Indian Education Conference Inspires Greater Light Ahead

“It felt very historic, as if there was a deep sense of change, and that people from different walks of life were coming together to put changes in how indigenous and non-indigenous people were learning” said Angela Day, a student volunteer from Southern Oregon University about the 40th Oregon Indian Education Association Annual Conference, held from April 19-21 this term. The theme was “Radical Hope & Indigenous Futures: Native Knowledge Transforming Oregon Indian Education.

Dr. Brook Colley, Native American Studies Chair, as well as an SOU Native American Studies teacher, made clear some of the motives of the education ensemble when she stated “we have witnessed the radical hope of our ancestors manifest in our students. Students who are now able to imagine indigenous futures, in which our ancestral knowledge transforms our realities, and native peoples thrive. This event-so important to our state-is a testament to the tenacity and diversity of Oregon Indigenous cultures, and to the vitality of Oregon Indian Education.”

Since then, the positive, rich influences of the conferences impact has been of benefit not only to the students and faculty of SOU who have participated, but also to the Native American indigenous peoples that participated, along with their families as well as the OSF (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) Community which played a significant role in greeting the visiting indigenous communities and other participants to the town of Ashland, Oregon as well as to South Oregon University.

“The Conference feels really good, deeply. Good to see so many people here respectfully. This has been good as well for the advancement of educational access and career development for Native peoples that will in turn benefit all native communities to better realize that we’re all in the same canoe” said David West, former Director Emeritus of Native American Studies at SOU. Eyes and hearts of gratitude and long due recognition filled the halls of Stevenson Union and Hannon Library during the conference as well as progress. “We see youth growing into leaders countrywide and it brings natives and non-natives closer together to help themselves connect from the heart and move forward” said Clifton Bruno of the Wasco tribe.

When asked about the gatherings impact, Tara Houska, former Native American Advisor to Bernie Sanders, responded “going really well, it’s always inspiring to be in a room of Native educators, because I really…I really truly believe that education is at the core of almost all of it, you know, it’s a foundational thing…that impacts so many different levels.” She also spoke about her happiness of the conference already supporting the immediate success of important indigenous objectives, such as providing thorough educational workshops to inform and unify the native and non-native communities, as well as the movement of the passing of Oregon Senate Bill 13.

“Being around so many of their educators, and hearing that you guys have a bill that’s going to be passed, yeah, SB-13, so if that passes and education about Indian people is mandatory from ages K-12, that will be huge, it will be generations of students that are learning who we are as people and moving forward, & that’s something that should be happening in the overall country,” Tara stated.

Nathan Mark from Oregon Shakespeare Festival spoke on his experience by saying “the indigenous community, there’s a lot that I didn’t know. Seeing aspects of that culture I was surprised by how similar it is to Pan-Africanism. It put a fire in me to want to find my ancestry. Hopefully, people feel that same fire I felt and want to connect with their roots again. We were there to build a connection with Oregon Shakespeare Festival and SOU and Oregon Indian Education Association. Honestly though I’m really grateful for the fire that I got at that conference.”

That fire has continued to spread warmly as SOU’s Ho’opa’a Hawai’i Club announced this term, during S.O.A.R. week in May, that they will be hosting a Polynesian Education Conference on October 20, 2017. The OIEA Conference, celebrating it’s 40 year, has ignited a light that participants hope will transform indigenous futures for years to come.

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