Incorporating Indigenous Perspective at the Cottonwood School


The Cottonwood School recognizes that it is impossible to engage in place-based learning without acknowledging and learning from the people who have cared for this land since time immemorial. Centering Indigenous perspectives, histories, political nationhood, and experiences are an essential component of our program. Grant funding from the Gray Family Foundation has allowed us to build partnerships with individuals and organizations, supported Indigenous educators in our classrooms, and given us time and training to reimagine our curriculum. The Cottonwood community has grown stronger through deeper relationships and we look forward to continuing these partnerships while forging new ones as we move into the years ahead.



Beginning in 2019, The Cottonwood School worked to create an Indigenous studies program across the curriculum grades K-8. This program supports and builds on the Tribal History, Shared History state-wide curriculum with connections to additional texts and lessons, guest speakers, events, and fieldwork. Throughout the process we have engaged in meaningful professional development for our staff and have spent time establishing partnerships with individuals and organizations who uphold Indigenous histories and lifeways. This 9-minute video introduces our work.
We have also developed a presentation to go with the video that explains our process and experience in more detail. For questions about the presentation, please reach out to

Thank you!



Native Plant Professional Development at the Cottonwood School


21-2022 Indigenous Educator Advisory Group Members


Clifton and Christine Bruno


Christine and Clifton BrunoClifton and Christine Bruno have worked with schools, youth and family programs for over 25 years. Sharing Indigenous culture, art, history, ethnobotany, games, first foods and lifeways. The Bruno’s provideTraditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), for many environmental and educational projects in the Portland Metro Area; with professional consultation and on site education. They frequently work with the Native Gathering Garden at Thomas Cully Park and the Confluence Project. In 2003 the Brunos cofounded the Native American Parent Support in Portland, Oregon and then the National Indian Parent Information Center. Both provided training and information to those parenting Native American special needs children. The Brunos are Trainers of Positive Indian Parenting (National Indian Child Welfare Association), Expanding the Circle: Youth Transitioning (University of Minnesota), and Indigenous Games. Clifton is a Wasco Tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. A cultural presenter,Traditional Salmon Baker, and Men’s Talking Circle Facilitator. Christine’s heritage is Basque, Comanche and Irish. Degrees in Mental Health and Human Services and Social Work.


Heather Gurko


Heather GurkoCaring for Indigenous People is deeply rooted in Heather Gurko’s core. It is a mission-driven passion that includes a commitment to educate the wider community about the Indigenous history, cultures, and ecology of our shared landscape. Heather’s Tlingit name is Shá xat k’ei and she is an enrolled Citizen of the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and is Tlingit from her mother’s side and Dutch from her father’s side.

Over the past decade plus, Heather has been active in the Alaska Native Brotherhood, which she served as the first woman Grand President from 2019 -2021, in the organization’s 110-year history as an Indigenous Civil Rights organization. She has personally and professionally advocated for Indigenous Peoples to remove barriers in healthcare, housing, and education. Heather also serves on the board of the Portland All Nations Canoe Family, where she helps coordinate the organization’s cross-generational community building, cultural strengthening, and also serves to deepen our connection to the environment.

Heather attended Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska and then attained her BA in Management and Organizational Leadership at George Fox University. She is currently pursuing her MA in Indigenous Education at Arizona State University.


Karen Kitchen


Karen KitchenKaren Kitchen (Osage Nation) is a Prek-12 educator with three decades of service in Title VI Indian Education programs.  She is a proponent of STEAM engagement and Native Montessori preschools for Native youth.  Her TEK collaborations include Roots of Wisdom, Lenses on the Sky, and Celebrate Urban Birds. 


Karen is a member of the Power of 30 ICBOs through Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where she has been a researcher and advisor in two NSF funded projects: “Examining Contextual Factors to Improve Cultural Diversity in Informal Stem Programs” and the current project “Developing the Processes and Potential to Engage Historically Underrepresented Communities in Public Participation in STEM Research Through Authentic and Impactful Collaboration” also known as the Noise, People and Birds project.


Karen hosts Multnomah County Library’s Native Story Hour, a program to promote Native authors, illustrators and publishers, and engage children and their families through story and song. Karen enjoys performing tribally-specific songs to inspire and educate Native and non-Native audiences about Indigenous history, contemporary issues, and the diversity and beauty of American Indian music. Her duo, The Prarie Blossoms, recently released their first CD, “Till The Star Rises Here” and were thrilled to be featured performers at the grand opening of the First Americans Museum in OKC in September 2021.


Karen’s hobbies include gardening, fishing, kayaking, traveling, and riding her recumbent bike.


Gabe Sheoships


Gabe SheoshipsAn enrolled citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Gabe Sheoships is the Executive Director of the Friends of Tryon Creek, where he leads efforts for community building, environmental stewardship, and protection of the natural world. He has dedicated his life’s work to protecting Indigenous First Foods, encouraging healthy ecosystems, and empowering people to act as stewards of the land and water. He serves as board co-chair of Nesika Wilamut (formerly Willamette River Network), board president of the Tributaries Network, and board member of Center for Diversity and the Environment and Freshwaters Illustrated. As an adjunct professor at Portland State University, he instructs students in the Indigenous Nations Studies Program, Environmental Science and Management, and University Studies departments. Gabe has an MSc in Fisheries Biology from Oregon State University. Click here to learn more about Gabe.









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