Though he raised his family in Ashland and spent more than 30 years working with families for the state of Oregon, William Bowers says the lower Klamath River has always been home.
For this reason, it’s perhaps fitting that it was his daughter, Amy Cordalis, who urged Yurok Tribal Court Chief Judge Abby Abinanti to welcome Bowers to the Yurok Tribal Bar on Monday. Abinanti also swore Bowers in as an associate justice of the Yurok Tribal Court.
Bowers will be the tribal court’s first formal associate judge, Abinanti said.
“He’s been in training for several months now and also took the Yurok bar (examination) and passed with one of the highest scores we’ve ever recorded,” Abinanti said.
Bowers worked with Oregon social services for about 12 years, helping mothers and children who were struggled with drug-related issues. He said he spent about 20 years toward the latter part of his career working with parole and probation for the State of Oregon.
Describing himself as a social worker, Bowers said his goal is to bring consistency, honesty and fairness to the Yurok Tribal Court. He said he believes in consequences, but he wants to be able to listen to those who come into the courtroom and give them an honest opinion about their situation.
“In the old days, what they would do is they had an elder person that if there was a dispute, they would come to that person and they would square the dispute,” Bowers said. “And that’s what I am, but I do it up here.”
Cordalis, general counsel with the Yurok Tribe’s Office of Tribal Attorney, said her father knows the Yurok culture and life on the river well. After 30 years working with juvenile affairs in Oregon, Cordalis said Bowers is an ideal candidate for the associate justice position.
“I think one of our greatest accomplishments is that since the beginning of time the Yurok people have governed the lower Klamath River,” she said. “And invasion, genocide and assimilation couldn’t stop that. The most powerful government that this planet has ever seen, the United States government, couldn’t stop that. It couldn’t stop our governance of this river and this place and we should be proud of that.”
Before urging Abinanti to admit her father to the Yurok Tribal Bar, Cordalis noted the Yurok people have always lived in balance with the land.
“We are loyal to one another, we are good to one another, and I think about my father,” she said. “He embodies all of those things. Through his life he has chosen to live by those principles and whether he is on the river, in the dance pit, in the pig barn and in state court where he spent 30 years advocating for children and families or whether he’s at the dinner table, he’s stayed true to those core values.”
Bowers said it’s important to being what you preach and living by the example you want others to experience. He said he sees a lot of positive change happening within the Yurok Tribe including more jobs and people feeling better about themselves.
“I think people, they’re starting to understand that we can be what we want to be,” Bowers said. “Kids are going to college. Things are starting to flourish here. The biggest thing is that they’re starting to take pride in themselves and it goes a long ways.”
Cordalis said being sworn in as an associate justice is a great honor for her father.
“I think what he’ll do is he’s got a good foundation of how family matters work in the Oregon state system and so he’ll be able to bring that background and work with Yurok families throughout Del Norte and Humboldt County,” she said.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .