(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s Konaway Nika Tillicum wasn’t what anyone expected last summer, when the seven-day academic and cultural enrichment residential camp for Native American Youth was shifted to a virtual version of itself because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then the totally unexpected happened: the Oregon Community Foundation, a longtime supporter of the Konaway program, reached out to its organizers at SOU to find out if there were any plans to continue supporting pre-college Native youth in Oregon at the conclusion of the one-week program. Serious conversations began, the foundation offered a new $50,000 grant and a virtual offshoot program for Konaway students and their family members was born.
“All My Relations” – the English translation of the Chinook Trade Jargon phrase, “Konaway Nika Tillicum” – was launched on Oct. 28 with seven students and has rapidly grown to include more than 33 students and their families in six states. There are currently 19 students from seven Oregon counties in the program. Another eight participants live along the Oregon border in Washington or California and have tribal connections to the region. The program runs through fall, winter and spring terms, offering biweekly, virtual longhouse gatherings to provide academic encouragement and support, and discuss everything from beading moccasin ornaments to traditional story-telling to maintaining cultural identity during a pandemic.
“It was clear that students and families were hungry for this kind of connection and assistance, and when we were approached by OCF it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get something going,” said Katherine Gosnell, assistant director of youth programs at SOU.
“OCF is keenly aware of the disproportionate impacts of COVID on Native communities and were seeking ways to address the situation,” said Rachel Jones, SOU’s director of outreach and engagement. “We shared with OCF the wish list of ideas that the Konaway team had created during the virtual Konaway, for ways that we could continue working with the students.”
Jones and her staff put together an outline and projected cost for the program, and the foundation backed the proposal with a quick-turnaround grant.
“It was a great testament to OCF’s exceptional role across the state during this challenging year – they were extremely responsive, had a quick turnaround and eliminated lengthy application processes,” Jones said.
All My Relations was originally seen as a one-time project, but has now transitioned into a pilot for what organizers hope will be an ongoing program to support and enhance the original Konaway residential offerings. Organizers at SOU are seeking additional funding through grants and donations from foundations, organizations and individuals to support a second year of All My Relations beginning in fall 2021.
“Not only are we serving Native American Youth but we are serving their families, their friends, and their communities as well,” said Tamara Ellington, an SOU adjunct instructor and residential coordinator for the Konaway program.
“We have students that join with their parents, their foster parents, their closest trusting neighbors with good internet connectivity, their cousins, their friends, and their elders,” she said. “This is truly a multigenerational program modeled and influenced by the original Konaway Nika Tillicum Native American Youth Academy.”