What happens when a museum known for pioneer history turns over curatorial authority to a young Indigenous artist and writer? For Five Oaks Museum, the result is a bold, self-critical exhibit about the Tualatin Valley’s first people.
For the past 60 years, Five Oaks Museum has, like many museums, acquired, collected and preserved Native artifacts that were largely donated by settler-pioneer descendants — well-meaning groups who may not know local tribal communities’ true wishes for their peoples’ artifacts. All over the world, these Native objects are the basis for exhibits and curriculum shared with the public. They are an incredible resource, but too often, Native culture is discussed in the past tense. So, Five Oaks Co-Directors Molly Alloy and Nathanael Andreini decided to shift the dynamic of the typical Native exhibit and narrative.
“Native perspectives are essential, informed, complex and numerous. With over 53,000 Native folks living in Oregon today, there’s a threat of cultural erasure if museums — including ours — do not make space for Native people to share their own stories and cultures. That’s simply
unacceptable for a place that teaches others about this area’s culture and history.”
– Molly Alloy, Nathanael Andreini
To do this, Alloy and Andreini invited Steph Littlebird Fogel to guest-curate the Museum’s cornerstone historical display — This Kalapuyan Land— with a unique Indigenous perspective. Born and raised in Banks, Oregon, Littlebird Fogel is Kalapuyan, two-spirit and an artist, an individual who clearly demonstrates how multifaceted contemporary Native identities often are.
Throughout This IS Kalapuyan Land (note LIttlebird Fogel’s insertion of an emphatic “IS”), she honors the unique history of the Atfalati-Kalapuya tribes in Washington County, Oregon and celebrates contemporary Indigenous culture, but with a unique editorial twist: As viewers move throughout the space, they encounter Littlebird Fogel’s hand-written edits and annotations that highlight errors, update language and note important passages in the original content. Each edit points toward larger problems in our collective recollection of America’s and Oregon’s history, resulting in a thought-provoking re-tooling of an exhibit created more than a decade ago with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. In questioning what information is presented as “fact” and how the museum context shapes what the audience learns, Five Oaks visitors are encouraged to think about the difference between Native and non-Native versions of history.
“Ultimately, I want to challenge the way we recall our shared histories and examine how biased narratives can be perpetuated through archeology and academic institutions like museums and universities. This my effort, as a descendant of the Kalapuyan people, to offer a more holistic representation of the past, present, and future of Oregon’s Indigenous community.”
— Steph Littlebird Fogel
In her role as Guest Curator, Littlebird Fogel also brought in contemporary artworks from 15 Indigenous artists, which helps illuminate the lives of Natives living today and the effects of diaspora on Native proximity to their homelands. Through Indigenous art, the exhibit explores what it means to be Native American in contemporary society, and tells the stories of Indigenous descendants who are contributing to cultural survivance today.
Carol Haskins (Grand Ronde)
Don Bailey (Hupa)
Nestucca (Grand Ronde)
Nicole Haskins (Grand Ronde)
Jason Cawood (Modoc)
Derrick Lawvor (Modoc)
Angelica Trimble-Yanu (Oglala Lakota Sioux)
Phillip Thomas (Chickasaw)
Diane Smith (Grand Ronde)
DeAnna Bear (Eastern Band Lenape)
Jana Schmieding (Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux)
Whitney A. Lewis (Chehalis)
Tincer Mitchell (Navajo)
Lindsea Wery (Chippewa)
Joni Millard (Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Crow)
Elizabeth LaPensée (Anishinaabe)
Greg A. Robinson (Chinook)
Stephanie Littlebird Fogel
Stephanie Littlebird Fogel (Grand Ronde, Kalapuya) is a visual artist, professional writer and curator from Washington County, Oregon. She is a 2019 Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) project grant awardee, a two-time Art + Sci Initiative recipient, and has worked in collaboration with the Oregon Bee Project, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Postal Service. Fogel served as a juror for the Idea Initiative grant program and received the Nancy Tonkin Memorial Scholarship for Emerging Artists.
“Thank you for putting all this art together so we can visit it and for crossing out the wrong words to show the truth.”
-Forest Grove Community School 2nd grader to Steph about TIKL