Indigenous Artist Retreats

Designed by Native artists for Native artists.

Because it was unsafe to run trips and programming in-person this year, we have gone virtual, postponed, and redesigned our programming throughout 2020 and into 2021. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates.

Signal Fire’s Indigenous Artist Retreat aims to counter centuries of mistreatment, occupation, and erasure of Indigenous epistemologies and bodies from the landscape. By bringing Indigenous artists together in the backcountry, artists develop skills and confidence to harness their creative practices and gain networking and community building opportunities here in the state of Oregon and across the continent.

This residency model offers the benefits of time, healthy food and water, hiking, camping, gear, relaxation, shared ideas, and curated readings to all participants. These experiences are proven to be extremely beneficial for each of the artists and in return, they bring this experience, confidence, and passion back to their Tribal communities.

Recognizing an opportunity gap for Indigenous artists and cultural workers, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith designed the first Indigenous Artist Retreat in 2018. In 2019, Quiahuitl Villegas joined as Ka’ila’s co-conspirator and assistant trip guide.

Ka’ila Farrell-Smith and Quihuitl Villegas, leaders of the Indigenous Artist Retreats.

2020: Roots, Springs & Stars

September 12-20

Location: Klamath-Siskiyous Ecoregion / Klamath, Modoc, and Takelma territories

Meetup: Medford, OR

Application: due February 15, and by invitation

Guides: Ka’ila Farrell-Smith and Quiahuitl Villegas

Price: none. Due to our partnership with Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and support from Oregon Community Foundation, artists on this trip receive a stipend to support travel to and from the meetup location.

Activities: backpacking and base-camping

Level of Difficulty: moderate. This trip includes backpacking in a rugged and remote location. Our guides will teach backcountry skills from the ground up, and we welcome and encourage folks who have never been backpacking or camping to learn from us! Participants should have a level of physical health and ability that enables them to carry a 40-50 lb pack for an average of five miles each day. Guides will be available to offer training advice prior to the experience. 


In this, the third iteration of the Indigenous Artist Retreat, artists will share a backpacking trip in the Southern Oregon Cascades, the ancestral homelands of the Klamath, Modoc, and Takelma Nations. This creative Indigenous cohort will start the trip with a series of day hikes and site visits, getting comfortable with each other and our gear. We’ll enjoy one of Signal Fire’s community programs, Reading in Place, a hike that shares a reading and discussion on the trail. We’ll learn about restorative land projects at Vesper Meadows, in the heart of the Cascade-Siskiyous transition zone. We’ll day hike down to Giwaas (Crater Lake in Klamath), the deepest lake in North America. 
South of Giwaas are the immense trail systems, streams, and shallow mountain lakes nestled between majestic mountain peaks in the Southern Cascades. This trip focuses on the healing power of water and the ongoing cultural battles related to water rights in the Klamath Basin. Ka’ila and Quiahuitl will lead discussions and activities about decolonizing philosophies, the praxis of fugitive Indigeneity, dreaming cultures, and Indigenous Futurisms. Depending on weather, we will soak in the coldest and hottest of springs!

2019: White Pelican Pod

White Pelican Pod took eight Native American creatives/artists/activists on a seven-day backcountry trip across Southern Oregon. Participants visited Crater Lake, Summer Lake, and hiked extensively at Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge. Signal Fire partnered with Native Arts & Culture Foundation Mentorship program, Vesper Meadows, Southern Oregon Rising Tide, and PLAYA Artist Residency on the second version of this unique trip designed to connect Indigenous artists with sacred cultural sites and the natural beauty of Oregon’s backcountry.

2018: Stardust

We completed a week-long partnership residency with Native Arts and Culture Foundation apprentices following their year-long mentorship with a master Native artist.

Over the course of one week, We visited the Museum at Warm Springs where we took a private tour of the exhibits with Poet-Laureate of Oregon, Elizabeth Woody. We hiked the 6 mile Tam a Lau trail at the confluence of the Deschutes and Crooked River, which brought us to see ancient Indigenous petroglyphs and beautiful views overlooking the land and water. After the camping portion of our trip, we traveled to Caldera Artist Residency outside of Sisters, Oregon between Blue and Sutter Lakes in the Cascade mountain range. The artists spent 5 days working on their varying art forms, contemporary photography, quill and beadwork, fiber weaving, birch bark biting, canoe building, and carving, at Caldera. Coos-Coquille carver Shirod Younker joined the group at Caldera and led a model canoe carving workshop for the group of visiting artists. The trip ended with a crab feast dinner at Rochelle Kulei Nielson’s home, hosting the artists, Signal Fire supporters, and NACF staff for a celebratory gathering.

Indigenous Artist Retreats would not be possible without our foundation partners, thank you.