56605 Sitka Drive
Otis, OR 97368
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February Director's Journal

“We stopped to take photographs of the elk,” a faculty member shares, grinning ear to ear, as he and a small group of students and teachers from Chemawa Indian School arrive for an immersive day at Sitka.

“For boarding students who spend so much time at school, opportunities to get off campus are important,” explains AJ Mallozzi, who helps lead Oregon State University's Precollege Programs, including "Explore and More," a grant that works with Native high school students to design creative projects linking Native culture, STEAM and community-based problem solving.

Founded in 1880, located in Salem, Oregon and administered by the Federal Bureau of Indian Education, Chemawa is the oldest, continuously operated boarding school for Native American students in Oregon and the United States.

“We put things in boxes,” Mallozzi observes, reflecting on how Western society tends to organize the arts and sciences into siloed disciplines and career paths. “Being in a new and beautiful location… a place where the soul can be at peace, naturally inspires fresh insights and creativity. Our goal is to expose students in the program to as many different kinds of experiences as possible.”

The group gathers in the morning at the Salmon River Spit for an orientation to the day before hiking to Sitka for conversations with the professional artists and ecologists in residence.

"I knew that I was going to have a healing experience the moment we entered Sitka,” shares participant Tai-Renee. “The herd of elk, wind in the trees and distant sounds of ocean waves added to the stillness that encompassed me…. meeting the staff and artists, seeing the beautiful sculptures, and being in that environment made me feel like I need more artistic expression in my life."

Next stop: an experimental camas planting tour at Sitka’s nature preserve, led by David Harrelson, Cultural Resources Department Manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.

“As we stood in the field holding a collection of camas seeds and listening to David sing to the seeds and to the land, you could tell everyone was eager to leave a piece of themselves as they sowed each individual seed into the soil," relays Jake Simondet, Sitka’s Facilities and Ecology Manager. “Visiting the camas site with David was a great opportunity to learn more about the significance of the plant, its history and its relationship to the land and its people. There is still so much to learn about how we as individuals can be better stewards of the land… As an organization, there is a great opportunity to listen and learn from those whose goal is to lead by example. It was truly meaningful for David to share what he does for this area and its communities.”

“I am honored to have met such lovely residential artists on the campus doing amazing work” shares Hunter, a participant in the day, “as well as bless and plant camas on the land to give back to the Earth."

After the camas planting, the group gathers for an art activity led by guest artist and Grand Ronde Tribal Member Kitana Connelly.

"My favorite part of Kitana's workshop was the guided meditation she led before we dived into art making,” Sitka’s Administrative and Citizen Science Coordinator Nancy Newman reflects. “It really highlighted the healing and transformative aspect of art making. Students were free to paint whatever came up for them during the exercise… from intermingling, abstract colors and shapes to turquoise jellyfish. The ecosystem Sitka sits within is such a special place. It's always a pleasure to share Sitka experiences with new people."

Meanwhile, twenty-five miles east of Sitka, 3rd and 4th grade students from Nestucca K-8 School are on a Sitka Youth Program field trip to the Grand Ronde’s Native Plant Nursery, the second of three outings these kids will take this school year to learn by doing alongside Nursery Supervisor Jeremy Ojua and experience Native and traditional plants through the seasons.

“Jeremy shared with the kids that, on their last visit in the fall, they helped process over 9,000 camas bulbs,” reports Nicola Harrison, Sitka’s Assistant Director, sharing the excitement from the field. “A big vibration of pride rippled through the group. They were eager to go see all the camas shoots that had pushed through, ready for the kids to plant them today… They gently nestled the bulbs in their palms while looking for new resting spots. They tucked them into the soil carefully like one would put a baby to bed and then wished them luck to make it through the next part of their camas journey. There was a sense of unity and purpose shared between the students and Jeremy to restore camas growth in wild spaces.”

“During the nature journaling session, a student stuck a fern leaf in my face and exclaimed ‘Look how many seeds there are! Can you believe it?’ Another handed me their magnifying loupe and exclaimed, ‘look at the air bubbles in the water on this stick. It’s so cool!’”

In my own meditation and writing about the day, I am reminded of a favorite quote by scholar Joao Coutinho: “There is no neutral education. Education is either for domestication or for freedom.” I hope this journal entry inspires you to plan your own trip to Sitka this summer, and to advocate for un-boxed learning experiences in your own creative life and throughout your sphere of influence.

With gratitude for Sitka’s collaborators at OSU, Chemawa Indian School, the Grand Ronde Cultural Resources Department and Natural Resources Department Native Plant Nursery and Nestucca Valley K-8 School for believing in the power of field trips,

Alison Dennis

Executive Director