Art gifts

Highline Indigenous Voices Celebration features art, education and stories

by Patheresa Wells


The Highline Public Schools Indigenous Education Program will host a Celebration of Indigenous Voices on Saturday, November 27, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., highlighting and honoring the work of Indigenous land and water protectors and leaders of First Nations food sovereignty. The event will include screenings of two films, AWAKE: A Standing Rock Dream and TO ASSEMBLE, as well as discussions on issues of importance to indigenous communities – including the sacred work of water and land protectors – and Highline Native Education shares.

The Highline Indigenous Education Program is a legacy program established in 1974 with the passage of the Indian Education Act. The program was started as a way to meet the culturally related needs of Native American and Alaska Native students. Since its inception, the program has had its own history of growth, but in 2013 it was relaunched with, as program manager Sara Ortiz puts it, a desire to be “visionary in our approach to Indigenous or Indian education. … to include as many artists, as many custodians of culture, academics, alumni, media creators, [and] language teachers [as possible]. “

Students served by the program come from many tribal nations located here in Washington State and across the country, including Indigenous students from Canada. Ortiz says it allows them to benefit from “bringing together a lot of thinking, different practices, [and] different cultural traditions “in their offerings, whether it is a learning space, a celebration like the event planned for Saturday or” a family forum – a meeting where we bring our families, our students together. and our educators “.

Because education is so central to the program’s mission, facilitators say everyone is welcome, but in order to focus on supporting their community, the program centers have enrolled students and any Indigenous students who could. wish to participate, as well as the families of participating students.

The partnership between the Indigenous Education Program and the Highline Heritage Museum aims to center Indigenous voices while bringing their stories to the community. Ortiz says that with the passage of Senate Bill 5433, there has been a change in the language regarding the program Since time immemorial: tribal sovereignty in Washington state; instead of simply encouraging the program to be taught in common schools in Washington state, it is now mandatory.

“It was a huge change …” said Ortiz. “[D]Districts became more serious in teaching tribal stories, tribal sovereignty, tribal people, and we started to look for… multiple partners who might be able to help us in the process of implementation, internally and also externally, and Highline [Heritage Museum] was a perfect fit. She says the museum has “worked so hard to tell the stories of our community,” a process and partnership that involved reaching out “to our tribal partners, reaching out to tribal historians, elders, guardians of the culture that would come to be part of the conservation of the tribal peoples part of the museum.

The culture, history and traditions of tribal people are varied, although there are some commonalities. One of them is the work done by the indigenous protectors of land and water. This work, observes Ortiz, is part of the “traditions of many tribes where we – from time immemorial, before contact, the arrival of settlers – we were stewards, custodians of all our natural resources because that was our own. way of life. And the relationship to land and water is one that is taken actively, with great consideration. For example in the movie Awake, media creators like Myron Dewey integrate their stewardship as protectors of the earth and water through their art. The film, which captures the story of the indigenous-led mistrust in Standing Rock, shines a light on those Ortiz says some people might call protesters but his community refers to protectors. She says they “care for this relationship with our ecology, with each other, with our culture and with our community. And it’s about protection. It’s about protecting our ways of life, protecting our loved ones, and ensuring that the gifts we have of land and water – that they endure and that our children or grandchildren, great-grandchildren – children, continue to live in this reciprocal and responsible way as parents with our land and with our water.

This responsibility also extends to the means by which land and water provide livelihoods. TO ASSEMBLE, the second film to be screened, focuses on the growing movement among Indigenous peoples to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, which, according to the United States Food Sovereignty Alliance, is “the right of peoples to a healthy and culturally appropriate food produced by ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems.” Ties to indigenous peoples’ food sovereignty have waned as people struggled with the trauma of centuries of genocide. Ortiz says that in order to reconnect, Indigenous leaders, producers and teachers across the country and the world “are cultivating both Indigenous plants and medicines for survival purposes, but also cultivating understandings around the meanings. culture of… our traditional plants and our methods of gathering, hunting, harvesting and being on the land.

Centering and celebrating Indigenous voices is the goal of the event to be held on Saturday, November 27. As those who do the work to educate, protect and preserve these traditions and ways of life open up a learning space for all in the community, it is important to recognize how the alliance can center these voices.

Ortiz invites readers to come to the event (more information below) but notes that there are other ways to help achieve program goals, including educational research and artist support. indigenous.

“Every citizen of Washington State can truly invest in and deepen their own development [to] learn things most people haven’t learned in Kindergarten to Grade 12, college or graduate school, ”Ortiz said. “But this information is widely available now.”

Ortiz has offered a variety of resources (listed at the end of this article) that she encourages readers to explore in order to hear “a confluence of voices and perspectives from everything from tribal leaders and historians to leaders of the world. public education – those who… the world ensures that the histories, the cultural memory, the traditional practices of the tribes of this land, that they perpetuate, that they are protected and recognized. She cautions those looking to be allies not to just open their wallets, but to find other ways to provide support. Donating money is useful, but “there is so much other work…”, she said, “… to act and do this protection work which is in relation with the community, with the tribal chiefs, with the tribal people, and staying accountable to one another, keeping each other accountable when it comes to honoring… our relationship with one another.

Ortiz says a great way to honor that connection is to support Indigenous artists by building a relationship with the art they create. “It’s not just a way to make money. This is often how we feed our families, but it is also a way of passing on our culture and our traditional knowledge and practices to future generations.

Educational resources:

Indigenous artists:

More information about the event to be held on Saturday 27 November 2021 can be found on the Highline Native Education Facebook page. The event will have limited capacity and proof of vaccination is required. To confirm your attendance, send an email to [email protected]


Patheresa well is a poet, writer and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a black mother and a Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to defend and amplify her community. She is currently attending Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.

?? Featured Image: Ixtli Salinas-White Hawk performs the only ceremony Aztec culture is allowed to share with those outside the culture, during the fifth annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle, Washington on October 8, 2018. She is owned by Tloke Nahuake-tlayolohtli, a family group of traditional Aztec dance. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

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