Keizer celebrates Native American heritage

November is Native American Heritage Month, and the art and tradition stemming from the Chemawa Indian School is being celebrated at the Keizer Cultural Center.

Chrystal Parsons, the indigenous arts teacher at Chemawa Indian School, led a basket weaving demonstration Monday night, hosted by the Keizer Arts Association as part of its First Monday Meetup schedule.

Parsons saw it as an opportunity to bring awareness to just what the Chemawa Indian School is.

“They just think it’s an old brick building on the side of the road and they don’t really know what it’s like to go there and be there,” Parsons said. “To be able to share the school and our many different cultures is exciting.”

As she demonstrated the technique for weaving cedar, Parsons answered questions from the crowd regarding the technique, the school, her class and more.

Parsons also explained the significance and importance that cedar wood plays to many of the tribes in the Pacific Northwest down to northern California.

Along with Parsons were 14 Chemawa Indian School students. Downstairs at the Keizer  Cultural Center, there are pieces on display from 15 students, including some of those in attendance. More pieces are on display at City Hall.

Next year, the Keizer Art Association’s gallery will display the Chemawa student’s artwork for the month of November.

“It’s very big and very exciting for them. Some of them have never done any type of artwork, and then to join my class and be able to share the first go-around, it’s very exciting for a couple of them.”

The working relationship between the Keizer Cultural Center and the Chemawa Indian School came when former Keizer mayor Lore Christopher questioned why they don’t do anything with the school. 

Every year artwork from McNary students is put on display in the downstairs gallery, so why not have a similar relationship with Chemawa? 

The Heritage Museum also currently has a display case dedicated to the Chemawa Indian School featuring historic photos, and three baskets from Parsons’ personal collection, including one that has carried five-generations of children in her family.