Long known as a gathering place in the northern plains of the Tualatin Valley, a circle of five large oak trees had been a landmark visible across the open meadows created by the Kalapuyans through controlled burning and selective harvesting. Under the oaks’ canopies, the Tualatin Kalapuya gathered camas bulbs, roasted acorns, and buried mortars and pestles to return to on the next years journey throughout the valley. Over the last two centuries, these big trees have stood witness to the systematic removal and displacement of the very Native communities that once stewarded the area, while continuing to provide a diverse habitat for myriad birds, as well as shelter to travelers, settlers, farmers, and techies. Today, one of the 500+ year old trees still stands surrounded by four replanted oaks. These younger trees remind us about the importance of intergenerational learning and coexistence.
Just a few miles west from the museum, these five oak trees continue to have a strong presence despite development and infrastructural encroachment. In renaming this organization to the Five Oaks Museum–a place where people and ideas gather and grow together–we are at once reclaiming the true essence of this important site and reshaping the stories that are commonly associated with it.
In this exhibit, the museum staff investigates the many ways in which the Five Oaks name, historic site, and its potential resonates within each of us working at the museum today.
Steph Littlebird Fogel