It is the calmness of the market that is striking.
Perhaps there is someone playing the soothing Native American flute or lightly tapping drums. That only adds to the serenity and friendliness at Farmers Market Pavilion when the Native American Arts and Crafts Market convenes on the first Sunday of each month.
November is National Native American Heritage Month, and everyone can get to know the Indigenous community in Lane County better at the market. This is the first year the market has been at the pavilion. Previously, it had been at the Amazon Community Center.
There are two more occasions this year to browse and shop for handmade art, jewelry, hats and other clothing as well as blankets imported from Indigenous peoples in Central America. There also are tables set up with information about various services for Native Americans in Lane County, such as the Ko-Kwel Wellness Center in Eugene, which provides health care to all American Indians and Alaska Natives in federally recognized tribes, to tribal employees and to the general public as capacity allows.
Mostly, notes Marcy Middleton, one of the organizers of the market who sells handmade jewelry, NAACM is about bringing the Native American community in Lane County together.
“Making money is nice,” says Middleton, who is of Navajo descent, but the real aim for vendors at the market is to help local Native Americans “who make their own crafts and take pride in that. That’s what our effort is, to help these people.”
That pride includes education, too. Rowena Jackson of the Klamath Tribe is doing her utmost to keep alive the Ewksiknii language of the tribe by selling stickers with words and phrases from the language (waq’ lis ?i — hello). She started this project during the pandemic when she returned to Klamath County, and she hasn’t looked back. “It inspires others to learn language,” she says.
Middleton and Jackson are longtime vendors — part of “the grandmas and the aunties” of the market, as Middleton puts it — but NAACM also encourages young people to join with their art.
Megan Van Pelt, a member of the Umatilla Tribe, is a senior in the Native American Studies program at the University of Oregon. She grew up in Pendleton, attended Blue Mountain Community College, and became interested in Indigenous dance. At the UO, she joined the Native American Student Union where she has helped organize pow wows and be of service to other Native Americans in the campus area because, as she notes, “It’s hard to ask for help.”
That’s particularly true in the public school system, says Becky White, who sells her handmade jewelry at the market. White — who is of Cherokee, Cheyenne and Arapaho descent — works for the federally funded Native Americans Towards Improved Values in Education and Society (NATIVES) program in Eugene School District 4J.
The program offers free tutoring, mentoring and presentations as well as cultural classes for K-12 students. There’s also a Native garden, and White says one goal of NATIVES this year is to expand the carving program for a new canoe. She notes that 2,000 students self-identify as Native American in 4J and that 800 students (from 184 tribal cultures) are currently registered.
White, who was born and raised in Eugene and participated in the NATIVES program in the 1980s and ’90s, says, “I cannot overstate enough” how important the program is to the 4J youth.
“They participate in school more,” she says. “They feel so disconnected from the society we have now. It makes people think there is something bigger.”
White looks across the Farmers Market Pavilion. She’s still talking about NATIVES, but she could have been talking about the Native American Arts and Crafts Market as well.
“We need to make sure the kids know there is a community like this.”