Community, Scene & Heard, Springfield

Performance inspires cross-cultural insight, connection, education at Island Park

SPRINGFIELD — As Springfield lies on Kalapuya land, celebrating those before us is essential, and Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company and Burial Ground Society’s recent event was the perfect way to do just that.

On Aug. 9, the Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company and artists from Burial Ground Society joined forces with the Springfield Public Library and Springfield Museum of History to celebrate Native culture and tradition. The event was held at Island Park and was hosted in collaboration with Beyond Toxics, Willamalane, Many Nations Longhouse, Chiffin Native Youth Center, and the City of Springfield.

Painted Sky is intertribally composed of dancers from across the country whose aims is to promote cross-cultural education and appreciation surrounding Native culture. They perform traditional Native music and dance fused with contemporary styles.

“Music is actually something we’ve been taught from our own generations,” said Aiyana Bennet, Painted Sky performer who comes from the Yakama Nation reservation and Colville Tribe. “We’ve learned from our elders, all the songs and even the dances are taught down from generations throughout our own.” 

The company also performed traditional dances to contemporary music, dancing to artists by the likes of Rihanna, Drake, Bruno Mars, and Beyoncé. 

The dance company also emphasized the importance and misconceptions surrounding regalia. Performers could be seen dancing in these colorful garbs, all of which were handmade using authentic materials down to the feathers on the men’s bustles. 

“We still have a lot of issues with Halloween with the costumes,” Bennet said. “We don’t call them costumes. We call them regali. As you can tell, we don’t look anything like what’s represented on the television.”

Artists from Burial Ground Society also headlined the event – an intertribal collective of Indigenous artists who stand for “decolonization, human rights, and environmental justice in Indigenous lands.” 

Kunu Bearchum, one of Burial Ground’s artists, performed hip-hop fused with elements of native music during the event. That performance came off the tail end of his tour, in which he performed primarily across the Northwest but also made appearances at events, including the country’s biggest powwow in Albuquerque. 

Through fusing modern and traditional elements, Bearchum aims to create music that Native youth can see their identity in and “see themselves as a part of modern society and not separate from.”

Bearchum also wants his music to bring more cultural understanding surrounding Native culture. 

“I’m old enough that when I was growing up, the only things that you would ever see Native American people in was like a Western movie. … We never had any meaningful dialogue in a movie or anything, and Native people weren’t ever a part of our culture.” 

The music and dance were well received during the event by a diverse and bustling all-age audience.

“The music was perfect. The dancers were on point. There was no flaw in what they were doing because they were just being them,” said Lee-Anne Stillman, who attended the performance with her grandchildren, ages 2 and 5. 

The event resulted from the City and Willamalane’s Tribal Community Planning Dialogue. The planning dialogue was an attempt to incorporate Native perspectives in land management. 

According to Mindy Linder, the community engagement specialist for the library and museum, the library and history museum heard the call “for accurate history, representation, and inclusion in our programs’ resources.”  

“When we’re talking about land management and our connection to it and all the living things and beings in it, we must look to the Native community to make sure they know that they are welcome and a priority voice at the table,” Linder said. “We are the holders of knowledge, and are responsible for making sure everyone has expansive inclusive access.”

The event was a part of the library’s summer reading program as part of their multicultural outdoor series. Every week for nine weeks, the library puts on a different event, each highlighting and celebrating a different culture. And that awareness and education doesn’t end with this performance. The library and museum have plans to continue the conversation surrounding cross-cultural appreciation and education. 

In the works is a story collection project highlighting Native culture and experiences for their annual Illumination project next year, an initiative that spotlights different cultures that have been marginalized in the country. 

After organizing the Kalapuya mural in Eugene, Beyond Toxics is working on finding a wall in Springfield for a similar mural.



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