Creating Connection and Community at Chaku-Hayash Khapa Q’at Pi T’wax

Creating Connection and Community at Chaku-Hayash Khapa Q’at Pi T’wax

The most recent addition to the campus at the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) is an outdoor learning landscape called Chaku-Hayash Khapa Q’at Pi T’wax, a name in the Chinook language that translates to English as “Where We Grow in Love and Light.”

I visited recently on a warm Friday afternoon with the sun pouring through the indigenous Cottonwood trees and many people gathering in the shade. The learning landscape currently takes up a small portion of the campus at NAYA, an area approximately 100 x 100 feet. The rest of the NAYA campus takes up 10 acres in total and stretches from NE Columbia Boulevard in Portland all the way down to the Columbia Slough. About five acres are reserved for outdoor activities including community events, powwows, family exercise groups, and gardening. It also serves as a place for wildlife to thrive.

“When we purchased the land in 2007, it was a way of reclaiming it for Native purposes,” said Paul Lumley, NAYA’s executive director. “We surveyed the community and people wanted to use the land to express themselves culturally.”

The idea to use a portion of the land for the learning landscape started more recently and grew from the desire to create a community gathering space designed for everyone, from young children to elders in the NAYA community.  

Mick Rose, the culture, education, and wellness manager at NAYA described the effort as one that is building and strengthening community. “It’s an act of living in abundance, it’s sacred work,” Rose said. “We are part of a community and we are creating it with and for each other.”

Lumley said that Rose carried the dream for the learning landscape and holds the vision for how the five acres will eventually be used. That includes a children’s plank house, walking paths, patios, and a network of gardens growing traditional foods such as the Three Sisters, the combination of corn, beans, and squash which, when eaten together, create complete proteins.  

Rose said that the vision for the space doesn’t belong to one person, but rather belongs to the community. “We talked to the elders about it, and they really supported it. The community supported it. The work had really been planned for years, but people were afraid to take it on. The pandemic actually helped bring people together to get the work moving.”

Suzie Kuerschner from the Future Generations Collaborative (FGC) said the idea for the space started with a dream, and people are now making the dream come true. “We wanted to create a multigenerational place of nurture and exploration, a place where traditional knowledge could inform best practice and where cultural traditions are celebrated,” she said. FGC has been a long-time NAYA partner. The FGC Education Mode collaboratively designed and funded the project, which was, in turn, honored by the generosity of the hearts and hands of the people who embedded cultural values and reflected these elements through the carved, cedar canoe and traditional hammocks.

Lumley said that the space is more than a space for play, but a place kids and families can get in touch with the environment and the earth. “We often forget where food comes from. Here, people can learn how to grow their own food and do it themselves. Kids can learn that.”

The space also fosters the ability to explore and focus on historical resistance as opposed to historical trauma.

Monique Lopez, a community education worker at NAYA, said that understanding historical trauma is necessary, but focusing on historical strengths is more powerful. “I decided to stop generational trauma in my own life,” she said. “And this space is about empowering the next generation to find their traditional ways.”

Alberta Qamar, a parent-child support specialist at NAYA, described the importance of the concept of resistance in her Afro-Indigenous heritage. “Our ancestors fought and resisted, and they would have wanted this for us, wanted us to gather in this space, in this way, working to strengthen our culture and our families. NAYA helps create a space for that and has helped me reconnect with indigenous practices as part of my lineage.”

Rose added, “These kinds of spaces allow us to do that. They help so many to live a life of liberation.”

Inside the learning landscape, children can explore a multisensory environment. This teaches risk benefit instead of risk management, and that promotes internal control, self-governance and self-discipline.

Lumley said, “The environment itself is a manager of behavior, and it stimulates cognitive and motor development.”

“Indigenous people all over the world know the power of creating spaces like this,” Rose said. “Green spaces, places to explore, places to play. Kids need that. Adults need it, too.”

Kuerschner described Chaku-Hayash Khapa Q’at Pi T’wax as a project that tells a story of people and place. “It creates positive community momentum and pride,” she said. In many ways, the space is about creating and sustaining connections: keeping indigenous people connected to the environment and nature, keeping children, adults, and elders connected to each other and their heritage, and strengthening the relationship between indigenous traditions and learning.

On the day I visited, Lukas Angus was continuing the work of carving a canoe for the space, one that would work on the water if desired but would also be for children to play with and learn from. “A canoe this size was used historically to gather food. This one uses a Nez Perce shape and design,” Angus said. “This dugout style canoe was not especially elegant or seaworthy, but was used to harvest Wapato roots in the Columbia Slough.” Today, Wapato remains threatened by pollution and no longer grows in the Slough near the NAYA campus, but Angus would like to help it return.

