City Government, Community, Springfield

City, Willamalane earn accolades

Entities awarded for outreach for Native engagement efforts

SPRINGFIELD – Even though the City of Springfield and Willamalane Park and Recreation District have been awarded for their collaborative efforts regarding outreach to American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) community members, neither organization is slowing down any time soon.

The City and Willamalane earned the Most Outstanding Project (MOP) award recently from Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) for their project titled “American Indian and Alaska Native Engagement in Springfield.”

Willamalane diversity, equity, and inclusion supervisor Kris Wright said the City and Willamalane asked local Indigenous planning consultant Stephanie Tabibian of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes “how to refer to the native community in a respectful and accurate way, and her suggestion was American Indian and Alaska Native, which is why we’re utilizing AI/AN in our documentation and conversation.”

According to the DLCD’s press release: “Tabibian… helped elevate the unique relationship to the land and perspectives of indigenous community members, through roundtable conversations led by community elders. These conversations were designed to help planners better understand the lived experience of AI/AN residents within the community and how public policies, planning processes, public spaces, natural areas, programs, and communication can support or diminish AI/AN participation and representation in them.”

A record number of applications, nine, were submitted to the DLCD for its 2023 Achievement in Community Engagement (ACE) awards, which the DLCD’s Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee (CIAC) voted on. DLCD policy analyst and communications manager Sadie Carney said she recalled the project standing out to CIAC members because it “turned the paradigm of engaging a community with a specific project focus on its head, and it really sought to understand the community values and then move those into action items.”

“The Springfield project impressed the group because it was putting community first and elevating the unique cultural connection that those specific communities have to land and water resources in developing an understanding of priorities,” Carney said.

The committee and commissioners praised the entities for their combined effort in engaging with AI/AN residents.

“Having local elders from the AI/AN community leading small table discussions was really a nice piece to read, and it was encouraging to hear folks engaging folks in that way,” DLCD commissioner Allan Lazo said.

The joint application for the award stated, “(We) recognize that we exist and benefit today because of Kalapuyans’ forced removal from their homeland. We also recognize that less dominant voices from community members who make up only a small portion of our population or who do not regularly engage with local agency projects does not make these voices less important.”

The entities began connecting with AI/AN community members through the roundtable discussions last fall. The discussions were centered around themes related to living in Springfield such as: experiences, perceptions, interests, and values.

The City and Willamalane used this as an opportunity to build a connection with an underrepresented group and learn. “Our hope is that this dialogue is a spark for something bigger, and it’s just the beginning of a sustained relationship that’s really not transactional and not about when we just need something,” City project manager Monica Sather said. Some feedback Sather heard over and over was that the AI/AN community in Springfield is feeling overwhelmed with requests for project input. She said a solution for more meaningful involvement, which was suggested through feedback, was to appoint AI/AN community members to leadership and decision-making roles and help them feel confident getting there by, for example, creating scholarships, mentoring them, and/or assisting them in networking.

“Having a seat at the table is really important to them,” Sather said.

Tabibian said her experience working with the City and Willamalane was positive, that AI/AN community members felt heard, respected, and valued, and that they appreciated having a facilitated opportunity to be together. She added that she suggested the City and Willamalane allow AI/AN people to edit their planning documents and allow the AI/AN community to have final say.

“We have a long history of being uncomfortable with documents, signing documents, treaties, for example, so transparency is really critical to us,” Tabibian said.

The City’s short-term goal for this project was “to hear Native perspectives on the importance of the land and water resources within Springfield’s urban growth boundary expansion areas and to apply what we heard to balancing protections, access, and development interests in and near sites identified with Goal 5-significant wetlands, riparian areas, and wildlife habitats.”

Oregon’s Goal 5 regards natural resources, scenic and historic areas, and open spaces, and the City is working toward completing its natural resource-focused work in 2024.

Willamalane’s short-term goal for this project was “to gather community feedback to inform its 20-year vision for parks related to Statewide Planning Goal 8: Recreational Needs.”

Kenny Weigandt, Willamalane’s community engagement director, said their comprehensive plan is updated every 10 years, and the joint press release wrote that it “charts a course for future park expansions and recreation opportunities, emphasizing the importance of cultural sensitivity and inclusion in all aspects of the planning.” The updated comprehensive plan will be available this fall.

The long-term goal for both entities is to “create a framework for future engagement and relationship building to ensure planning efforts genuinely incorporate Native histories and currently lived experiences. This call to seeking connection and understanding as a fundamental outcome is ‘our why,’” the joint application wrote.

There will be a ceremony in the coming weeks to celebrate the achievement. When and where that event will take place has not been solidified yet.

According to both Willamalane and the City, their work is just starting.

“This wonderful award really doesn’t mean we’re done with this work,” Sather said. “We really want people to take away a message that we care and that we’re listening with commitment in mind, that we really want community members to feel empowered and to know their voices always matter.”

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