Visibility, understanding, respect

The First Peoples of Central Oregon Cultural Experiences, held in October 2023 at OSU-Cascades, included Native dancing and music, artists demonstrations, a salmon bake and a presentation of traditional Tribal regalia. The garments carry history and meaning and are made using techniques passed on through generations.

Leona Ike shares Indigenous culture and history at OSU-Cascades.

Indigenous students make up less than 1% of enrollment at OSU-Cascades in Bend. Leona Ike has worked to make the Indigenous community more visible and understood, on campus and beyond.

Ike, who recently completed her degree in liberal studies, is an elder in the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. She notes that “every race is indigenous from somewhere. We happen to be hosting the non-Indigenous people from this land,” she says. “I feel honored to be a host, a historical and cultural teacher.”

Leona Ike, ’24, an elder in the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, served as student Tribal liaison and Tribal cultural advisor at OSU-Cascades.

Ike filled those roles as student Tribal liaison and Tribal cultural advisor at OSU-Cascades. With support from faculty members Janet Rankin and Mike Cooper, she collaborated with the Tribe to develop the First Peoples of Central Oregon Cultural Experiences in October 2023, held in conjunction with OSU-Cascades’ annual Discovery Day.

The goal for the event — which included a presentation of traditional Tribal regalia, artists demonstrations, a salmon bake, Native dancing and music — was to introduce the Warm Springs Tribe to students and the Central Oregon community, to show that they are still here and that “our culture lives and breathes,” Ike says. About 300 people attended the celebration of Indigenous culture, which was featured in local media. Based on this success, it will be held annually, with the 2024 event set for Oct. 12.

Cooper, a writing instructor who also teaches a course on Native American literature, says that even though Warm Springs is just an hour away from Bend, the past and present of Native peoples are largely unknown outside the reservation. Collaborations between OSU-Cascades and the Tribe, including the October event, aim to “create a sense of interconnectedness,” he says.

“I’m continually surprised at how little our students are taught, or how misinformed we are, about the history of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. We’re not familiar with the culture, the people who are our neighbors.”

OSU-Cascades Chancellor Sherman Bloomer emphasized the university needs to put action behind its land acknowledgment in opening remarks at the event.

“We recognize the first peoples have and always have had a spiritual connection to the land,” Bloomer said. “As OSU is a land grant institution, we recognize the profound responsibility our history creates in our institution and ongoing partnerships with the Tribes.”

Ike came to OSU-Cascades after she retired to complete her education, achieving the goals of her elders. Raised “to see the importance of compassion, ethics, kindness and teamwork,” she brought the values and perspectives of Native people to her coursework and built relationships with several of her professors.

A direct descendant of the leaders of the Columbia River people, “I always spoke about Tribal history,” Ike says. “They wanted to learn, to know about the history of the Tribe.” 

As one of the few Indigenous students at OSU-Cascades, Ike found it challenging when she heard outsiders speak inaccurately about Native American history or felt disrespected. She hopes that others will recognize Indigenous communities are underserved, and that they have hopes and dreams. “Treat us with respect first,” she says. “Offer the avenues for education, and we will come.”

Ike calls her time at OSU-Cascades “a blessed part of my life” and will never forget the people who showed kindness to her. She believes in leaving footprints for others to follow, citing the advice of her great-grandmother.

“‘Remember your value. Have confidence in yourself as our Creator has confidence in you,’” she says. “‘Move forward with hope, justice, equality and confidence.’” 

Leona Ike’s footprints have made a lasting impression — for the people of Warm Springs and at Oregon State University.