How Indigenous Communities are Reclaiming Knowledge and Relationships to First Foods in Southern Oregon


Food is not just a source of nutrition; it carries memories and reminders of home. When Native Americans were forcibly removed from their lands, they were forced from much of their cultural heritage, including ways of growing, harvesting, and preparing ingredients native to those places.

The Indigenous Gardens Network (IGN) seeks to rebuild this type of knowledge for tribal communities in Oregon. Now in its Third year, thanks to recent grants from the Oregon Cultural Trust, these projects will continue to thrive. 

The Indigenous Gardens Network comprises several land-based place-keeping programs driven by an Indigenous-led steering committee, where partner community organizations provide support, resources, land, and tools necessary to realize their vision. A unique partnership between citizens of the sovereign nations of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Southern Oregon University and other community-focused non-profits, the IGN serves as a means for Native people to cultivate the land and grow and harvest First Foods and natural materials traditionally relied upon for subsistence, medicine, and ceremony before the arrival of settlers. 

“The grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust has been instrumental in providing Siletz and Grand Ronde tribal members access to traditional First Foods in our ancestral homelands of southern Oregon,” commented Greg Archuleta, Clackamas Chinook, Santiam Kalapuya, and Shasta, and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. 

Of notable projects the Oregon Cultural Trust’s grant helped support, Archuleta remarked, “is our recent Acorn Camp that provided opportunities for tribal members to gather and process white and black oak acorns. These are important First Foods of our people.”

In August 2019, members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians with the Health Traditions Program made their initial visit to the Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve one year after it was established. Tribal youth met with Siletz Tribal Elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim (of Takelma descent), engaged in leadership activities with Healthy Traditions Program leaders, and participated in first food stewardship activities with the Vesper Meadow Education Program. Pictured here during this visit, Tribal members have dug and cleaned Yampah (a native carrot) and pass it around for tasting. (Courtesy Vesper Meadow Education Program)

Though crops like acorns are actively cultivated and harvested, many IGN projects are not exclusively “gardens” in the traditional sense. Instead, they center on reclaiming Native ways of supporting the seasonal, regenerative cycles of the land in a larger way. One community partner is the Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve, a scenic tract of over 1,000 acres of wetlands and conifer forests east of Ashland, which serves as one pilot site for IGN. This partnership resulted in The First Food Stewardship Plan, a continually updated document to guide Tribally-led restoration of culturally significant plants at the preserve. Efforts to map such species, like the camas, have now begun. 

Brook Colley, Ph.D., Chair and Associate Professor of Native American Studies at SOU, acts as a coordinator for the IGN partnership, where a Shasta Takelma Learning Garden will someday grow near the science building on campus to showcase the First Foods, treaty rights, sovereignty, and relationships to place of these tribes. 

“The Indigenous Gardens Network is about uplifting the inherent sovereignty of Siletz and Grand Ronde and supporting their connection to each other, their homelands, and to important first foods, medicines, and fibers,” said Colley.

With the formation of the Southwest Oregon Indigenous Gardens Network in 2020, Tribal members from both the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde visited the Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve to initiate pilot projects for First Food Restoration. Here, Tribal members walk amongst culturally significant plants and strengthen their connection with a place of their ancestral homeland. (Courtesy Vesper Meadow Education Program)

“The Oregon Cultural Trust grant enables the continuation of projects and initiatives that uplift Indigenous food sovereignty and kinship practices, and that center ceremony, Indigenous storytelling and creativity,” said Joe Scott (Siletz), IGN member and curriculum director for the Traditional Ecological Inquiry Program. “These projects also confront threats to the larger community by supporting traditional tending practices that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, mitigate the impacts of climate change and help provide clean water.”

About Oregon Cultural Trust

Created in 2001 by the Oregon Legislature, the Oregon Cultural Trust is a testimony to how much Oregonians value culture. No other state provides a 100 percent tax credit to inspire cultural giving. 

As uniquely Oregonian as public beaches and the bottle bill, the Oregon Cultural Trust serves as an ongoing funding engine for arts and culture across the state. Oregonians fund the Cultural Trust. It, in turn, funds the artists, potters, rappers, acrobats and dreamers who make Oregon, Oregon. The Trust’s three grant programs annually fund five Statewide Partners45 County and Tribal Coalitions, who regrant the funds locally, and qualified cultural nonprofits through competitive Cultural Development Grants.

In FY2022, Oregonians gave $5.7 million to the Cultural Trust! Sixty percent of that went straight back to the field. The remaining 40 percent helped grow a permanent fund for arts, heritage and humanities. The list of FY2023 grants includes awards to 138 organizations making a difference in Oregon. All of the grants are funded exclusively by Oregonians who participate in the Oregon Cultural Tax Credit.

No other state in the union has this incredible benefit. Lucky Oregonians!

To participate in the Cultural Tax Credit, first  make a donation to a cultural nonprofit that matters in your life, then match it with a gift to the Cultural Trust. The donation to the Trust qualifies you for a 100 percent state tax credit in that amount; the tax credit limit is $500 for individuals, $1,000 for couples filing jointly and $2,500 for class-C corporations.

Another way to get involved is to purchase the “Celebrate Oregon!” Cultural Trust license plate. This vibrant license plate, designed by artist Liza Mana Burns, is a tribute to Oregon’s diverse geography, people and cultural traditions. If you look closely, you’ll find 127 symbols woven into the artwork that encompass the art, history, heritage, people and cultural practices that make Oregon unique. Proceeds from the plate support promotion of the Cultural Tax Credit to fund arts and culture across the state.

About Author

Carrie Kikel is the Communications Manager for Oregon’s Arts Department, which includes the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust. The Oregon Arts Commission provides statewide grant funding to artists, arts organizations and arts programs. The Cultural Trust raises public and private awareness and investment in arts, heritage, history, humanities and preservation.

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