For the sixth time, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation was chosen as a leader among American Indian nations.

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development announced its honoring nations awards last week in Albuquerque, N.M. The CTUIR’s public transit program received an “honors” award, and $10,000.

Of the ten programs awarded, five received “high honors” and $20,000 and five, like the transit program, received the honors award. There were 90 applicants from 68 tribes.

The CTUIR achieved similar awards from the organization in the past. In 2002 it was recognized for its fisheries program and healing program, in 2003 for its cultural protection program, in 2005 for its participation in ONABEN’s innovative models for enterprise development and in 2006 for its home ownership program.

Jim Beard, the CTUIR comprehensive planning manager, said Shelly Salway Black, a member of the board of governors for The Harvard Project, asked why the CTUIR achieves these honors again and again.

“It’s because the tribe always has good and stable leadership, good staff, planning and visioning,” Beard said he told her. “It may seem simple, but they set priorities and let staff carry it out in a way that can be successful.”

Beard said the transit program was unique from other nominees at the honoring nations awards — which in some ways didn’t fit the specific criteria of the higher awards. Other programs concentrated on the sovereignty of a program and how the program helps tribal members.

The transit system benefits all the communities and citizens in the area, on and off the reservation.

In the past two years the CTUIR transit system has stretched across the tribes’ homelands — from Hermiston to La Grande, from Pilot Rock to Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities.

Unlike other bus systems, the CTUIR transit system moves people between communities, not within them. Someone can take a bus from one town to another and, in places like Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities, can board city buses to get around town.

Beard hopes to use the $10,000 to match grants. With those grants he plans to buy a trolley to commute between Pendleton and Mission.

The transit program rented a 1900-era trolley bus during Round-Up and increased rides between the two communities. It held park-and-rides on the reservation and shuttled people to the Round-Up Grounds. It ran more than 1,000 riders; some were tourists just hopping on for the experience.

Beard thinks the trolley will add some character to the route, and help bring identity to the transit program.

“It might not be unique in Walla Walla or in big cities,” Beard said, “but out here in the rural area we think it’ll be a real standout.”

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