“We learn from the land, we learn from the elders and from multiple generations,” Kuerschner said. “When we started work on the space, someone suggested we take the Cottonwood trees down to create room.” Laughing, she continued, “I said we can’t do that, they’re indigenous just like we are.”


Qamar’s son played in the gravel and built what looked like a small city with shells and stones. At one point he moved to the canoe, playing with the fresh shavings from Angus’s work. Her younger son slept in the hammock in the shade of the Cottonwood trees. Eyes closed, dreaming perhaps, he unknowingly represented the first generation to grow in this new space in love and light.

Momentum Builds for Early Childhood in Oregon, Federally: An Interview with Miriam Calderon

Momentum Builds for Early Childhood in Oregon, Federally: An Interview with Miriam Calderon

On this episode of The Early Link Podcast, host Rafael Otto talks with Miriam Calderon, the Early Learning System director at the Early Learning Division in Oregon’s Department of Education. Miriam has been a long time advocate for early childhood and is leaving Oregon for a new position in the Biden-Harris administration.


Miriam Calderon has been the Early Learning System director overseeing the Early Learning Division in Oregon for the last 4 years. Previously, Calderon has worked on policy at the BUILD initiative and served as a political appointee in the Obama administration. She also served as the director of Early Childhood Education at DC Public Schools, where she oversaw Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs, including helping to implement universal pre-kindergarten in DC.


Miriam discusses her role as Early Learning System director and the vision she has for Oregon’s early childhood system. She also shares the negative impact of undervaluing childcare providers  and describes the tension  that exists between access versus quality, when trying to solve problems in the early childhood field. Looking forward, Miriam explains how we can continue to build the early childhood education system to support children and their families, and the importance of making big, institutional changes over small, program adjustments. Finally, Miriam shares what she is hoping to accomplish at the federal level in her new role in the Biden-Harris administration.


Rafael Otto: [00:00:03] This is the Early Link Podcast. I’m Rafael Otto. As usual, you can catch us on the airwaves on 99.1 FM in Portland on Sundays at 4:30 PM or subscribe and listen, wherever you find your podcasts. Today, I’m talking with Miriam Calderon, who is the Early Learning System Director at the Early Learning Division in Oregon’s Department of Education and has been in that role since 2017. She has been a long time advocate for Early Childhood and has worked on policy at the BUILD initiative and in the Obama administration.
And soon she will be leaving Oregon for an exciting new role in the Biden-Harris administration. Miriam, you’ve been on the podcast before, welcome back. It’s great to have you here. How are you today?

Miriam Calderon: [00:00:45] Thank you, Rafael. I’m really happy to be back. I’m doing okay. It’s my last week at the Early Learning Division, my last week in this role, coming off of my last all staff meeting saying goodbye to many colleagues at ELD. So…

Rafael Otto: [00:00:59] A big week

Miriam Calderon: [00:01:01] It’s emotional. But yeah, a big week.

Rafael Otto: [00:01:03] And you don’t have any time, really. You’re starting.. you’re moving into your new role right away next week.

Miriam Calderon: [00:01:07] Yeah. Start Monday.

Rafael Otto: [00:01:09] Well, I appreciate you carving out some time in your schedule to talk with me today. It’s great to have you back on here. One of the questions that I wanted to ask you is just to kind of look back, if you think about the last four years, and thinking about the development of the Early Learning system in Oregon, and how has that changed and evolved since you started?

Miriam Calderon: [00:01:32] Yeah, that’s a great question, a big question. Um, I guess, I think back to when I was considering whether to take on this role of Early Learning System Director, I was really trying to figure out what was needed at the time from a leader. I consider these positions to be really important.

It’s an honor and a privilege to sit in the seat, to have this responsibility. It’s really important that you’re the right match at the right time. I think it’s about also timing. And, it’s not about, kind of, me necessarily having a job, right? I can go work at many places. It’s what I can contribute.. um, really the right fit for what’s needed kind of at this moment.

So I talked to a lot of folks, folks inside the governor’s office, the Early Learning Council, our chair at the time, particularly Sue Miller – spent a lot of time with her – folks inside the division, advocates… And I had a lot of the same questions, like “What’s the ideal candidate look like?” “What are you looking for in the next Early Learning System Director to bring?

For the full transcript, please download the pdf below.


Anti-Bias Education in Action

Anti-Bias Education in Action

In this episode of The Early Link Podcast, host Rafael Otto speaks with professor John Nimmo about the film he co-produced, Reflecting On Anti-Bias Education in Action: The Early Years. They are joined by one of the teachers featured in the film, Veronica Reynoso, who shares her insight on the value of anti-bias education. 


