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Urban Native Education Alliance Youth Project 1: Indistinct Nurture

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, stories, and projects connected to Seattle’s Indigenous community.

As part of our Native American Heritage Month series, we partnered with Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA), a Native-led and Indigenous founded non-profit based in Seattle. UNEA focuses on providing culturally responsive and relevant support through direct social, cultural, and educational services to Native youth and families. For this project, UNEA youth leadership were commissioned to create and share art pieces and photographs in celebration of Native Heritage Month. Each piece centers around the theme of “Everyday Urban Indians.” The youth leaders involved in this project are: Joseph Aleck (Tiao-o-qui-ant), Asia Gellein (Cherokee), Kayla Harstad (Turtle Mt. Chippewa), Jazell Jenkins (Aleut Tribe), Lailani Norman (Blackfeet), Mackenzie “Cat” Tetrick (Descendant/Otoe-Missouria Tribe), Gia Tran.

Indistinct Nurture

Words and art by Asia Gellien, Joseph Aleck, Gia Tran, Cat Tetrick

artwork featuring a hand drawn face at the center, superimposed on the image of a courtyard filled with green plants and trees. in each corner of the frame are hand drawn images of small faces.

Our work is titled Indistinct Nurture. There are different backgrounds of what we’ve collected for this and what we did in our own time and collective growth.

This piece is inspired by the National Art Gallery in Washington DC. In the museum, there are many paintings featuring historic European people, both notable of mythology and common folk. In the museum, there is just one Black woman. There are a number of poor/misrepresentations of Native peoples, one is a large painting by Albert Bierstadt titled “The Last of the Buffalo” 1888, which portrays a Native man spearing a buffalo among a field of buffalo skulls. This gives the idea that Native peoples were the ones to wipe them out in an unsustainable manner. This was the exact opposite to how many tribes lived off of the land. It was necessary to always take only what was needed and leave more for both the next collection/harvest as well as for the animals. Another painting in the National Art Gallery was titled “Indian Girl in White Blanket”. She was indeed wrapped all in white, almost capturing being surrounded by whiteness.

To counteract the historic paintings and images of Indigenous peoples from the White gaze, we created Indistinct Nurture. In this piece, Asia is surrounded by the medicine wheel and is in the center of the frame to encapsulate a modern representation of Urban Native youth and expression. The elements of nature in the background represent the relationship between us and the land. The small faces are our ancestors – we are surrounded by them at all times. The photo of greenery is a section of the art gallery in between the nooks of paintings – it was a beautiful place. We decided to go with an oval shape for Asia’s portrait to depict that Victorian style art, just remixed and modernized to be a reclamation of how Indigenous peoples are portrayed in historic art.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.