Commencement Address 2019 - Alyssa Macy


2019 Commencement Speaker

Alyssa Macy, Chief Operating Officer
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs

Good afternoon. I appreciate the invitation to be here today with you to celebrate this important milestone in your life. It is an honor and I stand here today not only as myself but as a citizen and representative of my own Nation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

I’d like to start my remarks with first acknowledging the land that we stand on and share a bit of history. This area is part of 10 million acres that my ancestors ceded to the Federal government when the 1855 Treaty with the Middle Bands of Oregon was negotiated by the leadership of the Wasco and Warm Springs Nations.

In exchange for 10 million acres, we received what is now known as the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Our Treaty reserved our rights to hunt, fish and gather in usual and accustomed places within these ceded territories. Following the signing of the Treaty, we were removed from the banks of the Columbia River, the place we’d known since the beginning of time, and came to Central Oregon. It changed my People and our way of life.  Today, we live down the way and we are your neighbors.

My ancestors’ footprints, along with many other Tribal Nations, are here. Some of your ancestors’ footprints might be here too. I acknowledge and honor those who’ve been here before us and are here with us now.

I thought long and hard about the remarks I would make … and settled on sharing two lessons that I’ve learned and work daily to live. These lessons seem simple, but living them requires a deep commitment to self-reflection, healing and growth. This type of work, as many know, is some of the most challenging work that one can undertake.

These lessons are love and acceptance of oneself and living a life of purpose. These lessons are important for you as you start this next chapter in your life.

Loving and accepting myself has been a lifelong journey. I was exposed to a lot of trauma early in my life. For those working in counseling or social work, you may be familiar with Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. This term is used to describe various types of traumatic experiences that can occur to people under the age of 18 and are linked to all sorts of problems later in life.

When I took the ACEs test, I was one short of a perfect score. This is not the type of test you want to get a perfect score on.

It wasn’t until my early 30’s that I was brave enough to face the things that I had experienced and to talk about them. While I knew it would be painful and scary, I had grown tired of being tired and recognized that these things were holding me back. I knew that the only person who could create the change was me. My only regret in this process is that I wish I would have started this journey sooner.

It was also during my 30’s that I truly came into my own understanding of my indigenous identity and the politics of existence and resistance. Indigenous People carry intergenerational trauma as a result of removal from homelands and genocide. We’ve also walked in a world of invisibility. Our histories were written out of the textbooks, we were “honored” by organizations using demeaning caricatures. My people were boiled down to headdresses at music festivals. As we are viewed by some as less than human, Indigenous women today, face murder rates than are more than 10 times the national average. We disappear.

Despite all of this, my reality, I choose to face these fears, found myself, and found my voice.

It has taken many years to heal, forgive, and grow from those experiences. As I’ve gone through this process, I’ve let go of the shame, fear, and self-doubt. I grew to love and accept the woman who looked back at me in the mirror. I turn around and reach behind and pull others up. Some days I struggle and I cry and there have been dark times. But I’ve picked myself up and always moved forward.

I took off the stereotypes that I had internalized. The drunk Indian, the casino Indian, the uneducated Indian and more. I replaced all of that with the incredible story of resiliency, of resistance, the power of culture and language, and the deep connection to the land and the community. I am not, and never was, a Pocahontas Halloween costume or a story of the past. I am of the present and I stand with my ancestors and the sisters that we have lost. I am a part of the new Indigenous narrative – rooted, thriving, leading, evolving and building.

I am your neighbor and we are our future.

The second lesson – living a life of purpose – is certainly tied into the first. My purposeful life means living my values, every single day and in everything I do.

Love. Integrity. Justice. Health. Friendships. Adventure. Service.

Learning to love myself has allowed me to grow and truly love others. Integrity is a commitment to truth and living a life with honor. Justice is working to advance the causes of Indigenous Peoples and fighting for what I believe is right. Living a healthy lifestyle nourishes my mind, body, and soul. Friendships sustain me and bring me joy. Adventure is traveling across the globe and exploring new places. Service is working together and within my own community to build our Nation.

Living a life of purpose means sticking to the values that are important to you. These values feed your spirit and guide you on your path. It’s who you are. Knowing who you are and what you are about gives you strength to fight for what you believe is right and just in this world. It helps you pick yourself up when you fall down. It gives you courage when you face the unknown. It gives your life meaning.

When I graduated from college, I wanted to change the world. I still do. I’m sure many of you also feel the same way. Healthy people, of good heart and mind, living a life of purpose are the foundation on which change in our communities can happen. We lead with vision and clarity because we understand who we are. Our strong sense of self allows us to be open to others ideas, adapt, and take healthy risks. We can make difficult decisions. We can be courageous and inspirational.

We can transform Nations.

Thank you to all of the families and friends who have supported these graduates. To my Indigenous sisters and brothers and all my people of color, I am so, so proud of you. For the graduates that started this journey at a later point in your life, thank you for showing us that it’s never too late. For those of you who are the first to graduate in your family, you have set the path for your children and relatives to follow. For the graduates who identify as LGBTQ and live your life as the authentic real you every day, thank you for showing us what courage looks like. 

Acceptance of yourself and living your life in full authenticity. It’ll be the hardest, yet most meaningful work you will ever do.

I am excited about your individual and collective journeys forward. I am excited about the energy and intelligence you bring. And I am excited about the transformative changes that you will lead and be a part of. I am excited for our future.

Thank you again Oregon State University - Cascades for inviting me to be here to share a little bit of my story with all of you and congratulations class of 2019!