John Nimmo, EdD is Associate Professor, Early Childhood Education, in the College of Education at Portland State University. John is a co-producer of an international video documentary on children’s rights and also a 2021 film on anti-bias early education. He holds a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and was previously an early childhood and elementary teacher in his first home of Australia and in the United States.

Veronica Reynoso is an Early Childhood Educator and Mentor Teacher at Epiphany Early Learning Preschool in Seattle, Washington.  Life experience and her experiences at Epiphany Early Learning helped shape her strong commitment to anti-bias and anti-racist education with young children. She is featured in the film, Reflecting On Anti-Bias Education in Action: The Early Years.


John talks with Rafael and Veronica about the origins of the film and its intended audience. He also discusses why its important to have anti-bias education for young children even if it means  having hard conversations about disability, race, or gender. Additionally, as one of the teachers in the film, Veronica reflects on her experience, and shares her insight on how to incorporate anti-bias education in the classroom.  


Rafael Otto: [00:00:06] Welcome to the Early Link Podcast. I’m your host, Rafael Otto. As usual, you can catch us on the airwaves on 99.1 FM and Portland on Sundays at 4:30 PM. Or subscribe and listen, wherever you find your podcasts. Today, I’m speaking with John Nimmo, associate professor of Early Childhood Education at Portland State University, and one of the producers of a new short film called Reflecting on Anti-Bias Education in Action: The Early Years. I’m also speaking with Veronica Reynoso, who is a teacher featured in the film. She currently teaches preschool in Seattle, Washington. Veronica and John, great to have you on the podcast today.

Thanks for joining me.

John Nimmo: [00:00:42] Very excited, Rafael, to be here to share our film.

Veronica Reynoso: [00:00:46] Yeah, excited to share more about anti-bias education. Thanks for having us.

Rafael Otto: [00:00:50] Absolutely. So the film is a… it’s a short piece. It’s a 50-minute film. It just released last week, April 1st. John, my sources tell me that the last anti-biased education film was produced in 1989. Is that right?

John Nimmo: [00:01:05] Yep. Either 1989 or 1988 but about then. Our colleague, Louise Derman-Sparks, who’s pretty well known internationally for the anti-bias education approach, was the creator of that film. And, uh, you know, it was about 30 minutes. You can still find it on the web and it’s sort of indicative of the time of video and sort of the colors getting washed out…

Rafael Otto: [00:01:27] A grainy old video on YouTube somewhere?

John Nimmo: [00:01:29] Uh, yeah, somewhere there, but it had an incredible impact at that time. Really what it was doing was introducing this idea, this approach of anti-bias, (what it was called curriculum then, now education) to the world. It was exactly the same time that they released the first book Anti-Bias Curriculum, which is one of the biggest sellers that NAEYC has.

I think we’re talking about a million copies. They just recently released a… sort of the third version of that book. So it really had the job of introducing this idea to the world and as an alternative to the idea of multiculturalism, which had become a little bit washed out and meaningless as a term at that time.

Rafael Otto: [00:02:09] Talk about the impact from that film. How did it inspire you to make the one that you just released last week?

John Nimmo: [00:02:15] Well, my colleague and I, Debbie LeeKeenan, had been doing a lot of workshops working together over the years. And of course we were constantly asked, “What does this look like in practice?” Because people want to see, not just hear. And she had talked a little bit about wanting another film because we had both used this film, but it was of course getting pretty old and dated. There are maybe one or two other films, again, pretty dated, maybe 20 years or more ago that existed. But otherwise there really wasn’t anything other than the more generic professional development films, which were mostly talking heads – you know, experts talking over images of children – but no real action from the classroom.

So it really came out of a need for teachers to be able to get some sense of what does this really look like in the classroom? So that film had an impact on us of sort of introducing us to the ideas, but really a lot of the scenes in it were, um.. some of them were real and some of them were staged. Again, probably more talking heads than we would have liked because it was more of a training film, but we wanted something that was more provocative and would engage people in conversation rather than the typical, training/professional development film.

Rafael Otto: [00:03:33] Yeah, that’s something that I appreciated about the film. It was…  we’re really seeing what it’s like in the classroom, hearing the kids participate, hearing what it’s like for teachers who are working with children. A very hands-on, practical tool it seems like to me.

Veronica, what was it like to be in the film and participate in the filming process?

Veronica Reynoso: [00:03:52] It was a incredible opportunity to really showcase something that I feel strongly about like, I think everybody should be teaching anti-bias, anti-racist education in their classrooms because these are ideas and theories that children are building from the very beginning, even before they enter my classroom.

