Oregon Artists Respond to Pandemic with Wool Blanket

The coronavirus pandemic may have delayed Eighth Generation's plans to open a beautiful new brick and mortar store in downtown Portland, but it can't stop the Native-owned company, which recently made headlines for donating over 10,000 face masks to local clinics, from sharing some timely "good medicine" with the region.

The Seattle-based business, which is owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe, has teamed up with Portland-area artist Shirod Younker (Coquille/Miluk Coos/Umpqua) and Tony A. Johnson (Clatsop/Wahkikum/Lower Chinook), current tribal Chairman of the Chinook Tribe and former longtime resident of Oregon, on a stunning new blanket design titled, "Oregon Potlatch." The blanket is the 52nd Native-designed blanket created by Eighth Generation, whose tagline is, "Inspired Natives, not 'Native-inspired.'"

Oregon based artists Shirod Younker (left) and Tony A. Johnson.

According to Louie Gong (Nooksack), Eighth Generation Founder and CEO, Eighth Generation intends to approach their work in Oregon with the same ethical considerations that have earned them national recognition as the gold standard for companies working with Native aesthetics and Native stories. "The blanket carries our goodwill toward the tribal communities and artists in the region where we plan to do business,” he said. “We hope it kicks off ongoing conversations with local tribal nations.”

“It has been exciting to watch Louie and Eighth Generation grow as a Native-owned business,” shared Cheryle A. Kennedy, Chairwoman of the Grand Ronde Tribe. “Their dedication to working with Native artists is making real, Native artwork available to everyone in a culturally appropriate way. It is an honor to support them in this effort.”

The art development process started more than a year ago, when Eighth Generation Founder and CEO, Louie Gong (Nooksack), approached Shirod Younker, who was a recipient of the company's annual Inspired Natives Award and previously designed a pair of socks with Eighth Generation. After initial discussion, it became clear that a past art commission created in partnership with Tony A. Johnson would provide a strong basis for a blanket that demonstrated respect for the indigenous people of Oregon. 


The two artists, both of whom have decades of experience in art and collaborative projects, then worked closely with Eighth Generation's design team to adapt the original design for a blanket. 

Eighth Generation's new "Oregon Potlatch" Wool Blanket, featuring 10 designs that represent all people who live in the land that is now called "Oregon."

The resulting design pictured here, features nine different basketry designs representing each of the federally recognized tribes of Oregon. A 10th design – a human figure from a regional basket from the Columbia River – was added to represent all other Oregon tribes, past and present, those indigenous people who were relocated to Oregon as well as people who are not affiliated with any tribe. Together, the designs represent all people who live in the land that is now called "Oregon." 

According to the Artists, the "Oregon Potlatch" blanket represents the wealth of the land and people who live/lived there, as well as the ability to work together even though everyone is different. In celebrating the connections between all people of Oregon, the team created a blanket with a timely message:

There's comfort and protection in unity. By being stewards of our relationships, the connections will bind us even more tightly – preparing us for challenges in centuries to come.

This idea resonated with Eighth Generation, whose business model is based on partnerships and community engagement. "We intended to unveil this design at the grand opening of our Portland store, but the message about unity and collaboration is needed right now," Gong said.

Johnson and Younker both had a good experience working on the project. Younker said, 

"I feel honored to work with people who understand the ancestral lessons and values that influence the designs, and who want to help me share them through a blanket."  

His sentiment was echoed by Johnson.  

"It has been a pleasure. They are truly Inspired Natives working with Inspired Natives for the benefit of our traditional art forms and the success of individual artists."  

The wool blanket is now available on Eighth Generation's website for $212.

About Eighth Generation
Eighth Generation, owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe, is America’s foremost Native American-owned art and lifestyle brand – the most prominent platform for real Inspired Native artists – in a market dominated by large corporations that hire non-Natives to misappropriate Tribal art.

What is a Potlatch?
Potlatch is a term applied to ceremonies, comprised of songs, dances, feasts, and gift giving, that were celebrated by groups all along the Northwest Coast. While it may be organized and carried out differently by different culture groups, "the potlatch universally was a ritual of recognition, a public validation of rank accomplished by the ceremonial distribution of wealth" (Blackman et al. 1981:30). The reasons for holding a potlatch varied among the cultures, however, significant events, such as marriages, funerals, and transfers of rank or names on to one's children, were all potential reasons for hosting a potlatch. (Burkemuseum.org)