Atfalati, artifacts go hands-on in pair of museum programs

If you’ve ever wondered what life was like for the first people who called the Tualatin Valley home, now’s your chance to find out, thanks to this month’s programs at the Washington County Museum.

“The Kalapuya was the tribe that lived up and down the Willamette Valley, and in this particular area was the Atfalati band,” explained Beth Dehn, curator of education and folklife at the Washington County Museum in Hillsboro.

“Another word that you’ve probably heard is Tualatin — Tuality, Atfalati ... they’re more or less synonymous.”

The museum offers two events to give different age ranges the chance to see, touch and experience what it was like to live in Washington County 8,000 years ago.

For children ages 8-12, there’s an hour-long program at the museum on Wednesday, Aug. 21. Kids can practice using a mortar and pestle and a camas digging stick; discover the difference between a pictograph and a petroglyph; and get the chance to touch furs, stone tools, reed mats and other artifacts.

They’ll play a traditional stick game — “a very typical thing that a kid would have done at that time,” Dehn said — and after completing a craft, they’ll even have a piece of Native American history to take home with them.

The kids’ program is free with museum admission.

For grownups, there’s also a free presentation open to the public at Cornell Estates on Friday, Aug. 30. This more adult-oriented and in-depth discussion is part of the “Mobile Museum” outreach program.

“We use the same kit [of artifacts], but I have a PowerPoint, and we talk a bit more about tribal history as well — the reservations and how that affected things — so it’s adult-level content,” Dehn explained. “But it’s still stuff that we didn’t learn in school, so we’re using the same artifacts and furs and talking about the same basic ideas.”

Although the end-of-month lecture is more adult-focused, kids aren’t the only ones who get to handle Atfalati artifacts or try their hand at a traditional game. Both events offer audiences a hands-on chance to explore how the Atfalati dressed, their customs, what they ate — and more.

“I think it’s a really cool way to consider the very first people who lived in Washington County: what life was like here 8,000 years ago, the fact that there was life here 8,000 years ago, and [that it was] a very advanced culture,” said Dehn.

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