Preserving Native Language Through Cultural Arts Projects

As part of our mission, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) collaborates with Native artists and organizations who are committed to increasing awareness and appreciation of Native arts and culture in a variety of art disciplines. This past year, NACF partnered with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs as part of the Native Nation Partnerships (NNP) project awards. This program was designed to increase community collaboration on Native homelands while nurturing arts and traditions that reinforce connections within the Native community. The NNP project awards are part of NACF’s Community Inspiration Program (CIP) that recognizes both urban and rural Native artists and arts organizations that impact communities through positive change. The Language Arts and Culture Movement implemented by the Culture, Language & Identity Project within the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs supports Native artists who work with and encourage youth and adults throughout the Columbia Plateau region to incorporate the Ichishkín (Sahaptin) language in cultural arts projects.

The Language Arts and Culture Movement provided several opportunities for community engagement with activities designed to create awareness about language among the Yakima, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and Umatilla tribes. Activities included gathering Tule reeds – an essential cultural plant to the Plateau people of the Northwest used to make mats for everyday and ceremonial purposes – and gathering cedar boughs for building sweat houses. Additional activities involved cultural arts and language classes that culminated in the annual Canoe Journey where students distributed gifts they made to hosting tribes and nations. The program also extended to teaching non-native students in Oregon public schools about Oregon Native identity with in-class language crafting classes.

Language Arts and Culture Movement - Warm Springs NNP
Photo courtesy of Jeffeson Greene

Traditional knowledge that is passed down from the elders of Native communities is a vital asset to the urban/rural revitalization of Native cultures. Studies have shown that there is a positive impact on healing through arts. Community engaged art programs also contribute to urban/rural revitalization, improve cognitive skills in children, and promote well-being for the elderly. With NACF support, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs was able to create cultural experiences that were impactful, and strengthened their community. Project organizers created a sense of place by teaching the creation story and incorporating oral history through the use of the Ichishkín language in art and cultural activities. Participants of the Language Arts and Culture Movement not only learned the importance of preserving Ichishkín, but they also learned that their Native language is integral to everything.

This Tule mat was created as part of the Native Nation Partnerships project, and depicts Native language names for ancestral territories in Central Oregon. Woven by Jefferson Greene (pictured above), the mat was created using reeds harvested by participants of the Language Arts and Culture Movement project, and designed under the supervision of elders from the community. There are 188 locations named on the map. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Thanks to the grant award, our community now consists of more advocates and students who consistently request phrases and words to include in their language journey and strengthening their sense of identity.
― Jefferson Greene (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs)

Language Arts and Culture Movement - Warm Springs NNP
Photo courtesy of Jefferson Greene