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Mural pays tribute to Native American legend Chief Joseph

May 24, 2013
Toma Villa
Artist Toma Villa poses in front his portrait of Chief Joseph.

The Chief Joseph School community and Nez Perce tribal members joined May 24 to celebrate completion of the Chief Joseph mural, which frames the Nez Perce Garden on one side of this North Portland school.

Principal Joe Galati led the celebration introducing special guest Elizabeth Britton, great granddaughter of Chief Joseph, and recognizing leaders from the Native American Youth and Family Center who helped plan the dedication of the mural.

Beth Britton, great granddaughter of Chief Joseph, joined the Chief Joseph K-5 community for the dedication of Toma Villa’s mural. Photos by Katharine Kimball.
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Matt Morton, executive director of NAYA and a Portland School Board member, gave the keynote address. School Board Co-Chairman Greg Belisle also attended.

The celebration began with Native American drumming and students performing traditional Native American dance on the school's stage.

From her chair at the foot of the stage, Britton told the children seated in rows on the floor how much she enjoyed visiting with them over several days. A school community member knows Britton, who is in her 80s, and connected her with the school as muralist Toma Villa began his painting this spring.

"You are all going to be somebody," Britton told the students. "I know you are."

Muralist travels the world

Villa, a member of the Yakama Nation who travels the country and world teaching and creating murals, earned enthusiastic applause when he was introduced.

"I got to spray paint your wall," he said to the students' delight, "and they let me!"

He told the children that now they are the keepers of the mural.

Chief Joseph was the leader of a band of the Nez Percé people. He was born Hin-mah-too-lat-kekt in 1840 in the Wallowa Valley in what is now Oregon. When the United States attempted to force the Nez Percé to move to a reservation in 1877, he reluctantly agreed. Chief Joseph tried to lead his people to Canada, in what is considered one of the great retreats in military history.

Equity grant paid for the mural

Villa’s work was commissioned through an equity grant from All Hands Raised, the former Portland Schools Foundation. Principal Galati spent $1,100 of his school's grant to pay for the mural.

New Season’s Market representatives were on hand for the mural's unveiling. New Seasons provides critical financial support to All Hands Raised, ensuring that 100 percent of the monies raised by parents goes to support students in their own schools and in schools that do not have foundations through the equity grants. During 2013-2014, All Hands Raised will award more than $1 million to 39 PPS schools, as well as five alternative programs.

After the dancing and drumming, the students filed outside in a light rain. Tribal members escorted Britton with an umbrella to a chair looking out at the Nez Perce Garden and the mural.

Nez Perce tribal member Nellie McConville burned sage and wafted the smoke among the students in a gesture of renewal. Then she addressed the children:

"You are the seeds of growth that stand before us," she said. "Thank you to everyone who worked on this garden."

 
 

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