SARATOGA — For Rory Tendore, taking on a new role this summer hasn’t meant a job, but a way to give back — something she’s been doing for years. Tendore, an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, is the mother of three children and resides in Fort Washakie. Since mid-August, she has served as director of the Eastern Shoshone Department of Juvenile Service.
“My family is from the reservation, and both of my maternal grandparents were born and raised here. My paternal family is from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho,” Tendore said.
Her paternal grandmother was a part of the last Lemhi Shoshone or Agaikidas of Shoshone, the final group of Northern Shoshone to be forcibly moved from their ancestral homelands to reservation land near the turn of the 20th century.
“As a young lady, one of her stories was that she remembered being a teenage girl and walking to Fort Hall along a wagon,” Tendore said. “She remembered making the trip down, not really understanding everything that was happening and just having to restart her life. She had to do something she hadn’t ever really considered.”
But her ancestors — and their strength — inform Tendore’s every decision.
“A really good friend of mine … says we are doing what our older generation expected of us. We are the prayers that our ancestors said, we are the generation they hoped for. Well, that’s like, no pressure,” she laughed.
Growing up, Tendore was a star athlete in Ft. Washakie, a great kid, Eastern Shoshone linguist, cultural preservationist, educator and consultant, Lynette St. Clair said.
As she grew older, though, the reality of living as a minority in Wyoming scared her. In 1999, Tendore graduated high school. Matthew Shepard was also brutally murdered in Laramie. She decided then she would attend a tribal college in North Dakota rather than matriculate at the University of Wyoming.
“For me, (the Shepard murder) was a pretty scary reality,” Tendore said. “It was pretty scary to know that something like that could happen (in Wyoming).”
She returned to work in the Fort Washakie community as a tutor for the school district, running after-school programming, writing National Science Foundation grants and acting as an administrative assistant to the first Ft. Washakie Charter School. She eventually earned a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Wisconsin — Oshkosh in 2016. As she grew older, she returned to work in Fort Washakie. According to St. Clair, Tendore built a strong rapport with both students and staff.
This year, she was asked to become the director for the Eastern Shoshone Department of Family Services. She unequivocally accepted the new role.
“I want this to be a place where children can thrive. Especially for my community, I want to create a space where our children can flourish based on what we culturally and spiritually believe is in their best interest,” Tendore said. “We have the oral history of our tribal community, and that has been able to endure so many events over the years. People endure in different ways.”
When she was asked to apply for the position, she came to it with the understanding that the demographic of people she would serve were the same as her: They were enrolled tribal members who lived on the reservation, and people who lived in her own community. Many parents of the clients that she served were even students of Tendore’s when she first started working at Ft. Washakie. That history meant Tendore didn’t need to work as hard to create trust. Instead, she needed to learn how to be able to help.
But St. Clair said Tendore has done things for her community that can’t be understated.
“As she has evolved, and as her career has evolved, she has really come back and contributed to her community,” St. Clair said. “In a sense, she has kind of come full circle. It is really empowering for other young women to see her in that role, because she not only has a sense of self for herself and her family, but she has this connection to the people who she serves, and that is her community and her Eastern Shoshone roots.”
Tendore said the decision to stay in her community was not a hard one to make. She felt morally that working in Fort Washakie allows her to provide some service to her people.
“I am my mom’s youngest daughter, and I am the youngest girl in my family,” she said. “I have been cared for most of my life by my older brothers and sisters, and I am now in a position to pay that forward.”
She has been recognized nationally for her contributions: In May of this year, she was the first Wyoming resident in 30 years to be selected as the FBI Denver Division’s 2018 recipient for the Director’s Community Leadership Award to recognize extraordinary citizens throughout the nation.
FBI Denver Special Agent Amy Meyer said in a May press release Tendore regularly partners with Wyoming federal, state and local law enforcement and complimented Tendore for devoting her life to improving her community and the Rocky Mountain region.
But for Tendore, the best affirmations come much closer to home. She described one client who spoke about home and what it would look like — the leaves turning for fall and the water level in the nearby creek. Noting that she and others in her culture have a special relationship to the land, Tendore made two additional trips to the area so she could relay information back to the client.
“Having that moment to explain what I was seeing in a way that she understood, and trying to relate to let her know that (her) situation was temporary, and that it was not always going to be this way — at the end of the day, we are doing something right,” Tendore said. “We are not always going to get it right, but if for one person today, we created that assurance.”
Editor’s note: On Dec. 10, 1869, Wyoming territory passed the first law in United States history recognizing women’s right to vote and hold public office.
At The Sheridan Press, we are counting down to the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the Equality State with a special series inspired by the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s “Year of Wyoming Women.” Highlighting a different inspiring Wyoming woman, the features are published on the 10th of every month. Explore the full series, then join the culminating event on Dec. 10!