The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jerimiah Bonifer Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

November 22, 2014


Jerimiah Bonifer was born in 1983 in Pendleton, Oregon and raised primarily on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Bonifer's ancestry includes identification with the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse tribes. His father is a descendent of French-Canadian trappers who married into the tribal population, and his mother traces her heritage to the native peoples of the Meacham Creek area, in northeast Oregon.

Bonifer's family has fished for many generations, and fishing and hunting remain a vital component of his extended family's subsistence and income. Bonifer participated in scaffold and platform fishing as a child, and in the summers between high school and college Bonifer regularly travelled to Alaska to work on his uncle's commercial fishing boat. Bonifer is also an avid hunter.

Growing up as a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Bonifer learned the importance of living by the seasons, as hunting and gathering traditional foods is central to the tribal way of life. Likewise, community was, and continues to be, fundamental to Bonifer's identity. Gatherings at pow-wows, in the tipi village at the Pendleton Round-Up, or around family elders during storytelling sessions have all served to connect and educate him about his culture and history.

Bonifer attended Pendleton public schools until high school, at which point he transferred to Pilot Rock High School, which was closer to his home. After completing high school, he attended Blue Mountain Community College for a period and worked as well. In 2008 he married his wife, Mindy, and the couple are now parents to two children.

In 2009, while living in Pendleton and working full time, Bonifer began attending OSU through the university's Extended Campus program. For the more than four years that followed, Bonifer took a full complement of courses entirely online, including video lectures and lab kits delivered by mail. Supported by his family and the tribal community, Bonifer graduated with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife in 2014. His participation in the 2014 commencement exercises at Reser Stadium marked his second ever visit to the OSU campus in Corvallis.

Since 2009, Bonifer has worked for the Confederated Tribes as a fisheries technician. Initially tasked with tagging juvenile salmonids, Bonifer has since moved into field supervision and data analysis. He has also conducted radio telemetry studies on adult steelheads and has examined the ability of fish to pass through irrigation dams on the Umatilla River.