So being a part of it was an honor. Especially because I saw the 1989 version in college and I remember sitting in my classroom and even then, which that was 2009, I remember sort of raising my eyebrow and being like, “Hmm. Some of these ideas feel a little outdated right now..” So it was really great to be a part of this project that I had seen in college and to show that this work is continuing, that it’s ever evolving. And I hope that there continues to be more work around it. And that there’s another one in a year, two years, three years because children and each generation that comes, like I tell the children in the classroom everyday, you are teachers too.

You’re teaching me the same way that I am here to teach you. So yeah, it was really exciting to be a part of the project.

For the full transcript, please download the pdf below.


Empowering Community Members in Yoncalla Gets Results

Empowering Community Members in Yoncalla Gets Results

On this episode of The Early Link Podcast, host Rafael Otto talks with Brian Berry, the superintendent at the Yoncalla School District, about how the district is empowering community members to become local educators, and shares the ways in which this strategy is paying off. 


Brian Berry has been the Superintendent of Yoncalla School District for almost four years and an educator in the district for over 20. He started as a special education teacher at Yoncalla high school and eventually took over as high school principal in 2003. Eight years later, he was offered the position of district superintendent. 


Brian discusses the “grow your own” strategy that the Yoncalla school district has adopted in order to help community members with an interest in education become local teachers. He shares a few stories about parents who have become  instructional assistants and, through utilizing district resources and trainings,  have moved on with the goal of getting their bachelor’s degree so they can continue to teach in their community. Finally, Brian lays out the benefits of the “grow your own” strategy and describes how this strategy meets the needs of the district, the students, and the Yoncalla community.


Rafael Otto: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Early Link Podcast. I’m your host, Rafael Otto. As usual, you can catch us on the air on 99.1 FM in Portland on Sundays at 4:30 PM or subscribe and listen wherever you find your podcasts. Today, I’m speaking with Brian Berry, the superintendent at the Yoncalla school district. Yoncalla is part of our Early Works Initiative, a partnership that includes Children’s Institute and the Ford Family Foundation, and many other partners.

We’ll hear some of the things that the district is doing to support local talent in Yoncalla and help community members teach in the district. A grow-your-own strategy that is getting results. Brian, welcome to the podcast.

Brian Berry: [00:00:40] Thank you very much!

Rafael Otto: [00:00:41] I know it’s your spring break. I appreciate you taking some time when you’re supposed to have a little bit of downtime.

Give us an overview of the Yoncalla school district, if you can. What does someone who’s not familiar with Yoncalla need to know?

Brian Berry: [00:00:56] Well Yoncalla is a small rural community in Douglas County, actually Northern Douglas County. We have approximately 300 students and that’s preschool through 12th grade. A farming community, a very conservative community. They have rural conservative values, and it’s an absolutely awesome place to work.

Rafael Otto: [00:01:19] You’ve been in the district for quite a while, but you started as superintendent four years ago, yes?

Brian Berry: [00:01:25] Yes. I actually started teaching there in ‘96, then principal at the high school/middle schools since 2003. And then, yeah, this is my fourth year as superintendent.

Rafael Otto: [00:01:36] Tell me what that shift was like, moving from principal role over to the superintendent role?

Brian Berry: [00:01:43] Wow. That was quite the learning curve for me actually. At the time, I was in my own little building at the high school and my job was to make sure that kids graduated, really. So we would do anything legal to make sure kids got to graduation and really to set them up for any post-secondary opportunities that they were interested in.

I was in that position for a long time. Loved working with the kids at the high school and the middle school levels, and just really used to working with the parents and the community. And I believe I’ve earned their trust through all that hard work. You know, you’re always part of football games, volleyball games, basketball games, so the parents get to know you really, really well. And then our superintendent decided to retire, Jan Zarate, and she had been there for a few years and she asked me if I wanted to step in because she thought I was the person to lead the work forward. I was very apprehensive because I was very comfortable at the high school.

But then I thought to myself, you know what? I think I can learn, and I think I can grow and become an even better person and teacher moving forward. So I took on the challenge and it has been an incredible ride learning about preschool, working with Children’s Institute, Portland State University,  Family Foundation, and just helping me move forward and growing as a person and moving the community forward.

For the full transcript, please download the pdf below.


Chief Executive Officer Search

Chief Executive Officer Search

CI seeks a visionary, entrepreneurial, and collaborative leader to serve as its next Chief Executive Officer.

Koya Partners, the executive search firm that specializes in mission-driven search, has been exclusively retained for this engagement. Michelle Bonoan and Medelene Beasley are leading this search. To make recommendations or to express your interest in this role please visit this link or email All nominations, inquiries, and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

The starting annual base salary for this role is $180,000 with a competitive benefits package.

The complete position profile is available below and available for direct download.

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