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SOU Celebrates Indigenous People’s Day

Image of two women helping another put on a tribal regalia outfit.
Erik Neumann / JPR
Dancers with Mending Wings from the Yakama Reservation in Washington State visited Southern Oregon University to perform during Indigenous People's Day.

On the native land of the Shasta and Takelma people, a group of teenagers wearing bright dance regalia and fur headdresses swirled around the Southern Oregon University student union building on Monday.

Image of line of young men and women getting ready to dance.
Credit Erik Neumann / JPR
Members of the Mending Wings group with the Yakama Reservation danced with audience members on the SOU campus.

The members of Mending Wings, a nonprofit from Washington State’s Yakama Nation, was one of several tribes celebrating Indigenous People’s Day on the SOU campus.

“I think it’s important to celebrate indigenous people, rather than Columbus,” said Jeidah Dezurney, “[To] have indigenous people reclaim this day as their own to share their history, to show that we’re still here, that we’re thriving, and share everything that we’ve accomplished and all that we are experiencing today.”

Dezurney is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, who she represented with a table showing traditional basket weaving and plants used to make them. Next to it, was her other project, a group called We R Native, a non-profit that provides holistic health resources for native youth with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

In downtown Ashland, the town known as a theater destination, costumes worn by native cast members were on display at the Black Swan Theatre. Inside a stark room the exhibit ranged from brightly patterned textiles to rawhide dresses. According to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Amber Ball, the display was meant to show the variety of native identity in theater.  

Image of three mannequins with Native themed dresses on.
Credit Erik Neumann / JPR
Native American themed costumes worn during Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions on display at the Black Swan.

“We’ve only had three native plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in its full span,” Ball said. “This is a time to really have a place to take up space and acknowledge the work that has been done, but also encourage that there’s a need to do more work as well.”

SOU emeritus faculty member David West was the emcee during the Indigenous People’s Day celebrations, which included a salmon bake, speeches and more performances.  

“It’s no longer a day of mourning, it’s a day of life,” West said. “It’s a day to celebrate who we are as indigenous people.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.