Lighting the Fire: indigenous arts and language in Indian education
April 22 marked the beginning of the 36th annual Oregon Indian Association conference. This year, the OIEA partnered with Central Oregon Community College’s Native American program and the event took place in the Campus Center, where all members of the COCC community were welcome to attend.
On April 22 and 23 there were a number of workshops available for students to attend. They covered topics such as Native American education, poverty, personal struggles and leadership. In addition to the workshops, guest speakers gave seminars about parts of the Native American culture and children preformed a cultural dance. There were also a number of booths set up where members of the OIEA sold hand-crafted items such as earrings, necklaces, dream catchers and other crafts.
According to Cruz Mueller, the secretary and treasurer of the Native American club, the purpose of the conference is to draw more attention to the Native American community. Mueller said that, as a group, natives often have trust issues and so they stay to themselves.
“We’re kind of on the back burner,” said Mueller. “This is a chance to raise awareness.”
According to COCC student Chantel McNulty, the conference had the desired effect. McNulty didn’t know about the conference, but walked in on one of the speeches as she was getting lunch from the cafeteria. She said she was touched.
“I sat down and was watching the children preform and listening to them talk … it was just so beautiful to me,” said McNulty.
After listening to the speakers, McNulty visited some of the booths set up and spoke to the members of OIEA who were running them. She said that all of the members were eager to tell her more about their culture and answer questions about the performances and speeches that were being given.
“I loved it all, it was just so awesome … I was crying, it was just so beautiful,” said McNulty about what she learned of the Native American culture.
Like the Native American club, it is one of the goals of OIEA to raise awareness to some of the issues faced by the Native American community. According to their website, the goal of the OIEA is “promoting quality education services for Oregon Indians.” This includes not just education for Native Americans, but the rest of the community as well. This is done through conferences such as the one held at COCC. The OIEA is also working to help create a state policy that would eliminate the use of Native American images as mascots for schools and sport teams. Both organizations, the OIEA and the Native American club, are dedicated to improving the relationship between Native Americans and the rest of the community.
Mueller said that she was glad the Native American club had a chance to be involved in the conference and participate in reaching out to the community.
“There’s a need for Native Americans to come here and get in touch with the community,” said Mueller.
She also said that the Native American club will be reaching out again on May 28, with their annual salmon bake, which all are welcome to attend.
Cedar Goslin can be reached at email@example.com