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September Director's Journal

September 28, 2020

                                Thanks to board and staff members and volunteers who cleared windstorm debris from Sitka's campus.

It was nearly three weeks ago that wind and wildfire events began sweeping across Oregon and the West. While I am grateful that Sitka's team, campus, board, founders and nearest neighbors are safe from direct harm, my shoulders haven't relaxed yet and I still carry a tightness in my chest. Firefighters continue efforts to contain active blazes, and aid workers are organizing to connect survivors with resources. Much hard work lies ahead, and we all know friends, friends of friends or extended family members who have lost everything.

As physical damage assessments and cleanup efforts begin, the presence of a collective emotional toll is palpable too, shrouding and connecting people from Washington, into and across Oregon from north to south and spanning the Cascades from the east to the coast, and down into northern California. (A complete list of Oregon wildfire resources including free emotional support hotlines is available through Oregon.gov).

At times during these weeks, I felt as if my wildfire fears had jumped the banks in my mind, joining in uncontrolled confluence with anxieties carried over the pandemic's spread and the political and racial chasms that divide us. The air cleared here last week but, alone with my thoughts, I still felt like the wind was knocked out of me.

Last Friday's timely book reading and discussion with Lee van der Voo, author of AS THE WORLD BURNS, grounded me. While the conversation addressed uncomfortable issues, over 230 members of the Sitka community came together online to participate. I was moved by the turn-out and inspired by the panelists' inclusive call to action.

Speaking on climate activism and youth voices, Van der Voo observed, "Young people have the moral authority on this issue. They are not able to vote, and they are not in a position where they can lobby as effectively as adults. They have to live with this in a way that older people will not. They are going to be called upon to solve these problems if these problems don't ruin their futures. I think that their voices should be forefront."

Discussion moderator and high school student Edie Allen elaborated, "There are two camps [of societal thought], 'the children are our future,' and 'they don't have any idea what they're doing, and they should just step out of it.' I think both of those approaches are wrong. When you look to your children and people who are not 18 and who can't vote to solve the problems that have been plaguing society for decades, it forfeits some of your responsibility. Just because youth are getting involved doesn't mean you shouldn't or can't."


                              Top: Journalist and author, Lee van der Voo. Bottom: Edie Allen, co-moderator and high school student

For those who could not attend the live event, a recorded version is available here. Watch for more opportunities to get involved at Sitka and connect as a community in the weeks and months ahead.

The beginning of October marks the start of Sitka's fall 2020 residency season. An article in this newsletter includes profiles of some of the first to arrive, and the first virtual Show & Tell event will give you an opportunity to learn more about their work.

This fall the Sitka Center will be formalizing and announcing new youth programs in collaboration with Community Arts Project, a 32-year-old Oregon coast nonprofit that provides art literacy education through area schools. Watch for a special email from me sharing more in a few weeks about this exciting and impactful project on the horizon and ways you can help.

On November 23 (4pm PST/7pm EST), Christina Burke will present an online talk and slide show entitled Indigenous Histories: Community & Environmental Health in Lakota Winter Counts, presenting pictographs and other recordings of significant events in Lakota history, from outbreaks of infectious diseases to environmental events such as meteor showers and wild fires. Save the date, and watch for more information about how to register for this cross-culturally relevant talk.

Whether through our community rebuilding efforts, our art making, our activism, our event participation, our philanthropy or our votes, let's keep showing up together this fall.


Alison Dennis

Executive Director