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Swallowed by initial darkness and the warmth of the Grand Ronde plankhouse, students are greeted by a roaring firepit and welcoming songs led by cultural liaison Bobby Mercier. As always, Bobby's booming voice fills the room and the hearts of the students. On other days, they spin before entering the dancehouse at Siletz and being greeted by Buddy Lane, an OSU Ethnic Studies alumnus.
Since 2014, students in professor Natchee Barnd's Ethnic Studies courses have visited the nearby reservations for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz.
The classes enjoy their chance to discuss the building of the plankhouse as well as its cultural and ceremonial purposes here in the Northwest. They take advantage of the opportunity to exchange ideas with tribal council members about how sovereignty works and how students can support local tribes. Students always gain a new and unexpected exposure to everyday life and practice, sdeing everything from tribal clinics to basket collections, from casinos to tribal housing, from language classrooms to youth dance and song. These learning experiences provide a much needed dose of reality about who tribal communities are today, and how they shape their lives with and despite the larger American society.
While the trips are relatively brief (even one full day gives only a glimpse of these communities), it proves meaningful to all who participate. Students commonly identify these trips as one of the most powerful and memorable learning experiences of the entire course. When they leave, we also expect them to have a beter grasp over their responsibilities to the Native peoples of these lands and to the inidgneous lands we all occupy.