Earth Day Reflections

On a Slow-Moving River


One of our five values is Land. We think about Land in a number of ways: how the stories we share are grounded in this place, how as an institution we are positioned as visitors on Kalapuyan land, how we approach the historic Five Oaks Site. We could talk about the oaks today (oh boy do we love to talk about the oaks 😁) but what’s been on our minds lately is the Tualatin River.

Five Oaks Museum rests within a valley bounded by mountains and shaped by a slow moving river. The river bends and curves and loops around; the river does not hurry, yet the river persists. The river is not alone. The river is part of an ecosystem which shapes her and she shapes in return.


The colonialism which created the conditions for the climate crisis which Earth Day addresses also created our museum collection and the building which houses it. These ongoing harms are the legacy which our work must reckon with and seek to account for. Everything is entangled, not separate: land and humans, environmental issues and sociopolitical issues, the river and museum.

Addressing structural harms can feel like standing in the current, like identifying how our collection deliberately excluded BIPOC or processing the news that policing and hatred has taken another life, again and again. It can feel like constantly looping back again as you build good, kind, relational, accountable practices, and you don’t always get it right the first time. But, slowly, with persistence, the river winds its way to shape the landscape. So, lately, we have been thinking about the Tualatin River.

April 22, 2021