ODELL — Art Week at Mid Valley Elementary is always an eye-opening experience for the 500-plus students who get to participate, and this week was no exception.
One of the artists, Jefferson Greene, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said there were many wide eyes as he shared his personal stories and stories of the Columbia River Indians way of life.
“They were surprised to hear that even to this day we use all the parts of an animal: the hide, meat, hooves, cheeks, bones and horns,” Greene said.
As part of his week-long residency Greene introduced children to his culture through stories, art, social dance and legends. From canoes to horses Greene conveyed how Native Americans have adapted and continue to adapt to their environment. His recounting of his annual 20-day voyage by canoe down the Columbia River starting at Rock Creek Lake in Washington and ending at Quinault Indian Nation near Taholah was another one of those “whoa” moments.
As an artist and a performer with the N’Chi Wanapum Canoe Family Dancers, Jefferson Greene visits schools throughout the Mid-Columbia Region with the Confluence Project’s Gifts from Our Ancestors program. These educational grants offer schools the opportunity to bring traditional and contemporary Native American artists, storytellers and cultural teachers into their schools to engage students, teachers and their communities with place-based learning about the rich heritage practiced among the indigenous people of the Columbia River Plateau and at Celilo Falls. Students also create a permanent project at their school that reflects that understanding.
Art teacher Peggy Dills Kelter has applied and been awarded this GOA grant for two years. Jefferson’s visit was jointly paid for by Confluence Project and by the PTO at Mid Valley.
“We always try to have at least one residency that has an interesting cultural or cross-curricular connection,” said Kelter.
Last year, traditional Native American artist Pat Courtney Gold, an acclaimed basket weaver, worked with the older kids.
In addition to Jefferson Greene, Shelley Toon Hight taught an integrated art/science project and 11 artists total participated in this four-day event, the brainchild of Kelter and Principal Dennis McCauley. Students previewed the artistic offerings and out of the four they selected each child was placed in one of their choices.
It was a week where art took center stage and children got time to creatively express themselves in a small group setting.
“One of my favorite parts about (Art Week) is that there are only 10 to 12 children in each session with the artist, so the one-on-one contact is superb,” said Kelter. “The kids are always totally jazzed about it; it’s definitely the highlight of the year for many of them.”