This piece was created specifically for an event to raise funds to save Pioneer Mothers Memorial Cabin. This pioneer cabin was built in 1931 to honor pioneer mothers and to house many of the artifacts that crossed the Oregon Trail in the mid 1800’s. This historic structure is now in danger of sinking into the Willamette River and needs to be moved to a safe location.
The first generation of Oregon settlers were mostly French Canadian men from the fur trade. In the 1830s, the men typically married Native American women. Their children — an entire generation — were mixed race, or in French, Métis. After the Americanization of Oregon in the 1840s, most of the Indian wives and their children were forced to move to the Grand Ronde reservation. Unlike Métis boys who were typically not accepted into Oregon society, educated Métis girls who downplayed their native heritage had a chance at integrating. However, their Indian heritage was usually ignored by their new families and by generations of descendents.
This family portrait alludes to the struggle the Métis daughters may have felt. The connection to our parents is genetic as well as deeply emotional. How does one go about cutting ties with an entire race and identity? Is it possible? How does it impact who we become and who our children become?
Undoubtedly the integration buried or even erased deeply loved cultural traditions as well as spiritual beliefs. But for me it is at least heartening to think that things have come full circle as today’s descendants seek out where they came from and who they are and celebrate their full heritage once again.