By Annissa Anderson
The Columbia River Basin holds stories of its native people. The river, dividing the physical borders of Oregon and Washington as it flows westward towards the ocean, has been the ancestral home of Indigenous peoples for at least 16,000 years. Yet today, the region’s narrative often focuses on its “discovery” by European settlers when they arrived only a couple hundred years ago.
Reclaiming the narrative of discovery and Manifest Destiny is the primary focus of Confluence, a nonprofit organization based in Vancouver, WA. Through a series of art installations, education programs and community involvement projects, Confluence has formed a network of stakeholders, Tribal members, educators, storytellers and artists to systematically bring these vivid and informative stories back.
Celebrated artist Maya Lin was commissioned by Confluence to create six public art installations along the Columbia River as visual markers that invoke the true history of the land. A “seventh site” involves funding and administering educational programs in Oregon and Washington schools along the river, referred to as Confluence in the Classroom.
“Through our Confluence in the Classroom programs, we are connecting students to place through art and education by introducing them to native artists and culture bearers from area tribes,” said Colin Fogarty, executive director of Confluence.
In this endeavor, Confluence has found a most natural partner in the Roundhouse Foundation. Connecting people with each other and their sense of place to ensure sustainability and economic success for Oregon’s rural and Tribal communities is implicit to the Foundation’s mission. For the past ten years, Roundhouse Foundation has enthusiastically encouraged an expansion of artist residency projects to bring native artists and tribal members into schools to build on existing arts curriculum.
“The Roundhouse Foundation has an authentic and sincere interest in supporting rural communities,” said Fogarty, “and has been a steadfast and consistent supporter of our work in schools.”
A new partnership, beginning in 2022, will create even more exposure to native art for children in communities all along the Columbia River Basin as well as students on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. The Confluence Emerging Artist Educator Program will deepen understanding of Indigenous perspectives through art education while also encouraging an emerging Indigenous artist to explore their creativity and create unique work for an exhibit to be shared with museums, schools, and other places in these communities.
By offering a paid position to an emerging Indigenous artist with cultural ties to the tribes of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, the program will create an economic opportunity while encouraging someone who is called – through their artistic process – to honor their ancestral heritage. The part-time position will have a duration of at least 12 months, with an optional 3-month extension to mentor another incoming artist. Roughly half of the artist’s time will be spent creating art, and the remainder in classrooms connecting and sharing with students.
As with any Confluence program, a key objective will be to encourage the emerging artist to take advantage of the Native community’s reservoir of cultural knowledge, stories, and space as they develop their path throughout the year. A fall retreat at the Roundhouse Foundation’s Pine Meadow Ranch near Sisters will bring together 15 mentor artists and educators to plan for the school year and build lasting relationships with the new artist and each other.
During the school year, the emerging artist will work with students in the classroom, as well as helping teachers to create art curriculum that draws on Native history and culture. During paid studio time, the artist will produce works of art from their chosen discipline that will culminate in a public exhibit at an area museum.
“The emerging educator program is the culmination of our work,” said Fogarty. The multi-dimensional program helps to unearth hidden history by passing knowledge from culture bearers and educators into the hearts and minds of the new generations living along the ancestral lands of the Columbia River Basin.
About the Author: Annissa Anderson has been a Central Oregon resident for more than 25 years. She spent her childhood living and traveling abroad. Her freelance writing has covered topics ranging from food and nutrition to travel, lifestyle, the arts, and personality profiles. She is now excited to write about the great work Roundhouse Foundation partners are doing in communities around the state of Oregon.
Photo and logo courtesy of Confluence. Storyteller Linda Meanus (Warm Springs) shares stories about growing up near Celilo Falls with students from White Salmon, WA.