Native American history finds a home in Eugene

Alec Ebert // The Torch
Acrylic painting “In the water” done by contemporary Chinook tribe artist Greg Robinson. Robinson carves wooden sculptures mostly, however he is multi-talented.

After the European occupation of the Americas, many native tribes were pushed into one another’s already established territories. This led to many conflicts between different tribes but also created unity. Many of today’s descendants embrace this integration in an effort to preserve and educate others in the contemporary aspects of their culture.

The Lane County Historical Museum is making its own efforts to play a part in this process and provide an informative, look into the contemporary aspects of emerging Native American customs.

Opening on June 9, the exhibit “Their Hearts Are In This Land” will be begin its year long display. The focus of this exhibit will be to plunge into Native American culture through the expression of art. The opening night reception will include a talk given by Dr. David Lewis, a Grand Ronde Tribal Ethno-Historian and remarks from Gordon Beetles, a Klamath Tribal member and director of  University of Oregon’s “Many Nations Longhouse,” as well as a tune from the Grand Ronde singers.

The majority of the relics on display will be focused on the local Kalapuya tribe, the group of Native Americans who were originally, and still are, located in the Willamette Valley. Faith Kresky is an Exhibits Curator at the museum. She offered her insight on the broader purpose of this showcase.

“The concept behind this is debunking native misconceptions,” Kresky said. “For instance there’s a whole bunch of panels displaying the pieces and each panel has a question on top. It does a good job of presenting big ideas to people and it allows people who are not as familiar with this kind of material to relearn a lot of information.”

Kreskey explained that the exhibit is also meant to show the diversification of tribes that reside in Oregon, other than the Kalapuya.

“In Lane County there’s some people who are from the coast, and that’s a mix of the Siuslaw tribe and the Siletz tribe. We also have a few other groups from the south like the Klamath people as well,” Kresky said.

Several University of Oregon Museum Studies students did the majority of the work putting the project together. The students planned and organized the entire exhibit in nine weeks. Deana Dartt is one of the instructors of this particular UO program who played the role of consultant for the students and curator of the exhibit.

“The whole project was developed in just nine weeks. There were 25 students total and six of those students are grad students who led the project. I acted as someone to look to if the grad students were stuck on an issue,” Dartt said.

The students divided themselves into six groups to initiate the execution of the project. The groups consisted of graphics design, installation, educational outreach, leadership, collections and tech.

“The tech group did a great job. They created audio files for the exhibit text panels so anyone who is visually impaired can paint a picture in their mind of the artifacts in front of them,” Dartt said.

Dartt also highlighted that the success of the project was greater than originally anticipated.

“The exhibit was really well developed. We ended up with 16 works of art and 16 panels, this was more than I expected and probably more than the LCHM expected too,” Dartt said.

Erin Schmith is one of the graduate students who helped lead the project. She shares a similar perspective with Dartt and Kresky on the successfulness of the exhibit.

“This was an amazing opportunity to work with both the museum staff and Dr. Deana Dartt to produce a new exhibit on the experience of Native Americans in Western Oregon,” Schmith said. “There are so many details involved in planning, organizing, writing the text, and putting everything together, but thankfully we have a lot of talented and creative students on this project and a teacher to guide us who is an experienced professional with a lot of contacts in Oregon Native communities.”

Schmith also expressed the difficulties and hard work it took to put this showcase together, but in the end she was very happy with the result.

Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday June 9 with the opening reception to begin the nearly 12-month display of the “Their hearts Are In This Land” Native American historical showcase.