On November 1, the Oregon Folklife Network joined Confluence
for a “Day of Sharing” at Fort Vancouver. Confluence is a multi-year endeavor to complete public art installations at significant points along the Columbia River, a collaboration between Pacific Northwest tribes, renowned artist Maya Lin, civic groups from Washington and Oregon, and other Northwest artists. The Day of Sharing offered a unique opportunity for native teaching artists to share their traditional art forms and stories with public school teachers to encourage classroom participation in Confluence’s “Gifts from our Ancestors” program. The Oregon Folklife Network’s participation was provided in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, which awarded OFN funding to document the cultural traditions in the Columbia River Gorge region and to partner with the Confluence Project to foster collaborations between traditional artists and educators.
(Lindsey Howtopat (Yakama) shares basket making techniques with teachers.)
“Gifts” is a collaborative program between K12 schools and indigenous artists from both sides of the Columbia River. The program engages students and teachers in experiential learning through native arts, promoting interdisciplinary curricula with an emphasis on cultural and ecological stewardship. This year’s Day of Sharing featured cultural artists and tradition keepers Lillian Pitt (Warm Springs), Ed Edmo (Shoshone-Bannock), Toma Villa (Yakama), Lindsey Howtopat (Yakama), Patricia Whitefoot (Yakama), Lavina Wilkins (Yakama), and Joann Smith (Warm Springs).
Oregon Folklife Network joined new site partners at the meeting, including the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council, National Park Service, and Washington State Parks, for one-on-one interaction between artists and organizers. The meet-up sparked new ideas for further collaborations and engagement at the Confluence commemorative sites along the Columbia that highlight indigenous history and social justice. Colin Fogarty, Executive Director, offered valuable insight on several new Confluence initiatives that will continue to foster connection to place through arts education, including a call for “focus artist ” proposals that center on social science, social justice, or art projects.
Programming ideas for the Celilo Falls site became a major topic of discussion. Celilo Park, set to open in Fall 2016, will recognize the pivotal role that Celilo played as the primary Northwest destination for indigenous salmon fishing, trade, and gatherings for thousands of years. The Day of Sharing offered Oregon and Washington teachers the chance to listen to artists and discuss ways to integrate indigenous knowledge of environmental science, land and water management, and sustainable resource stewardship while teaching culturally inclusive histories in the classroom.
Celilo Falls was the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America until 1957, when the ancient falls were flooded by the US government’s construction of The Dalles Dam. Several teachers want to know how to broach this highly sensitive subject with their students, both native and non-native, whose families hold living memories of the personal and political struggle that transformed this once-thriving, thousands of years old sacred gathering site into a hydroelectric powerhouse; the clashing cultural values still resonate in nearby communities today. In response, renowned native artist Lillian Pitt and Warm Springs elder Joann Smith led a discussion of the important – and often misunderstood – sociopolitical issue of tribal sovereignty. They spoke about sovereignty in relationship to history, as well as contemporary traditional arts and cultural practices, asserting that younger generations benefit from the a pedagogical approach that integrates ancient wisdom with Common Core educational standards. The result is a “groundedness” in education that cultivates a strong sense of place, history, and culture. Confluence is invested in catalyzing discussions like these as necessary to promoting connection across cultural groups, between tribes, and among organizations and individuals dedicated to the well-being of all Columbia River communities. This year’s Day of Sharing ended with artist demonstrations and marks a promising start for future collaborations.
Ed Edmo (Shoshone-Bannock) sharing stories with Confluence teachers. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Decker.