Monday marked Oregon’s second Indigenous Peoples Day, a time for celebration and reflection for many, including those living on the Warm Springs Reservation.
Teachers and students alike showed up to school at the Warm Springs K-8 Academy in traditional clothing, and students performed assignments that had to do with Indigenous culture.
“We were writing about what makes us Indigenous,” 8th grader Minnie said. “What I said was our traditional gatherings and our traditional foods. Other kids mentioned our language and powwows.”
For many teachers, those elements were not always embraced in schools.
“We never had Ichiskin or any of our native languages, like classes we could take,” said 2nd Grade Teacher Rose Ball. “Growing up, there wasn’t very many Native American teachers in our school.”
From the 1890’s through the 1970’s, Warm Springs was home to a white-run boarding school, where the speaking of native languages was punished and tradition was erased.
Now, the Warm Springs K-8 Academy offers classes for all three of the languages native to the tribes in the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
The school is one of the largest Indigenous schools in the state, with 530 mostly-native students.
Ball said the increase in native teachers in recent years has been encouraging to witness.
“I think it’s important that our students see teachers that are Native American. That shows them that we could teach them too, and we could do whatever we put our minds to,” she said.
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Recognizing culture isn’t just a priority, but a requirement.
Principal Lonnie Henderson said they attempt to treat every day like Indigenous Peoples Day.
“It’s a sense of belonging and knowing that they belong here, they’re safe here,” he said. “The school is is part of what took it away from them way back when, when we had boarding schools. And so to give back is something that we need to be doing.”
The school also engages students in cultural activities like root digging, ensuring the traditions that were once diminished will grow stronger with the next generation.
“I think it’s important to carry on those elements so it don’t die,” said 8th grader Kielan Allen.
“I’ve been drumming since the 5th grade,” said Joseph Boise, also an 8th grader. “It feels very good. It feels like I’m the next generation, you know?”
There was originally a powwow scheduled for Monday evening, but a death on the reservation meant it had to be postponed so funeral ceremonies could take place.
The powwow will now be held on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at the Old Elementary School in Warm Springs. All spectators are welcome.