Messages from Indigenous youth with eyes on the future will be featured at a Mother Earth Day celebration presented by Children of the Setting Sun Productions at Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park on April 22.
“Some will be talking about the Salish Sea, some will be talking about glaciers, some will be talking about food sustainability,” said event program manager Free Borsey. “We let the youth choose their own themes.”
For example, Borsey said, one of the speakers will be an eighth grade girl who’s been advocating for Southern Resident killer whales since she was 6 years old. Another speaker, a junior at Northwest Indian College living in Alaska, will talk about forests and the impact of climate change.
The talks on climate and environmental justice will follow a performance by the Lhaq’temish Singers, a Lummi song and dance group. The event will run from 4 to 6 p.m.
Children of the Setting Sun Productions (CSSP) is a local, nonprofit, arts organization focused on Coast Salish multimedia storytelling, performance arts and making accessible Indigenous peoples’ values, culture and history.
For CSSP, focusing on youth at this event is a way to look toward the future.
“As Indigenous peoples, we’re always emphasizing the importance of the next seven generations,” said Santana Rabang, assistant to CSSP executive director and founder Darrell Hillaire.
“We’re not only thinking about ourselves in this time, in this moment, but also the people that are going to come after us, the effects that we’re having with the salmon decline, climate change and everything that’s going to affect future generations,” Rabang said.
Rabang said this work is not only important for her community but the broader communities at-large and can hopefully inspire change.
Resources for action
Friday’s event also includes a resource fair with at least 16 environmentally centered organizations staffing booths to connect with the community and generate pledges, donations and commitments for environmental work.
Borsey said these organizations include White Swan Environmental, Western Washington University Sustainability Engagement Institute, Wild Whatcom, Whatcom Million Trees Project and others working for climate justice.
“I’m excited to see how people utilize the resource fair,” Borsey said; “how the organizations there interact with each other and maybe create relationships that will last a long time.”
Borsey said he doesn’t want people going to an event and leave thinking, “I want to do something but I don’t know how to do it.”
“That’s where this idea really stemmed from: people not having the chance to take action,” Borsey said.
Organizers have invited local elected officials in Whatcom County and Lummi Nation to the event, to listen to the speakers and engage with organizations to help climate remediation in the area.
Values and culture
This event is one of many projects CSSP has done to highlight Indigenous voices, culture and tradition as well as to champion environmental stewardship and the preservation of salmon.
CSSP’s work has led to youth development programs including creating a Youth Advisory Council to guide the organization in decisions about the future. The voices of youth expressing themselves are found in the podcast, “Young and Indigenous.”
Isabella James, one of four working on the podcast, said the podcast is about storytelling within the Lummi Nation community, mainly for people who don’t know about the Lummi reservation.
“It helps them learn about our culture, what we do in our daily lives and what we’ve learned growing up,” James said. “We interview elders and they tell us their stories or the things they’ve done within the community while they were growing up.”
In working on the podcast, James said she’s been able to connect with her community in ways she wasn’t able to before, discovering her ties to the culture, fishing families and learning about her grandparents. Systemic issues such as alcoholism on the reservation had prevented her from learning about her community’s way of life and she said she felt she had missed out.
“It’s really rich to know these things now,” James said.
Through the use of multiple media such as short films and the podcast, CSSP is working to connect the community and bridge oral tradition and knowledge between generations.
After working on the Salmon People Project, gathering stories from tribes and Indigenous communities all along the West Coast, the nonprofit is currently conducting a casting call for a series called the Canoe Journey.
“It follows the journey of a young adolescent group of teenagers who go on a canoe journey through the islands and discover who they are and deal with the problems you go through as a teenager,” Rabang said. “Navigating through childhood trauma, it really touches on a lot of Native issues such as missing, murdered Indigenous woman and alcoholism.”
— Reported by Clifford Heberden
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