Steph Littlebird

Steph Littlebird is a Kalapuyan visual artist, professional writer, and curator from Portland, Oregon. She is the 2020 AICAD-NOAA National Fellowship recipient, ‘20 Caldera Artist in Residence, 2019 Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) project grant awardee, and a three-time Art + Sci Initiative recipient. Fogel’s work revolves around her Indigenous heritage and contemporary native issues. She has been featured by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Oregon Bee Project, and at World Environment Day.

 

Reimagining the museum with a Native lens

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde remember history, embrace the present, and envision the future at the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center.


Story by STEPH LITTLEBIRD
Photos by JOE CANTRELL


This series focuses on different aspects of Oregon’s contemporary Tribal culture and explores how traditional ways of life have continued forward throughout colonization and settlement of Oregon. This collection of writings and interviews showcases the history and resiliency of Oregon’s First Peoples. In this piece Steph Littlebird, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, explores the growth and aims of the Confederation’s Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center.

Driving southwest on Highway 99 from Portland, about 30 minutes past McMinnville is the Grand Ronde Reservation. Just off the highway, down Grand Ronde road, you’ll find the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center

Exterior view of the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center. Photograph by Joe Cantrell.

The word “Chachalu” comes from the Yamhill Kalapuyans who called the land our museum sits on the “place of the burnt timbers.” A massive forest fire burned through what is now known as the Grand Ronde Valley in 1856, just one year before 27+ bands and tribes were forcefully relocated to Grand Ronde by the U.S. Government.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s stated mission for the museum is to share the story of the land and its original caretakers. Grand Ronde proudly opened the doors to a newly constructed Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center in June of 2014. “This is a significant step,” said Tribal Council Secretary Toby McClary, reading a letter from Tribal Council Chair Reyn Leno, “Never before have we had a place to tell our story.”


INDIGENOUS RESILIENCE IN OREGON: An ArtsWatch Series


It took many years to locate an appropriate site for the museum, but ultimately the Tribe was able to acquire the property that the old Grand Ronde school was built on. Grand Ronde invested in transformative renovations to the building; the exterior is now clad with cedar and is remarkably modern in appearance. The museum entry is grand and visually striking as you approach: the almost exaggerated height gives you the impression of standing amongst living cedar trees in an ancient forest.

Entrance to the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center. Photograph by Joe Cantrell.

Before Chachalu opened in 2014, the original Tribal museum was quite small and located inside the Spirit Mountain Casino and Hotel complex. The site of the former Grand Ronde school is far from the casino property and surrounded by mature trees. It is a peaceful place to sit outside on a sunny day. Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center is both a permanent place for our objects and an innovative statement about what a tribal museum and cultural center can be. It serves the tribal community and students equally and gives us a chance to tell our own stories. 

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Reclaiming identity through tradition

The continuation of the series "Indigenous Resilience in Oregon" focuses on a wood carver who connected to her culture through art.

This series focuses on different aspects of Oregon’s contemporary Tribal culture and explores how traditional ways of life have continued forward throughout colonization and settlement of Oregon. This collection of writings and interviews showcases the history and resiliency of Oregon’s First Peoples.


In the last installment of the series, I focused on Greg Archuleta and the Lifeways class. In this installment, I want to focus on how traditional carver Qahir Beejee Jamil Peco-Llaneza connected with her own family and Indigenous traditions through the Lifeways class. I also think it’s important to show how reclaiming Indigenous heritage can be complex and requires one to navigate many layers of intergenerational trauma.

Photo of Qahir Beejee Jamil Peco-Llaneza with her carvings. Image courtesy of the artist.

Grand Ronde Tribal member Qahir Beejee Jamil Peco-Llaneza, or Beejee for short, is a Rogue River Umpqua Indian; that tribe’s ancestral territory is located in southern Oregon. Beejee is happily retired now after serving many years as an educator in traditional school settings and institutions like Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. She was also the Division Director for Children and Family Services at Volunteers of America: “As Division Director, I oversaw a childcare program, a wellness program for African-American families and Latina/Latino-American families, the state parenting program, a domestic violence program (shelter and transitional programs), and CourtCare, which is a childcare program in the Multnomah Courthouse while parents are in court proceedings.” Currently, she is the treasurer for the Threads of Justice Collective, a nonprofit group that trains people working toward the elimination of oppression and social justice. Beejee has dedicated her life to helping others, and it’s clear from her professional history that she possesses immense compassion for all people, not just her own community.


