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Fifth graders study indigenous history with help from new Education Foundation grant

There once was a chief who watched over all in the region and she wanted to live forever. The Coyote came to her and offered her eternal life. When she accepted, he turned her to stone so she would always watch over her people.

This story is called "She Who Watches" and on the morning of Nov. 1, Linda Meanus, an elder from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, told the story to a classroom full of fifth graders who have spent much of this school year learning about indigenous people in Oregon. It was a fitting story for the Oak Creek Coyotes and a great way to get them engaged before diving into meatier topics of native life in Oregon.

PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Kaede Jones and Linda Meanus speak at assembly

The study of the local indigenous salmon civilization, and the visit by Meanus, was made possible by the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation. New to the Foundation this year is a Principal's Grant, awarded to each of the 10 LOSD schools for professional development and/or curriculum enhancement.

Whitney Woolf, the interim executive director of the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation, said the Principal's Grant comes from the Foundation's endowment fund. "The grants are for professional development and curriculum enhancement," Woolf said.

In the past, the disbursement from the endowment was put into the annual fund, which puts more teachers in classrooms.

The Foundation made the switch this year because professional development is seen as a high need right now.

Oak Creek wanted their funds to go toward teaching curriculum from diverse perspectives.

Lilian Sarlos, Oak Creek principal said, "We just are trying to move in the direction to teach our curriculum from a diverse perspective."

She continued, "It's part of our equity mission."

Pamela Larsen, guest teacher, noted that the curriculum is project based. Of the Celilo Falls project, she said, "it's a project that aims to use the student's imagination and creativity to facilitate personal investment in the history of Celilo Falls."

On Friday morning, Nov. 1, a school-wide assembly was held to honor the indigenous land the school rests on. Fifth grade representatives took turns walking up to the microphone to read part of a prepared speech.

Joining them was Meanus. She and fifth grader Kaede Jones went up together to say a few words.

Kaede said of speaking with Meanus, "I like speaking with Ms. Linda and learning the history."

After the assembly, Meanus visited with the fifth grade classrooms. First, she visited Megan Lovelace's classroom. Inside were Melissa Evers' students as well.

She stood up in front of the class and put old family photos under a projector lamp.

As she showed photos to the class, she explained the different aspects of her life at Celilo Falls and then passed them around so each student could get a good look.

She showed the class a photo of her grandfather, Chief Tommy Thompson. She told the class he lived to be 114 years old, and she credits that to the amount of salmon he ate.

"Salmon is one of our sacred foods, just like water ... water is our main source of life," she said.

Meanus held up a photo of her family dressed in traditional regalia and said they honor their traditional foods by dressing in regalia.

"Not costumes," she said.

The regalia is made of animal skins and feathers.

She held up a photo of her family giving a large salmon to a train conductor in exchange for a train ride to town.

"We never had any money. What we did was traded and bartered with salmon," Meanus said.

After she presented to the class, students asked her questions about her childhood at Celilo Falls and about the traditions she holds to this day.

One student asked if she was sad when Celilo Falls got flooded. She said that yes, she was sad. "It took away our way of life," Meanus said.

After all the questions were answered, a group of students went to the back of the class to retrieve a model project.

They brought it to a center table and showed Meanus what they had built. It was a model of Celilo Falls before the dams flooded it. The students explained each section of the model — who worked on it and how they built it, and Meanus told them what a good job they had all done.

"It brings back a lot of memories of what Celilo used to be," Meanus said.

She continued, "It makes me feel good that kids want to learn about this ... This generation wants to recognize whose land they're on."


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