Jason Younker to return to campus as new tribal liaison

UO tribal liaison Jason Younker
UO tribal liaison Jason Younker

The UO’s Many Nation’s Longhouse was not yet complete when Jason Younker left Eugene in 2004 for his first tenure-track position at the Rochester Institute of Technology in faraway upstate New York.

Younker had just earned his doctorate in anthropology and had played a key role in getting the longhouse project under way, helping the university fulfill a promise made a generation earlier. Now, Younker is coming back to the UO to help keep that promise alive as the university’s first formal liaison to Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes.

Younker, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has accepted a position as the assistant vice president and advisor to the president on sovereignty and government-to-government relations. He will lead the university’s efforts to maintain and strengthen the existing relationships with Oregon’s first peoples as well as forge new connections with the tribes.

"As a public university we have an opportunity and responsibility to foster and forge new relationships with Oregon’s first peoples," UO President Michael Gottfredson said in a campus e-mail announcing the appointment. "Bringing Dr. Younker back our campus is a wonderful way for the UO to build academic, economic, social and cultural collaborations with the nine sovereign nations within our state. These partnerships support our academic and research mission in ways that will benefit the university, the state and the tribes."

Younker, who grew up in Coos Bay, said accepting the position means an important homecoming for him and his family, who will return to the Willamette Valley this summer. Younker said his first official day on campus is Aug. 15.

“I’m very, very pleased to be joining the president’s staff,” he said this week.

Younker said home carries special meaning for Native peoples, a bond he alluded to when he returned to campus in 2005 for the grand opening of the longhouse, calling it “a place where spirit and community reside.”

Younker, who also earned his master’s degree at the UO, worked with the Coquille Tribe to help arrange a donation of old-growth fir timbers from trees harvested on tribal land, as well as a cash donation to help fund the longhouse project. He said he was only one of many people who worked to make the building reality but said it left an enduring impression on him.

Younker is a member of the Coquille Nation and currently is a tenured associate professor and chair of the department of sociology and anthropology at Rochester. He served as the institution’s liaison to the native nations of New York and southern Canada.

Younker also is the president of the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists. During his studies in Oregon, he was a leader in the Southwest Oregon Research Project at the Smithsonian Institution and in the subsequent Potlatches ― traditional Native gifting events ― that returned documents relating to their cultural heritage to the nine federally recognized tribes and the historic 54 bands and tribes that occupied the land now known as Oregon.

―By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications