April 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Yurok activist Amy Cordalis will be UO commencement speaker June 20

3 min read
Twenty years after graduating from the UO, Amy Bowers Cordalis will speak at the 2023 commencement celebration.

from the University of Oregon

Oregon’s 147th commencement, set for Tuesday, June 20, will welcome an alumnus as its speaker for the main celebration.

Amy Bowers Cordalis is a mother, fisherwoman, attorney, and member of the Yurok Tribe. She is the co-principal of the Ridges to Riffles Indigenous Conservation Group, a nonprofit representing Indigenous tribes, organizations and people in natural and cultural resource matters.

Cordalis graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in environmental studies.

“The University of Oregon provided me with an invigorating academic experience, rich cultural activities, and a supportive community that allowed me to exercise self-determination,” she said. “I was able to explore different parts of myself through being on the cheerleading team, singing in the gospel choir, working at the Cultural Forum planning the folk festival, sailing, and being active in the Native American Student Union.

“All the while, (I was) studying politics and environmental studies, developing lifelong friendships, building confidence in myself and an understanding of the world. This empowered me to serve my community, river and the country. I am forever grateful to the University of Oregon.”

Cordalis has served her Tribe as general counsel and was a staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund. Her family is from the village of Rek-Woi at the mouth of the Klamath River in Northern California. Since colonization, every generation of her family has fought for Yurok rights.

Her family’s Supreme Court case, Mattz v. Arnett, reaffirmed the status of the Yurok Reservation as Indian Country, laying the foundation for the exercise of the Tribe’s sovereignty and the enjoyment of its federally reserved water and fishing rights.

“Amy has made a significant impact in her community and for her Tribe,” said Kris Winter, the UO’s interim vice president for student life. “Amy embodies what it means to be a part of the University of Oregon community, and we are excited she will be sharing her experiences and aspirations with our most recent graduates.”

Cordalis continues her family legacy by focusing her work on Klamath River restoration, including dam removal, water rights and fisheries issues.

She also is the author of a forthcoming book, “Child of Big Water, Indigenous Resistance, Resilience and Stewardship: A Family Story Behind the World’s Biggest River Restoration Project” (December 2024). The book describes the world’s largest river restoration project – removal of the lower four Klamath River dams. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cleared the last major hurdle on Nov. 17, 2022, by issuing a license surrender order for the Lower Klamath River Hydroelectric Project.

The first of four dams to be removed as part of the historic Klamath River basin restoration project will be the smallest: the 33-foot-high, 278-foot-long Copco No. 2 Dam, completed in 1925. It is scheduled to be removed this summer.

Among other successes, Cordalis was named one of “100 Ducks who Made a Difference” in Oregon Quarterly magazine’s 100th anniversary issue, where she was included in a list of alumni, students, faculty members, staff and friends making significant contributions to Oregon and the nation.

“I am really looking forward to connecting with my fellow UO grads and their families and friends,” she said. “I could not be more excited to share some words of wisdom and thoughts for their bright futures.”

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