I was lucky enough to attend two events recently that showcased local Native artists. I am particularly proud that among the artists in both shows were members of my Mt. Hood Cherokees group.
Cherokees are traditionally associated with the Southeast United States (our homeland in what today is parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) or Oklahoma in the center of the country (where we ended up after the Trail of Tears). It’s no surprise, however, that in truth Cherokees – as well as all other Native tribes – are scattered across the United States today. Like all Americans, we tend not to hold still.
So yes, we are local Natives in Oregon!
In April, Pedro and I attended the inaugural exhibition at the Center for Native Arts and Cultures in Portland called Where the Waters Come Together. The show was hosted by The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) and sought to explore the relationship of our waters from an indigenous perspective. Work from members of multiple tribes were there, including the Confederate Tribes of Grand Ronde, Inupiaq, Yupik, Hanis Coos, Coquille, Kanaka Maoli, Native Hawaiian, and of course, Cherokee.
Opening night included a program, and we were treated to dances with drumming and singing by the Kaleinani O Ke Kukui halau (school) in Portland. I had no idea there were hula schools in Portland, nor any idea there were so many Native Hawaiians here, but I’m glad to have learned this.
The other show was a week later and Pedro was not able to attend with me. This was, once more, an inaugural event after the opening of an arts center. I went to the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, in Beaverton, Oregon (a suburb of Portland).
The opening show in the museum is Celilo – Never Silenced. Locals here are familiar with the painful story of the completion in 1957 of The Dalles Dam along the Columbia River. The dam flooded a Native community, as well as a sacred and renowned salmon fishing area at Celilo Falls. But what is possibly even more tragic is the loss of this gathering area for an annual market/trading place/ceremonial ground that was used by hundreds of Native tribes that came from hundreds of miles in all directions. It was a massive center of commerce, politics, and society where bonds were made and skills were taught and shared and wealth was created. The one-time Native center of power is today under water.
Though the falls is gone, people still wish to honor her legacy. To honor and memorialize what happened, the Reser dedicated its time and space to Native people to speak about it. There are works of art from multiple artists from multiple tribes. Among the works is photography from Mt. Hood Cherokees member Joe Cantrell.
The reason I was at the Reser at the end of April was for a different art project: an orchestra piece written for Celilo Falls. Joe invited me but in his dear, humble way, did not tell me I was a part of it. I am so glad I showed up with a camera for the panel of creators that told the story of how they came together to build the music.
Nancy Ives wrote the orchestra piece and worked closely with Ed Edmo to tell his story. Ed’s childhood home was one of those flooded by the dam. Also in attendance via Zoom was conductor Yaki Bergman. This talented group of people talked about each step of the collaborative process, in which one person connected to another, who connected to another, and each one contributed in a magical way to provide exactly what was needed for the next step.
Nancy had the inspiration to create music, and asked her friend Joe for help. Joe introduced her to Ed Edmo (Shoshone-Bannock tribes) who was interested in working on the project. At the same time, I had just introduced Joe to my Yakama salmon fishermen friends, and the matriarch Martha. He told Martha about the project, and she insisted that if Nancy was going to write music for Celilo Falls, she must come to the river. Martha took Nancy to the Klickitat where they fish, which is a living waterfall, and had Nancy lie on the ground and put her face on the rocks to feel the pounding river and hear the falls through the stone. Nancy said that Martha had a huge impact on her work and provided exactly the push she needed at the time she needed it. I realized, that without my GoFundMe campaign in 2020, I would have never met Martha, and Nancy and Martha would never have met. I was a little awed at that thought.
When Joe spoke, he said his dear friend Crystal Trulove had introduced him to a group of Native salmon fishermen living in Lyle, Washington. He said, “She is standing at the back there right now, taking photos.” And everyone in the place turned to look at me.
A serendipitous surprise was that five minutes later, our friend Martha arrived! All the way from Lyle Point on the river, hours away from the art center. Martha looked a little unsure, having arrived after the program had already started, and I went right over to her to show her a place to sit. Her eyes flashed with delight when she saw me and reached out for a big hug. It made me feel so good.
Karen pointed out the specific talents of each: the musical knowledge of Nancy and Yaki, the visual and big picture knowledge of Joe, and the poetry and storytelling knowledge from Ed. An important Cherokee concept is that of gadugi, which means coming together to work for the common good. I couldn’t help but notice all these people from different walks of life were demonstrating gadugi.
The piece will be performed by the Portland Chamber Orchestra on June 4, 5, and 11 with conductor Yaakov Bergman. Please click the hyperlink to see more about the performance and see videos about Celilo Falls.