Champinefu Lecture Series Finale

Blue Elderberry

This coming Wednesday, December 12, the final talk of the three-part, second annual Champinefu Lecture Series will be given by Doug Duer, a cultural anthropologist, and David Harrelson, the Manager of the Grand Ronde Cultural Resources Department. The two will be discussing “Ethnobotany of the Kalapuya” as part of the series’ greater effort towards increasing awareness about Kalapuya culture and its relationship with land management.

“We would like the general public to have a better understanding of how the first people both viewed and acted upon the natural environment,” says Dave Eckert, sitting on the stage of the Majestic Theatre in front of an empty auditorium, showing me where the lecture will take place. Eckert is the Program Coordinator of one of the sponsoring organizations, the Mary’s Peak Group of the Sierra Club. He later adds, “Diversity and inclusion is part of our [Sierra Club’s] mission. I mean obviously we were formed to save, protect, and enjoy the natural world, and in the past couple decades diversity and inclusion have been included in that.”

Harrelson, who also spoke during the opening talk of the series last year, is glad to give the Corvallis community access to indigenous bodies of knowledge, as his lineage has direct ties to this place.

“My family is Kalapuya, so I have a personal connection to the Corvallis area. My ancestor seven generations ago signed the treaty for the central Kalapuya,” he explains.

The Beginnings of a Series
Harrelson and Eckert first met four years ago at the Lamprey Creek Awakening event. This naming ceremony was the culmination of an effort spearheaded by the Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club to name an undervalued tributary to Oak Creek, with its headwaters in the wetland area of present-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, in order to increase recognition of its ecological importance. One of the people Eckert was working closely with on this project, Gabe Sheoships, was a graduate student at the time studying lamprey in OSU’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, and is a member of the Umatilla Tribe. He suggested that there should be a blessing of the creek in association with its naming. Sheoships reached out to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, and got Harrelson to come out.

“Oh man, he blew us apart,” Eckert recalls of Harrelson’s words at the event. After the naming of the creek and meeting Harrelson, Eckert soon thought up the idea for the Champinefu Lecture Series, and sought Harrelson’s support, who readily agreed.

“I found a good collaborator in Dave Eckert. It sometimes can be challenging to find good collaborators to work with,” Harrelson says. “But after seeing the way Dave worked on the Lamprey Creek event and on his own journey to learn about native people—his own moral fiber showed through all that. I knew that he was somebody that I was willing to work with and spend time on a project like the Champinefu Lecture Series.”

The Works: Changes and Constants Since Last Year
Each year since it began, the Mary’s Peak Group of the Sierra Club and the Spring Creek Project, of Oregon State University, sponsor the event, while the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz are relied upon to select appropriate speakers. Eckert explains this valuable action: “this is their show, with their autograph on it, it’s driven by the two nations…we want to really honor, acknowledge, and respect the sovereignty of the Siletz and the Grand Ronde.”

One change in the event since last year is Eckert’s stepping back from introducing each of the three speakers over the three months of the series’ duration.

“This year a representative from the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz or the Grand Ronde will introduce the speaker, where last year I did. It was only halfway until it was over when I realized that was a mistake,” Eckert laughs, “it’s a learning curve for me.”

Harrelson agrees that this change is for the benefit of all involved, “it allows an explanation of why these people were selected by the Tribe, or from the tribal government perspective, why we think people should listen to these individuals, that they have good information to share.”

One valuable aspect of the series that hasn’t changed since last year: the event is free to those who attend, and with donations, the sponsors pay the speakers. “I’m not saying they get what they deserve, but we pay them an honest amount,” says Eckert, “too often people ask people from the Confederated Tribes to speak for free,” which to him is unfair, given how much Euro-Americans have already taken from indigenous peoples over history.

While this pay may not undo old grievances, Harrelson, who says that it helps the few Kalapuya people left—and willing—today to share their knowledge, is grateful for it.

