SPRINGFIELD — If you’re looking for a culturally-enriching experience, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, Island Park will host a unique blend of traditional and modern Native American music, dance, and culture.
As part of the Summer Reading outdoor multicultural program, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Kunu Bearchum, and other local Indigenous people will participate in the free event. Painted Sky intends to enrich, celebrate, and promote understanding and respect across cultures, artforms, and languages —particularly to our local area.
Springfield is located on Kalapuya Ilihi, the traditional homeland of the Kalapuya, who are native to the area.
After a Tribal Community Planning Dialogue hosted by Willamalane Park and Recreation District and the City of Springfield in October 2022, the Springfield Public Library and History Museum observed the need for community events and outreach to Native people that included accurate information and history. The library and museum contacted the local Native community, and as a result, multiple organizations have partnered with talented artists for this collaboration.
One such group is Painted Sky, a nonprofit that combines contemporary styles with traditional Native styles in what they call a “Two Worlds” mix with dance, music, and story with Northstar Dance Company and Evening Star Painted Ponies programs.
“Our company does a beautiful job with captivating their audiences,” said Damon Keller, lead dance director of Northstar.
Performances will include traditional, fancy, and jingle styles by women of the company. Grass, hoop, and traditional styles will be performed by men troupe members. Keller will be dancing hip hop and tap dance. He has an extensive background teaching and choreographing these styles at workshops, conventions, and dance studios.
This program is a “bridge between two worlds through music, story and the dance,” said Mary Hager, the founder of Northstar.
In 1995, Hager began Painted Sky in order to honor Native American culture “through the universal language of music.” Following that, Hager and Arlie Neskahi gained support through the Native American community.
In 2004, Hager and Neskahi, along with a team of other enthusiasts like Karen Kitchen and Gerry Rainingbird, recruited Native youth, focusing on the unique blend of styles that became a signature of the performance arts dance company.
In 2021, Spirit Mountain Community Fund provided support for funding their film, “Reservation Skies … Strength in Generations.”
“We are bridging the gap because we feel that music is a universal language and the beat or tempo from any style of music can be danced to,” Keller said. “There’s hip hop dancing being done to orchestrations nowadays, and we’ve been doing us since 2005. Michael Jackson had all styles of dance in his music video ‘Black and White’ in the ‘90s – including Native styles of dancing – so we as Northstar are breaking down that wall that people may have forgotten about.”
Also part of this event is local performer Kunu Bearchum, who creates hip-hop/ rap music “infused with Native cultural sounds and language.”
This artist was born in Eugene, has lived in New Mexico and Portland, and recently moved back to the area with his family. Before the pandemic, he released the album “Through the Battle Smoke” and recently released a single titled “Master Plan.”
Often Bearchum invites other members of the local Native community to participate in performances, such as Siletz tribal member Fish Martinez, also known as 2 8 THA NATIVE, as well as local pow-wow dancers and singers.
“This time around I have secured the participation of Mangus Bettles, a Klamath-Modoc Native student from Cottage Grove who just graduated from Al Kennedy Alternative High School,” Bearchum said. “I have been mentoring Mangus through a program called Native Youth Wellness Program which is run by an amazing Native Educator, Roshelle Weiser-Nieto.”
Northstar Dance Company will perform at 10:30 a.m. and Kunu Bearchum perform at noon at Island Park, 200 W. B St.