Published September 7, 2023
On Saturday we were honored to join the family of Edison and Leatha Chiloquin and the Klamath, Modoc, Northern Paiute, and Pit River inter-tribal communities to celebrate a historic moment with the dedication of a traditional earth lodge. Located on the banks of the Sprague River at the Chiloquin Trust Lands in Chiloquin, Oregon, the earth lodge is the only restored structure of its kind on the ancestral homelands of the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin-Paiute people.
Tribal community members, elders, families, and partners gathered to share gratitude and hope for the future of this structure and the land, which has served as a central tribal community gathering place for many generations, and to honor the late Edison Chiloquin’s life near the date of his would-be 100th birthday, August 31, 2023.
Edison is remembered as a tenacious leader who held firm in his conviction that the land, the “mother,” could not be bought or sold, but rather requires everlasting care and attention and living in tune with the ways of the ancestors. He fought to keep ancestral knowledge and land connection strong.
In 1975, Edison and Leatha demonstrated a commitment to keep the land for the people by lighting a sacred fire that they kept burning continuously for five years, until the Chiloquin Act was signed by President James Carter in early 1980, protecting in perpetuity the cultural integrity and ecology of these 580 acres of land. Leatha passed just before Carter signed in 1980. Honoring their long-term vision, the earth lodge will serve as a community gathering site for education, celebration, cultural revitalization, and healing from the lasting impacts of colonization and the Termination Era on aboriginal youth and families. To learn more about Edison’s legacy: www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/chiloquin_edison_1923_2003_/.
During the celebration Saturday, Chiloquin’s daughters (Laurel Robinson, Deanna Wilson) and grandchildren (Monica Super, Angie Wilson, Annie Wilson, Morning Joy Wilson, Newmie Wilson) honored 14 Lomakatsi staff and senior leadership who contributed to this project, from planning and administration, to peeling poles and earth lodge construction. Klamath elder Crayton Jackson honored tribal crew members for their leadership, peer support, and dedication to the project and their people. Pit River feather dancers offered traditional prayers and an honoring dance, and the community was invited to join in around the fire. Traditional singing and dancing continued after sundown with a dedication of the earth lodge as a dance lodge by Monica Super and tribal elder and culture bearer Tyler Barlow. The dance lodge will support the return of ceremonial dances as a coming-of-age ritual for young people, simultaneously revitalizing the songs, steps, traditional foods, cultural fire, and spiritual strength that protects and heals youth and community.
A total of 35 inter-tribal crew members were employed by Lomakatsi as part of the Plaikni Koke Ecocultural Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project, including more than a dozen members of Lomakatsi’s Tribal Youth Ecological Forestry Training Program who attended the event and were recognized for their integral roles in the ongoing work, which continues to facilitate ecosystem and ecocultural restoration on the ancestral lands of the Klamath people. The Tribal Ecological Forestry Crew’s work on this project has ranged from ecological thinning for fuels reduction, to earth lodge design and construction, to meadow restoration and the return of cultural fire and ecological prescribed burning.
Since work began in the fall 2021, the project—a partnership that includes the Edison Chiloquin Family Trust, Lomakatsi, and the U.S. Forest Service Fremont Winema National Forest—has employed dozens of local tribal members through Lomakatsi’s Tribal Ecological Forestry Training Program, designed to reduce fire and fuel hazards around the heart of the tribal community in Chiloquin and plaikni koke, the ancestral village site, to restore traditional earth lodges, ceremonial grounds, and the ecosystem. This project is supported by private philanthropic organizations, including the Roundhouse Foundation, Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Gray Family Foundation, and by Lomakatsi’s Tribal Ecosystem Fund through the Inter-Tribal Ecosystem Restoration Partnership.
We are most grateful to have been included in this celebration and for this partnership that supports ongoing forest restoration, prepares the land to receive beneficial cultural fire, restores habitat for wildlife, shares honor and respect for ancestral lands and people, and heals our communities through a collaborative, holistic approach to ecosystem restoration.