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Urban Native Education Alliance Youth Project 2: Winyan Voice

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.

Winyan Voice (Lakota for Women’s Voices)

Words and art by Jazell Jenkins, Lailani Norman, and Kayla Harstad

photo collage of Indigenous youth engaged in activities. in two of the photos, youth are engaged in drum circles, in others they are posing for group photos. There is lots of smiling.

To me, being a Native is taking a lead in the Native community, and giving back to it, incorporating Native traditions in your everyday life practices. It’s the little things that matter. It’s standing up for our people and working towards a better future for the next generations of Indians. The way you choose to represent yourself as an Urban Native and your people truly defines you as a Native at the core.

Some misperceptions about being an Urban Native that I have experienced were having to “look” Native. I was once told I didn’t look very Native without my “little” earrings. People just simply don’t understand there is no certain look to justify the fact that you’re Native. Advantages to being an Urban Native for me is being continually surrounded by supportive and caring people who heal me with their presence. It’s a blessing in my life to have the resources I’m offered and to share that with my family, who are proud Natives as well.

Jazell Jenkins

What makes me Indian is my culture, my traditions, and language. These are ways to keep pushing for my Indigenous people and that defines who I am. A misperception about being an Urban Indian is that some people have an expectation of what a “true Indian” is, and it puts a weight on Native people’s shoulders. I feel like there are some advantages to being an Urban Indian because compared to the Rez, opportunities are easier to come by. I feel like there is so much natural beauty around. I like acknowledging everything around me. I feel like an everyday Indian is me and my traditional lifestyle.

I chose these pictures because they represent unity, resilience, and togetherness. The traits in these pictures make up a big part of being Native and being ourselves. These pictures are representations of what most Indigenous youth don’t have the resources for, and they show how anything is possible when it comes to being an Indigenous community. I feel like these pictures show the connections in the happiness that we Indigenous people hold together, where all of us feel like one big family and are comfortable with each other. As Indigenous people, we like to laugh, we like to live, we like to find happiness in natural ways, and these pictures take part in showing that.

Lailani Norman

What makes me Indian is being able to represent myself as an Indigenous woman to the world—being prideful with myself and within my community about my culture. I can work on cultural values and teachings that my ancestors gave me. Oftentimes, the misperceptions of being an Urban Indian include being told we are less than, overlooked/forgotten about, and being told as a youth that we have high dropout rates. However, I would say some advantages we have are being able to strive and always preserve through the obstacles we are faced with. We continue to show triumph and resilience within our community and the world. We aren’t going anywhere, and to the people who continue to try to push us aside, we always figure out a way to break through and show everyone we are equal, and we are still here.

I would love for people to know I believe this art piece shows how strong our community is. We are filled with love and laughter with one another, and our connection is what makes us so strong.

Kayla Harstad

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.