“There’s only 5,500 enrolled members of our tribe today, and of the people that were removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation, there were only 1,000 of them in the 1850s that were Kalapuya,” he explains, “to have a community to do most the legwork, and not only that, but that is committed to making it free to their community, is a really powerful way and what makes it possible for these voices to be heard.”

Those that attended the speaker series last year may already be aware of another major change: the spelling of Champinefu. Last year, posters advertising the event were written as “Chepenefu,” which to many of a non-native background seems more phonetic, but according to linguists, is not entirely accurate. After the series was already underway last year, OSU began a process to rename several of its’ buildings on campus, one of which the institution decided ought to honor the original inhabitants of this area. Prior to this naming process, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde had never officially approved the spelling of the Champinefu Kalapuya band name, though they had elsewhere, such as with Chemeketa Community College. So once OSU received approval from both of these entities’ linguists, the lecture series followed suit. “In one way, it’s a little bit of humble pie that we had to change the name,” Eckert says, “but really it’s an honor [to be part of the process].”

Though he is not a linguist himself, Harrelson is appreciative that this development occurred. “[The spelling change] in itself is a process of discovery that no one would have thought about or spent time thinking about,” he says, “but having [the lecture series] is pushing understanding and research, and I think that is really powerful.”

A Valuable Resource
Eckert sees the benefit of such an event extending outside of academia. Last year being the first year, “there was tremendous excitement because there really is nothing being spoken [about the Kalapuya] here,” he relates, “when you go around town, there’s really no evidence that the Kalapuya were here or that they still are—and they still are—but there’s just no evidence, there’s no acknowledgment, no anything…they’re non-existent, and that’s just criminal negligence in my opinion.”

As a result, “people were really hungry for this.”

For Harrelson, the lecture series is not so much about undoing past crimes as it is about making a better future. “Our ancestors have a deep time connection to the Willamette Valley,” he describes, “[attendees] get the opportunity to get a window to things that impact or influence the world that they live in on a day to day basis.”

This window allows attendees to learn the concept that “the land remembers”. Harrelson explains, “You see things replicate themselves over time that somehow indigenous knowing—or indigenous understanding—of place is still useful today in understanding.” For example, “seeing the fires today and how the world functions, but then knowing that the native people burned the valley and that that was a lifeway, it helps you contextualize how people avoided catastrophic fires.”

For non-natives, learning about these lifeways is a way to connect to their ‘landcestors’, a term Harrelson is apt to use after a friend, while living in the Cascades, introduced to him. “[My friend] was trying to find a way to grasp not being native himself, but feeling a certain attachment and desire to know about the people because he now shared the place that they’d been for so long,” Harrelson recalls. “The native people, the Kalapuya, are my ancestors, but they can be other people’s landcestor.”

“[this term] makes it about all the different stories that happen in a place, all the different people, the different ethnicities, races—it gives people this kind of common denominator to work with,” Harrelson expands, “I think that’s why the term landcestor has resonated so well within the Corvallis community.”

Tips for Attendance
If you, like many others in the Corvallis community, have the urge to learn about your own landcestors, come to the Majestic Theatre on Wednesday, December 12 for the last talk of this year’s series, which starts at 7 p.m. Since the event is free and involves no advance registration, it is advised to show up early to save yourself and your company’s seats. In the time between your arrival and the start of the presentation, books selected by the Confederated Tribes will be on sale and perusal is encouraged, with purchases supporting the event. In addition, free blue elderberry saplings will be available for those who live in Corvallis. Blue elderberry is a native species that has declined in the area, but is of value to the Champinefu band of the Kalapuya. Eckert describes that, “if taken care of, in 25 years, a one-gallon plant can be 20 feet tall and provide gallons of elderberry syrup.”

Just as it takes time for an elderberry plant to grow enough that it can sustain the traditions of others, so too does it take time for knowledge of place passed down by Corvallis’s original inhabitants to have their effect on the now dominant population. But time is a blessing, and in the meanwhile, attending an event like this is sure to leave an impression.

By Ari Blatt