Yoncalla woman's win of a lifetime

© 2018-Cottage Grove Sentinel

There is no one left who speaks the language of the Kalapuya Tribe. 

Those hoping to save the language and broader culture from extinction rely on documents and voice recordings from the 1950s. They gather approximately 60 children at a summer camp and teach them drumming, dancing and ecology. They tell stories. 

Ester Stutzman of Yoncalla does it all. and for her efforts, Governor Kate Brown awarded her the 2017 Governor's Arts Award after the award was shelved for 10 years. Stutzman was one of two individuals and three organizations to receive this year's award.

"It's for longtime storytelling," Stutzman said from her home in Yoncalla. 

And that's what Stutzman is, she says, a storyteller. She visits classrooms and  conferences, presents to organizations and gives talks at museums and meets with scholars as part of her role as a storyteller with Mother Earth's Children--a Native American theatre group. 

While she works to tell the stories of her tribe and preserve and reignite passion for the culture, she says there are rules to the story. 

"I was taught the stories by my grandmother, uncles and aunties and they cautioned me on how to tell the stories," Stutzman said. "There's rules on how to pass them on."

Passing on the culture of the Kalapuya Tribe is a primary focus for Stutzman who takes part in a summer camp each year aimed at doing just that. 

Every year approximately 60 to 75 Native American children gather to take part in drumming and dancing. They learn about local ecology and hear the stories passed down from earlier generations. And they've been doing it for 42 years.

"We promote language heavily," Stutzman said. "There is quite a bit of language on the reservations like Grand Ronde but there aren't have speakers left," she said of the Kalapuya language. 

"I think all of what we try to do is share what we know with the kids," she said. "That it is energized and makes them proud of their culture and gives them a means to pass that on." 

Portland artist Arvie Smith was also honored by Governor Kate Brown.