The smell of freshly baked salmon filled the Stevenson Union courtyard at Southern Oregon University (SOU), and a small group of individuals sat beating drums in a circle for healing purposes. Incense burned as the loud booming of the drums echoed across the courtyard — students, faculty and community members gathered in awe. In lieu of Columbus Day, SOU, as well as a large majority of the entire Ashland community, celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. In recent years this has become widely recognized day that places an emphasis on the accomplishments and struggles of the Native community.
The salmon bake took place in the SU courtyard, lasting from the late morning to the early afternoon. This is a time for native activists, interested community members, and individuals of different ages and backgrounds to come together to celebrate and emphasize various aspects of Native American culture, values, struggles and histories.
Torrey Hazelquist, a senior at SOU and has a certificate in Native American Studies. Hazelquist shared that Indigenous People’s Day is so important because it’s a time dedicated to highlighting the diverse perspectives of indigenous people to life and a good opportunity to pause and think about the effects of colonialism.
“It’s a time to reconnect with the earth, rethink the purpose of the land, change narratives, and study culture, history and the now,” said Hazelquist.
In attendance at the salmon bake was also OSF actor Steven Flores who is one of the lead actors in a native American play currently being showcased in the Shakespeare Festival. The play is called Manahatta and tells three stories that are all tied together, creating a lively narrative of the Lenape peoples. Flores plays two different characters in the play, Se-ket-tu-mah-qua and Luke. When speaking about these two characters, Flores shares that the are different but similar
in many ways.
“Luke the second character is living in modern time, and is confused about his history, lineage, and this colonized world we live in. It’s amazing though, the amount of love both characters have inside of themselves.”
Flores was living in New York just last year, and moved out to Ashland, Oregon shortly after he was informed he has gotten the role in Manhattan following his audition.
“I was thrilled when I found out SOU had a Native American Studies program and such an active community. There’s a lot of growth happening here and it’s all really positive,” said Flores.
Brooke Collie is the professor for SOU’s Native American Studies program, and works closely with Dr. Jim Phillips who delivered a deeply moving speech in the Rogue River Room entitled “Earth Protectors: Indigenous Solidarity with the Earth, North and South”. Before introducing Dr. Phillips, Collie spoke passionately of the consequences native communities
around the globe have had to face due to colonialism.
“Indigenous peoples of America experience colonialism in a unique way,” said Collie. Throughout his lecture, Dr. Phillips delved into the experienced effects of colonialism such as extraction of minerals, water, oil and land, mining, logging, and extensive export agriculture.
He spoke of the issues that occured in Belgium throughout the 1800s — a time period
when the Belgium government was very hostile — one of the worst reported treatments of native
peoples in history.
“We still have colonialism,” said Phillips, “it’s just called development now…the struggle
is not only an economic one, but a spiritual one.”