Lower School Walking Art Exhibit Educates Community About Indigenous People

You may have seen red signs on campus recently with the bold words “This IS Kalapuyan Land." The signs acknowledge the people who lived here before us, part of a walking exhibit launched by third graders this week.

This IS Kalapuyan Land, shared in partnership with Five Oaks Museum, is a series of yard signs with third grade artwork and QR codes on the back that can be scanned with a smartphone to engage more deeply with information about Indigenous Peoples. Each sign features a short snippet of the voices and stories of the people that lived on the land before white settlers.

“We want students to engage in the world as critical observers, open questioners, flexible thinkers, and as compassionate and empowered anti-racists,” Third Grade Teacher Tonya Griffin said. “Each year we ‘dust off’ another ‘hidden story’ from Oregon's past, working to give voice to those whose histories have been silenced.”

Griffin and other OES third-grade teachers began exploring the topic at the beginning of the year with the essential questions: What is the story of this place we call Oregon? What are the mind habits of historians? How can the stories of the past help us understand the world today? Teachers then worked in reading, writing, and social studies to sharpen the focus on Oregon history and the story of Indigenous people on this land.

“The stories students study in third-grade help to widen their view of history and see that the past constantly interplays with the present,” Griffin said. “The past is not over and done with. It impacts every aspect of the world we live in today, and this view of history as ‘living’ gives students opportunities to engage in more authentic and empowered ways with the past.”

When students returned in March for in person learning, Griffin asked them to timeline some stories that had been read aloud remotely. She overheard the children saying things like "back in the time of Native Americans" or "this has to be old because they are in a tribe" and knew she had important work to do.

“The children always show me where the work needs to be—we just have to listen,” Griffin said. “It was such a gift to listen to them in this moment because it was so hard to do online and I was so grateful to hear their voices, their budding ideas, and their misconceptions.”

The outdoor walking exhibit is open after school at 3:30 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday through June 13.  

“The artwork alone is great, but all the insight, stories, and passion the children layered on really brought them to life,” Griffin said. “I so wish the rest of our community could hear the voices of our third graders, hear them lift up these stories that are too often ignored, silenced, or erased.

“It is so impressive what the children have been able to do since we returned to campus! We're so excited to see it come together before the year closes."