but when I found out I was pregnant, I had to adjust and immediately started a job and spread my roots here at home. I love being here.”
Ever thinking ahead about providing for herself and her family and dreaming of building her own home on family land she was inheriting, David started an Individual Development Account through a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) in Warm Springs, “I heard about it from one of the workers that started the CDFI. For every dollar you invest they will multiply it by $5.”
Her dreams of the home were both pragmatic and altruistic, “When we were kids, we would walk up to my Grandparents’ house or go up there for sledding. I wanted that for Kasen as well. That is why I looked for a spot on our land to build a home and keep that alive.
The house developments are in the infancy stage, David admitted, but plans are underway – there are the Tribal processes to go through, land inspection, location for a water line to identify and blueprints to pick out, “We are very early into the phase, but it will happen.”
Her, undaunted, can-do attitude found another open-door along the journey when David was connected with the IAC in 2014, when she attended the first IAC annual membership meeting, “I applied to go, and it was just amazing. I had never been around so many adults in the same place or an organization telling me I have a voice and I can make a change regardless of age! It was so eye-opening to me because I had never experienced that to that level!”
“My second year at the IAC membership meeting, Azelya Yazzie was one of my students,” David said, noting that Yazzie now serves as the IAC Leadership Development Specialist. “Zach Ducheneaux was my student leader for a long time too and Ross Racine was Regional Ag Director for my tribe. It is a crazy, small ag world. I also went to Washington D.C. with Azelya and Sha’Teal Pearman to help work on the Native Farm Bill.”
“In 2017, I entered into the IAC to help do the first Youth Regional Summit here in the Northwest because we had not had any prior to that,” she said.
Bringing the support and resources from the IAC home to her community and her dreams there are paramount for David, “I visited the Quapaw Nation and saw how sustainable they are and was blown away with how they could raise their own food and build a structure around a meat processing facility with community support. I want to bring that message to my reservation that agriculture can help with a lot of issues other than food too – unemployment, mental health, eliminating food deserts and more.”
In 2016, ever seeking opportunities to learn more and contribute, David did a Food Sovereignty Assessment with Oregon State University. This was a summer position through a tribal youth worker program. The assessment involved conducting a collection of surveys and looking at trends as well as foreseeing future programming.
Today, David is working hard to complete her Associates Degree in Agriculture from Central Oregon Community College and anticipates graduating in 2021, “I always shot for the wider picture when trying to help my tribe, but it’s really about starting with the smaller aspects. I realized there are a lot of people who want got get into ranching, gardening, and growing and do not have the basic resources or basic information. That is why I refer a lot of people to the IAC because if they cannot help, they will find someone to provide an answer.”
“I have been told the future is on your shoulders, you better step up,” David said. “But sometimes when I start questioning, I get told to sit down and respect my elders. I would say to the next generation, there is nothing wrong with stepping up to the plate. There will always be issues, but at the IAC I have found a support system regardless of those barriers. It’s really a support system that I cannot live without and for that I am grateful.”
David is also grateful for her family and the chance to continue striving for her dreams to unfold there, “When I am doing my homework or finishing up work, my dad will sometimes take Kasen up to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They always have a bucket of toys and make sure they have snacks.”
“There have been a lot of things my Grandpa has told me,” David said about those many trips she also took to his home. “Knowing his story and what he has gone through and that he finds sanctuary in the land is really, really helpful to me. It’s an honor to have a piece of that ancestry. I will always be grateful for the chance to live within a mile of him and am happy my son can have that chance too.”
Connect with Ellise David, who is serving as the IAC Communications Intern, at: firstname.lastname@example.org