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A local focus on tribal culture

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A five-month program highlighting the tribes of Grand Ronde begins this Friday


Every year the Chehalem Cultural Center highlights a different culture for its “focus culture” season, during which exhibitions, events, performances, educational programs and conversations are hosted centering on that culture.

Last year the arts organization chose India, and other recent events featured Japan, Mexico and the Ndebele peoples of South Africa.

But the CCC’s choice for this season’s focus, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, is particularly special for its close proximity to Newberg.

“This is the first year we’ve done a very local culture,” CCC Executive Director Rob Dailey said. “One of our actual neighbors is the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.”

For more than two years the CCC has been hoping to form a partnership with Grand Ronde and to work with its new Chachalu Museum, bringing some educational programming to Newberg and celebrating the Grand Ronde tribes. After the museum opened last June, this year marks the realization of those efforts.

“We have a really big goal to strengthen the cultural institutions that have come out of the tribal traditions in the U.S. and, in a way, reconcile those with … the mainstream cultural institutions like ours,” Dailey said, “creating these kinds of partnerships that are very organic but that will be strong forever.”

Running from May through September the program will feature two exhibitions. The first will focus on the history and heritage of the people of Grand Ronde, which is made up of 27 bands and tribes and spans a vast geographical area, almost all of western Oregon from southern Washington to northern California.

“That was an unnatural forced integration into the reservation,” Dailey explained. “But here we are now and we’re celebrating the cultures they have been able to preserve and recover through the Chachalu Museum.”

One of the preserved elements is the common language called Chinuk Wawa, a pidgin language that allowed tribes to communicate and trade with each other and is estimated to have been spoken by roughly 100,000 people in its prime. The language has been preserved and is actually taught in present-day Grand Ronde. During the partnership visitors to the CCC can use an iPad and headphones to engage in an interactive learning exhibit where they will hear the language spoken.

In July, the program will transition into its second exhibition focusing on the art of the Grand Ronde. While a look at the tribes’ history gives an idea of what they did and how they came to be where they are, studying their art gives the viewer a better understanding of who the people were and are, Dailey said. The exhibit will showcase Grand Ronde art from the traditional all the way into the contemporary.

“We want to see what the artists are doing today,” Dailey said. “We approach culture from an arts perspective because we believe the arts are probably the strongest indicator of who a culture is or who it was.”

The five-month partnership is bookended by two large events, the first coming in the form of a kickoff celebration Friday featuring tribal leaders, drum ceremonies and Grand Ronde royalty.

“It will be a really special ceremonial event,” Dailey said.

As the partnership approaches its fall conclusion another program will be held featuring tribal leaders and council members. During this event they will discuss how tribal government works, the services they provide and some of the ins and outs of running a sovereign government in the middle of a state.

Between the two large-scale happenings there are numerous talks and workshops scheduled, from conversations hosted by experts on Grand Ronde history to classes in hands-on crafts like basket weaving and wood carving. These crafts will take center stage in late August for an event featuring tribal artisans.

Dailey said he hopes this program marks the first of many such partnerships, as it has already been a good experience for the CCC.

“To date, as the Chehalem Cultural Center we’ve not done anything this powerful and meaningful for our community,” he said.

The five-month program begins with the Friday kickoff event from 5 to 9 p.m. at the CCC.