We were living in Coos Bay. At age ten, I was asking a logical question – what happened to the Coos Indians? They are gone, was the answer. They disappeared just before we got here. Where did they used to live, I asked. Under the dunes, was the answer.
The winds of time, it was implied, had buried them, and would bury me if I didn’t shut up.
I remember this exchange because I thought to myself at the time “What a lie!”
When I returned to Oregon in 2006, after 30 years away, one of the first things I noticed was the much higher profile of Native American Oregonians. Emblazoned across the wall of the downtown Central Library was a thank you to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde for their support of that building’s renovation.
My primitive understanding of Oregon tribal history was that the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde were the struggling, impoverished remnants of the once powerful and healthy peoples who lived here before my family (my larger, racial family) arrived to sweep them under the dunes of history. I stood staring at the words, as patrons and librarians swirled around me. Everything I knew about Oregon Indians contradicted what my eyes were telling me: my culture was now the recipient of Indian charity.
During my absence, Oregon had moved on.
When I was ten, my teachers believed the only Oregon history worth sharing was that of the people who walked here from the East.
Now stories of the First Oregonians are being told, and by their many descendants.
Rose High Bear, the director of Wisdom Of Elders, uses radio, television, and live storytelling festivals as a means to this end.
Wisdom of the Elders is an organization dedicated to”Native American cultural sustainability, multimedia education and race reconciliation. We record, preserve and share oral history, cultural arts, and traditional ecological knowledge of exemplary indigenous elders, storytellers, and scientists in collaboration with diverse cultural organizations and educational institutions.”
This Friday you can learn more about the vitality of Oregon’s Native American community at the Wisdom Of The Elder’s first annual gala celebration. On June 22 , at 6:30 PM you can come, eat salmon, bid on original artwork and support their mission. The gala will be held at the Scottish Rite Center in downtown Portland. Come at 5:30 PM for a VIP reception. Tickets here.
This is the first annual fundraising event for Wisdom of the Elders.
To see the artwork which will be on auction and for more information about the event, visit the website.