Interview with a Siletz Elder

The Elder Experience – An interview with Siletz Tribal Elder Jane John

By Teresa Simmons, Vice Chair, Siletz Tribal Arts & Heritage Society

We think we know our Elders, but do we? I had the opportunity to sit and visit with Jane (Service) John in February.  You know when you take the time to listen, really listen, you learn things.  A lot of living goes into 80 plus years of life on this planet.  I need to thank Jane for sharing some of her life experience of those years with me.  Now I’ll share them with you. Unfortunately, space can only allow a brief sketch of her full, active life. 

Jane’s parents, Ada Carson and Robert Service met at Chemawa Indian School and once married moved to Toledo where they raised Jane and her six siblings, Robert, Nancy, Mary, Joan, Bill, and Mike. 

Jane and her twin sister, Joan, graduated from Toledo High School in 1952 shortly before the Siletz Tribe was terminated from federal recognition.  In 1955, following termination, they decided to take advantage of the relocation program sponsored by the government and administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The program included living quarters and a stipend while participants were educated in the field of their choice. Of the cities available to those taking part in the program, Jane and Joan chose Oakland, California because it was the closest to home.  There they would enroll in business classes.

So, in April of 1955, the sisters travelled by train to California.  It was their first ever train ride and when they arrived at their destination, they were unnerved to find that there was no one to meet them.

You can imagine what it would be like in the 1950’s for two teenage girls from Toledo, Oregon to arrive alone in a place like Oakland, California not knowing a soul.  Since we all know Jane and her level of determination, it is no surprise that the girls eventually found the people they were to meet.  However, their sponsors were expecting two Indian girls wearing blankets, not two stylish young ladies. Even more surprising to Jane and Joan was the reception they received at the facility where they were to live while they received their training.  Most of the residents were much younger than Jane and Joan. They had been told that the new arrivals (Jane and Joan) may have no knowledge of indoor plumbing. So, in short, it was a confusing first meeting for all involved!

Other members of the Siletz Tribe including Herman Bell, Gene Martin, Adolph Tronson, Ronald Butler, and Benny Brown also chose Oakland, California to receive training in various fields  One person very near and dear to Jane’s heart, William Clark “Junior” John, showed up in June.  Prior to Jane leaving Toledo for California, she was introduced to Junior by Willa Orton, a family friend.  That introduction resulted in a six-week romance that prompted Junior’s trip to California. One thing led to another, and it wasn’t long before the two were married.

Their training served them well. Not only united in marriage, but they were also united in their line of work as well. Jane began her career in the printing department of the Oakland Police Department when mimeo-graph machines were used to create most publications. She remained at the Police Department for nine years.  From there Jane joined the staff at General Motors where she saw printing techniques improve dramatically with the invention of the Xerox.  Although Junior had trained in auto body repair, he became employed by Owens Illinois the entire time they lived in California also in the printing department. 

Their busy life was complete with the addition of three children, Glendora, Diana, and Billy.

Jane and Junior moved back to Oregon and settled in Salem in 1981.  The kids, all now graduated and working, continued to live in California. Junior became a counselor at Chemawa. Jane continued to work for General Motors until 1991 after which time she was hired at Chemeketa Community College. They both retired in 1997.

Always active in their community, Jane ran the Salem Co-ed Volleyball League for seventeen years.  Jane, Junior, and Billy played on the Salem Adult Indian Volleyball team in tournaments around Oregon. 

In 1982, Jane received a phone call from Mary “Dolly” Fisher who encouraged her to run for Tribal Council.  Jane was not convinced that this was the right thing for her, but Dolly talked her into meeting at the Bonanza Restaurant in Grand Ronde to discuss the matter further.  Jane decided after all that it was what she wanted to do. So, she ran, won, and served on Tribal Council for eighteen years.  She loved her time on the Council and being part of the Siletz success story.

Sadly, Junior passed away in 2011 causing many changes in her life. One thing that has not changed is the close relationship she has with her three children.  Today Jane is living in Siletz with her daughter, Glendora.  She has settled into the community and enjoys the many programs the Tribe has to offer, including the fitness center.  Not only is she joining in, but she has recently organized a pinochle group that meets at the Siletz Grange.  There is no telling what is next, but we know she will always be busy at one thing or another.

When asked what she would want to share with you, Jane smiled and said, “I am encouraged with this year’s (Tribal) election and the number of people who ran.  People are getting interested.  I’m also proud of the education in the Tribal culture.”

We are looking forward to your next chapter, Jane, and thank you for your many contributions.