"All My Relations" is a virtual spin-off program for Native youth and families

SOU retreat for Native American youth spins off multigenerational program

(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.”


SOU to observe Indigenous Peoples Day

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(Ashland, Ore.) — The contributions and cultural significance of Native American populations will be celebrated annually at Southern Oregon University when the campus begins observing Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October, beginning this year.
SOU President Linda Schott declared the university’s intention to observe Indigenous Peoples Day after student Lupe Sims and the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee took the proposal to three governing boards on campus. The University Planning Board, Faculty Senate and Associated Students of Southern Oregon University each approved the request, which will result in a celebration similar to that of Veterans Day at SOU. No classes will be canceled, but the occasion will be observed through special programming.
“The indigenous cultures that have evolved in the Americas for millennia are certainly worthy of acknowledgement and have particular relevance to our state, in which nine sovereign tribes are recognized,” President Schott said. “SOU has a vibrant population of Native American students, and this celebration will honor the legacies of their families and ancestors.
“This will provide an excellent opportunity for all of our students to learn more about the non-European history of our region and our country.”
SOU joins several other universities, four states and at least 39 U.S. cities – including Portland, Eugene and Corvallis in Oregon – that observe Indigenous Peoples Day.
It is typically celebrated on the second Monday of October, which the U.S. has observed as the federal Columbus Day holiday since 1937.
At least 17 states – including Oregon – do not recognize Columbus Day as a holiday. Oregon observed it as a “day of commemoration” – but not a legal holiday – until the 1985 Legislature added a holiday for Martin Luther King Day, combined Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays as Presidents’ Day and eliminated all “days of commemoration.”
SOU’s Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee sought President Schott’s endorsement of the new Indigenous Peoples Day after gathering approvals from the three on-campus governing panels. A letter from the committee asked for a declaration of “our commitment to the inclusion of indigenous people’s perspectives and objectives as a central aspect of the university’s mission.”
The president said the day of celebration is consistent with SOU’s values of commitment to its students; intellectual growth; responsibility to the natural and social world; and inclusion, diversity and equity.
SOU offers a Native American Studies Program that seeks to educate all students about the knowledge, experiences and rich cultural heritage of indigenous people. The university also has an active Native American student population, supports SOU’s Native American Student Union and sponsors Konaway Nika Tillicum – an eight-day, on-campus residential camp for Native American youth.
About Southern Oregon University
As a public liberal arts university, SOU focuses on student learning, accessibility and civic engagement that enriches both the community and bioregion. The university is recognized for fostering intellectual creativity, for quality and innovation in its connected learning programs, and for the educational benefits of its unique geographic location. SOU was the first university in Oregon—and one of the first in the nation—to offset 100 percent of its energy use with clean, renewable power, and it is the first university in the nation to balance 100% of its water consumption. Visit