INDIGENOUS RESILIENCE IN OREGON: An ArtsWatch Series


Part of what makes Beejee’s carving work so special is the stories behind them. Sometimes they are referring to ancestral knowledge, sometimes she’s using traditional techniques to talk about contemporary issues. The image below features one of her many hand-carved cedar boxes, depicting salmon that look “deformed,” as she describes them, subtly hinting at the grave environmental challenges that West Coast salmon face. Her carvings feel modern, with clean geometry lines and symmetry, but they also are informed by generations of tradition and reflect the unique cultural background that she possesses.  

Qahir Beejee Jamil Peco-Llaneza, Salmon cedar box. Image courtesy of the artist.

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Greg Archuleta and Lifeways: Cultivating resilience through education

When Greg Archuleta realized the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde didn't have any cultural education classes, he created them himself.

This series, “Indigenous Resilience in Oregon,” focuses on different aspects of Oregon’s contemporary Tribal culture and explores how traditional ways of life have continued forward throughout colonization and settlement of Oregon. This collection of writings and interviews showcases the history and resiliency of Oregon’s First Peoples. The first installment of the series, “Steph Littlebird: ‘Am I honoring those who have come before me?’,” is here.

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TUCKED AWAY JUST SOUTH OF THE ROSS ISLAND BRIDGE in a nondescript building off Barbur Boulevard is the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR) satellite office, which serves Portland-area members. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community includes over 30 Tribes and bands from western Oregon, northern California, and southwest Washington. Some of these tribes include the Kalapuya, Molalla, Chasta, Umpqua, Rogue River, Chinook, and Tillamook. It’s here where contemporary artist and CTGR member Greg Archuleta works, where everything he does is centered on protecting and restoring the history of Western Oregon’s Indigenous people.

Image of Greg Archuleta sitting on a rocky outcropping above a river.
Greg Archuleta, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

INDIGENOUS RESILIENCE IN OREGON: An ArtsWatch Series


The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde were formed when the United States government forced the aforementioned Tribes to surrender their lands and move to a remote Reservation in Oregon’s Coastal Range. In February of 1857, Federal troops marched Indigenous people on a 260-plus mile trek from Table Rock, near present-day Medford, to the new Grand Ronde Reservation. 

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Steph Littlebird: ‘Am I honoring those who have come before me?’

The launch of Oregon ArtsWatch's new series Indigenous Resilience in Oregon

My name is Steph Littlebird and I am an Indigenous artist born and raised in Northwest Oregon. I am a proud member of the Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes and a descendant of the Kalapuyan and Clatsop Chinook people. Some readers may be familiar with my 2018-2019 curatorial work for the Five Oaks Museum’s This IS Kalapuyan Land, a hybrid historical and fine art exhibition highlighting the lives of the Willamette Valley’s Atfalati Kalapuyans, while also featuring the work of 17 contemporary Indigenous artists from the Pacific Northwest.

Steph Littlebird, the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde.

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Vision 2020: Ella Ray

"There is this level of resistance coming from formerly colonized people who are marginalized, and I feel something bubbling under the surface"

Ella Ray is an art historian who, as she puts it, “produces environments, partnerships, and texts that explore the relationship between the interpersonal, the public, and the in-between.” She has a B.A. in art history/critical theory from Portland State University, and works for the Portland Art Museum and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. She is community partnership coordinator for Portland Art Museum’s Hank Willis Thomas exhibition All Things Being Equal, which closes Sunday, Jan. 12.


Ray is a multifaceted creative who uses Black studies and Queer studies to examine the ways Black popular culture and Black fine arts are defining contemporary culture. She earned her degree from Portland State University in Art History with a focus on Critical and Queer theory. As a historian and a community member, she is leading challenging conversations around race, historical erasure, and the fruits we all can gain through open institutional critique.   


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


What I’m going to do is go through a list of questions. Just whatever is on your mind, go ahead and let it flow. Give me whatever is in your crystal ball. Let’s start with your current professional background.

Currently, I work at the Portland Art Museum, formerly as a Kress interpretive fellow through the Kress Foundation. At the same time I am the community partnership coordinator for the Hank Willis Thomas All Things Being Equal exhibition. In addition to that, I work with PICA in their youth program, freelance consult for various arts organizations, and art adjacent things, and I write about Black theory, Black studies, and performance.

Art historian Ella Ray, using “Black studies and queer studies to think about the ways in which Black popular culture and Black fine arts are defining western culture.” Photo courtesy Ella Ray


You also have a background in art history. Can you tell me just a little bit about your education and what you went to school for?

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