Hunting and rodeoing, playing football and singing in the school choir. For Charles Hudson ’84, growing up in the ’60s and ’70s on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in rural North Dakota also meant listening to stories from his Hidatsa mother and white rancher father. One of them was about a huge flood — and it wasn’t a myth.
Six years before Hudson was born, construction of the Garrison Dam submerged 550,000 acres of Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara (the Three Affiliated Tribes) land, resulting in Lake Sakakawea and forcing hundreds of families to flee, including Hudson’s. The tragedy only inspired his parents to triumph over it.
He carried the Hidatsa values of community, charity, education, and the environment with him to WSU. In its Native group, Ku-Au-Mah (“cougar” in Nez Perce), “I immediately found a supportive network of Native people from all over the Columbia Plateau,” says Hudson, who first double-majored in forestry and environmental science. He was headed toward a professional path many of his relatives had taken, in Indian law, education, health, and the
A talk by visiting Makah filmmaker and poet Sandra Sunrising Osawa “opened my eyes to the passion for the salmon issue in the Northwest,” he says. “The best way I saw to make change was through journalism and filmmaking.”
With his bachelor’s degree in communication, Hudson worked at Seattle’s now-defunct Alpha Cine Labs on post-production for everything from experimental films to Hollywood blockbusters. Fifteen years in, married and raising three sons, he was working on Kevin Costner’s The Postman when he “became disillusioned with Hollywood’s self-indulgence and excess,” he says. “To make real change, I knew I needed to make a major course correction in my life.”
A good start was the University of Washington’s yearlong certificate program in philanthropy, delivering him to the culture of mission-driven work. After that, in 1999, he joined the staff of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, headquartered in Portland, Oregon. It is dedicated to the protection of treaty rights and fisheries resources management for the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes. Now as intergovernmental affairs director, Hudson facilitates federal-tribal relations and secures funding and policies for tribal salmon restoration.
“I get to work with people who rely on resilience, inspired by the fighting spirit of salmon and themselves, and the people of the river. And I’m able to take the pain and bitterness from the Garrison Dam’s destruction, and turn it into a daily drive to help restore justice.”
Hudson’s own people got hit again with North Dakota’s oil boom in 2000, and the Three Affiliated Tribes voted in favor of developing oil reserves. Given the environmental impacts to the land and water, he wanted to do good with his family’s oil income, so in 2016 he added it to his years of savings and founded the Many Dances Family Fund at the Oregon Community Foundation. He named it after his great-grandmother, who was married to Chief Old Dog, once photographed by Edward S. Curtis. Overseen by Hudson and his sons, the fund is devoted mainly to indigenous concerns around land stewardship, outdoors ethics, addiction/recovery, homelessness and health, food sovereignty and Indian civil rights, and government accountability.
While the Many Dances Family Fund ties the past to the future, Hudson’s visits to the reservation, where his parents still live, keep him connected to the land and the people there—and to himself. “North Dakota’s prairie and wide-open sky give me solitude in large, spiritual doses,” he says. “There are no trees or mountains in the way. There’s only as far as your mind’s eye can see.” And hunting and fishing trips there “are the cornerstones of my life. But I don’t do them for sport. I do them out of tradition, and a desire for a subsistence diet.”
Hudson loves his adopted home of the Northwest just as much. “Wherever I am, I want to try to strike the right balance between modern demands and the preservation of all things wild.” And always, there’s family. “We’re the bearers of our people’s past, with an obligation to further advance our heritage into the future.”