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Salmon pull people together at SOU event

The Southern Oregon University courtyard filled with people, music, savory smells and celebrations Monday afternoon, as native people from all over the West came to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the third annual SOU salmon bake.

Children from the Yakama Tribe in Washington were dressed in traditional garb. The bells on their long skirts jingled, complementing the drum beat as they stepped to the music and formed a circle around the elders.

Grandma Aggie, the eldest member of the local Takelma tribe, clapped as she watched people of all races, ages and cultures join hands and circle around her.

Corey Greaves, founder of the nonprofit Mending Wings, said his organization, which works with Yakama youth, travels all over the country to events such as the SOU celebration.

“To speak for our people — our culture, our dance, our language, our way of life. They’re on the verge of disappearing,” Greaves said. “If our youth don’t learn these things, if they’re not learning the songs and the dances and the way of life, then it’s just a whisper away from being gone.”

Sixteen-year-old Dewy Bill said it’s important to celebrate indigenous people to show that they still exist and have thriving cultures despite centuries of oppression.

“We, as a nation, need to recognize that the Caucasians are borrowing this land from us, and they did it with force,” Bill said.

Brent Florendo, Konaway Program coordinator, said the free salmon meal shared with the public allows non-native students an opportunity to convene with the indigenous community. Indigenous youth from Minnesota, Montana and Arizona visit the SOU campus through the Konoway Nika Tillicum Native American Youth Academy.

“This is our medicine fish,” Florendo said. “It is mandated by The Creator that we take care of that fish and ensure that it comes up the river. So, to me, it’s a big deal to share our fish. I look at it as medicine, and the fact that we feed the people and there was enough fish today for everyone is awesome.”

Speakers, musicians and performers complemented the salmon.

“Everyone who spoke today represented some entity of Indian country, from environmentalism to society and academia,” Florendo said.

“This event brings us together with people we might not normally ever see. Indian folks come to this campus and they see how Indians are treated and how they’re treated in the community, and maybe they’ll feel safe to come to school here, so these types of events are really important,” Florendo said.

Dan Wahpepah represented multiple organizations at the event Monday, including Rogue Climate and Red Earth Descendants. He said said climate change will affect the brown people before it affects anyone else, and that native people have a way of caring for the Earth that we need to return to.

“The technology that we have is toxifying our Mother Earth,” Wahpepah said. “Society has chosen material progress over spiritual progress, and that’s why we are where we are now.”

Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Shaun Taylor-Corbett reiterated that sentiment. A member of the Blackfeet nation, he is acting in “Between Two Knees” this season. He said native people have always had a special way of caring for the Earth that we need to listen to.

“Indigenous people are normally at the forefront of protecting the Earth and things in our world, our society that are the most important to us,” Taylor-Corbett said. “Walking in the world as a man of color, celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it gives me a sense of support, and we need that in our community.”

After the salmon bake, an intergenerational activism panel convened, then “Between Two Knees” was offered at special pricing for indigenous students.

“It’s going to be an awesome show, because there’s going to be a lot of indigenous people who understand all the jokes,” Florendo said, laughing.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Jamie Lusch / Daily Tidings Mending Wings, a Native American youth organization, dance during the Indigenous Peoples Day Salmon Bake at Southern Oregon University on Monday.