Protecting First Foods, Navigating Two Cultures

Keyen Singer balances studies and tribal traditions as Miss Indigenous UO

Video by Dusty Whitaker July 3, 2024

Traditional or “first foods” are the plants and animals that sustained the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation for thousands of years: water, fish, game, roots, and berries.

For University of Oregon sophomore Keyen Singer, protecting those foods is protecting the culture of her people.

Singer is well positioned for this goal. As Miss Indigenous UO, Singer raises awareness about the importance of first foods to Native peoples and environmental risks such as dams that harm salmon. And as an environmental studies major, she’s examining the same issues and how to solve them.

In a new Oregon Quarterly video, Singer explores questions of identity, education, and tradition with Native American peers Yazzie Chee and Megan Van Pelt, both 2024 graduates.

“Sometimes traditional does mean engaging in old ways,” Singer says. “To me, it’s not that old. It’s just who we are.” 

Dusty Whitaker is a videographer/photographer for University Communications.