Jim Pepper fest flourishes in Parkrose

Native American music and performances continue to highlight this late-summer festival in Parkrose …

The clouds overhead in outer East Portland look ominous, but only a brief rain shower moistens this year’s Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

As summer drew to a close, and rain clouds stormed through the greater Portland area, they seemed to part over Parkrose, as if Mother Nature was smiling on the 5th Annual Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival encampment, on September 30.

Set up in the grassy expanse at the west end of Parkrose High School, this year’s festival hosted 25 exhibitors – one of them from as far away as British Columbia.

The Salmon Ear drum circle plays during the festival.

The event opened with the members of the Northwest Indian Veterans Association Color Guard posting the colors. Then, Jon George, the secretary the Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, gave the welcoming, address.

“Part of our mission is to improve access to music education, in jazz musician Jim Pepper’s name,” explained Festival Executive Director Sean Aaron Cruz.

Festival Executive Director Sean Aaron Cruz talks with a guest.

“One of the reasons that this event is free, is to make sure a ticket price isn’t a barrier to coming to the celebration and music Festival,” Cruz told East Portland News.

In the coming years, Cruz said, he expects to see more and more young people performing on stage. “And, not only from Parkrose High, but also from the Chemawa Indian School, with which we’ve just started a partnership.”

From British Columbia, Lil’wat Nation stone carver Barry Anthony Dan see shows a “smudge heart” carved into Jasper.

Cruz looked pleased as guests strolled around the festival grounds. “Parkrose School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray told me, back when it started, that it’d take five years to build up the festival,” Cruz recalled. “She was right!”

“Working with the school district is just wonderful; it couldn’t be better,” he added.

On stage, members of the Blue Flamez rap.

While the rap group Blue Flamez – they won the Native American Music Awards 2016 NAMMY Video of the Year award for their song “Rez Life” –took the stage, Cruz pointed out that the festival also hosted blues music, drumming, native flute, and a performance of Pepper’s Flying Eagle Band.

Scholarship component added
“As part of our organization, we created the Jim Pepper Remembrance Scholarship, open to native students,” Cruz remarked. “The plan is to award $250 scholarships each year, starting this next year.”

“Using one of Jim Pepper’s five Indian songs, students are asked to interpret one of them by way of any performance skill…be it dance, sampling, rap, performance – it’s all okay – and then make a video recording of their performance,” said Cruz, adding that complete information is available on their website.

Making fresh fry bread is Kim Castillo.

“The best part of the celebration for me is to have all these different people, some from so far away, come here Parkrose High School to celebrate our culture and be here for Jim Pepper,” Cruz smiled.

Looking to the future: “Next year we hope to have lighting and go on into the evening, instead of having to pack up camp when the sun goes down.”

To learn more about the festival, and the scholarship program, see their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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