Above: Youth at Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility work on a poster depicting why they celebrate Native American Heritage Month.
Dozens of youth at Oregon Youth Authority celebrated Native American Heritage Month throughout November with several events at facilities around the state.
National Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, is a time to celebrate the culture, traditions, and histories as well as the important contributions of the Native people. The monthlong celebration has been recognized on a national level since 1990, when President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November of that year as Native American Heritage Month.
On Nov. 9, Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility and neighboring Camp Tillamook Youth Transitional Facility hosted a small celebration with presentations and meaningful discussions. The first activity involved separating participating youth into two groups to create posters that represented what the month means to them. Then representatives from each group described their poster.
“The overwhelming narrative had to do with all of us being one, sharing a planet, and that we should take care of one another,” said Leslie Riggs, tribal liaison and Native American programs coordinator for OYA.
The youth also learned about the Modoc War in a discussion led by Derwin Decker, Native American services coordinator for OYA. The Modoc War was a conflict in the winter and spring of 1872-1873 between the Native American Modoc people and the U.S. Army around the Oregon-California border. The war, which was a struggle over moving the Modoc people from their home territory to a reservation, saw dozens of casualties, including the first death of a full-ranking U.S. Army general and the first time Indian leaders were tried and executed for war crimes.
The historical discussion reminded the youth and staff why they celebrate Native American Heritage Month.
“It is because of what our people have endured, how our people have survived and thrived,” Riggs said. “It is so important to remember what our ancestors went through, but to not get mired in anger. (We need) to heal and do our best to maintain our cultural values and traditions that make us who we are today.”
Similar events were also planned later in the month at Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility, MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, and Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility.
In addition to these celebrations, many of OYA’s facilities, with the support of Riggs and Decker, offer programming such as annual pow wows, sweat lodge ceremonies, and beading groups.
Cultural activities are an important part of youths’ treatment and rehabilitation. They help youth develop a positive cultural identity and connection with the community.