By UO student Chelsea Fullmer
Following in his mom’s, brother’s, and uncle’s footsteps to the University of Oregon, Chris Mercier ’98 became a member of the Duck family after receiving a scholarship to attend the UO. Switching between journalism and English as majors, Mercier graduated from the UO School of Journalism and Communication, using those writing skills post-graduation writing for the tribal newsletter of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
Growing up in Salem, Oregon, Mercier travelled down I-5 to Eugene to pursue his degree. During his time at the UO, Mercier enjoyed attending basketball and football games, attended fun Halloween parties, and wrote a story for the Emerald. Mercier also participated in two National Student Exchange programs to the University of Hawaii Hilo and the University of New Orleans, and studied abroad for a semester in Ecuador.
“I enjoyed the academic challenges, the learning, and being able to look back on each year and realize how much you had learned,” Mercier said.
After graduating, Mercier spent two years working and saving money for potential travel. From there, Mercier found himself back with his tribe in Grand Ronde working at Spirit Mountain Casino. Mercier worked for the tribal newsletter before being elected the youngest tribal chair at the time to the Tribal Council.
For nine years, Mercier served on the council helping make decisions, write laws, and introduce reform, and he strived to make a brighter future for future generations of the tribe. Mercier also had the opportunity to work with Oregon’s governor, and met President Barrack Obama before his election into office.
“Being an elected tribal leader was a privilege in every sense of the word,” Mercier said. “You see a world that not many people know about, because natives are such a small part of the population and they are far removed from the mainstream. I can’t imagine who I would be or what my path might have been had this opportunity never come my way. Thankfully it gave me insight and skills that will help me the rest of my life.”
The more Mercier became involved with the Tribal Council, the more his interest in tribal politics grew in correlation with a desire to return back to school. Mercier decided to pursue a law degree at Michigan State University, and is currently enrolled in the program. Mercier also advises young Native American students to pursue a degree in higher education, just as he did.
“Now is the time,” Mercier said. “There are so many opportunities for Natives out there in the realm of education. Learn what you can, and if at all possible, stay involved with your tribe. Tribes are expanding and there are career opportunities there which don’t exist elsewhere. Education will be key in making the most of those opportunities.”