When Eighth Generation became the first Native-owned company to offer wool blankets, we pledged to give back 5% of profit from our retail blanket sales to community through the "Inspired Natives Award." This year, we are honored to recognize Shirod Younker (Coquille/Miluk Coos/Umpqua), an artist and educator who has committed to perpetuating the artwork of his people and supporting others to do the same. He'll be receiving his award at the Evergreen Longhouse's Fall Community Dinner on November 9th.
Shirod at the Tears of Duk'Wibahl: Exploration of Customary and Contemporary Indigenous Arts at Evergreen State College
Shirod grew up canoeing, crabbing, clamming, and fishing the waters of the South Slough in Coos Bay, Oregon, where his tribe's old village used to be. This is where his grandmother (and other Coos Indians) had their Indian allotments and where the bones of his great grandmother (and a few others) are still located. Though he has since relocated to Portland, he continues to paddle tribal canoes with his immediate family, as well as his canoe families throughout Oregon, saying, "It helps bring our tribal communities together and recognize old ancestral kinship ties."
Shirod joking around with carving students while touching up a paddle for his brother
"Shirod's broad-based work in the arts - from making art to teaching it to other forms of community engagement - shows that he's a true steward of the art forms he practices. He's exactly the kind of artist we want to support," said Louie Gong (Nooksack), founder of Eighth Generation. "In fact, we like him so much that we made some socks, too!" Take a look at the awesome new socks below! Gong also hinted that a new blanket may be ready before the holiday season.
For Shirod, his work with art is also deeply intertwined with community engagement and education. For the last fourteen years, he's been managing the "Journeys In Creativity: Explorations in Native American Art" program at the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland. He says, "The idea of the program is to help young tribal artists see their potential, as well as to help them identify and perpetuate the artwork of their ancestors. It's the nation's only Artist in Residency for Indigenous teens ages 15-19, and it's been free to all participants so far." In addition to this work, Shirod teaches art workshops to tribal organizations and education programs across Oregon, and collaborates with other cultural artists and carvers based in Oregon and southwestern Washington through the Wakanim Artist Collaborative Collective he is a part of.
Shirod at the Journey's In Creativity: Explorations in Native American Art program Art show, introducing the Indigenous Teen Residency artists to viewers and parents at Oregon College of Art and Craft
Shirod's favorite piece of art he's made is "Wah Thleet Tau" garden sculpture in collaboration with Chinook artist Tony Johnson, in which Shirod describes was "made specifically made for the ancestors whose bones still live underneath Old Town Bandon."
The sculpture's name in "Miluk" translates to "Gifts for the Dead" and is a reference to those mementos we leave at the graves of loved ones. The wooden sculpture's purpose is decay so that it can travel to the other side to the ancestors and pays tribute to the people who came before.
Shirod helps teach an Indigenous student how to make a canoe paddle at
Oregon College of Art and Craft
For Shirod, the most important thing for people to know about the indigenous people of the Portland area is that there are still people whose ancestors are from here. Portland concrete sits on old villages sites and bones of the first people, and he believes one should incorporate these values in their daily lives.
Shirod stands next to a laser cut door from the Oregon State University Native American Longhouse, which was a collaboration with Tony Johnson (Chinook)
Shirod finds the concept and execution of Eighth Generation's mission admirable. He hopes that other companies that work for or produce items for Native Americans will learn from the model saying, "I hope they can and will be expected to 'ask' what we want as opposed to just telling us what they think we need."
Shirod shows basic knife and adze skills making canoe models in a Signal Fire Residency workshop at Camp Caldera with Indigenous artists from across the country
One of Shirod's favorite images of his artwork is pictured below, which was made for an annual canoe race to help promote canoe culture in Oregon. Through this piece, he played with the foreign concept that indigenous people were the first "Kings" & "Queens" of this land.
As described by Shirod, the Dene' (SW OR Athabascan) is holding a
huckleberry (Kahss) leaf and berry in his hand while the Coosan is holding a root dagger and basket with roots. Instead of a heart or diamond, Shirod put a "King" salmon under the"K" and an illustration of camas (Camassia Quamash) under the "Q."