Darkfeather Ancheta, Eckos Chartraw-Ancheta, and Bibiana Ancheta, Tulalip, Washington

Darkfeather Ancheta, is pictured with her sister and nephew at the edge of Tulalip Bay. They are wearing the traditional regalia that was prepared for their annual Canoe Journey. Every year, upward of 100 U.S. tribes, Canadian First Nations and New Zealand canoe families will make “the journey” by pulling their canoes to a rotating host destination tribe. Canoe families pull for weeks, and upon landing, there will be several days and nights of “protocol”: a celebration of shared traditional knowledge, ancestral songs, and sacred dances. This celebration has been incredibly important to Darkfeather, she says, “It didn’t change me. It raised me. It shaped me. It’s just who we are, and where we come from...it revitalizes our cultural ways. There are so many teachings that go along with the relationship with the canoe. We take care of the canoe and it takes care of us. When we’re on the water, we all have to pull together. Everything is smoother when we all work together. The teachings that the elders gave to us- like, respecting ourselves, respecting each other, respecting other people’s songs, their dances, and their teachings- -they teach us how to walk in the world. And the music and songs are so powerful. It’s all so beautiful. It touches you down into your soul. It helps you get through hard times, both in the water and in life”.

Anthony “Thosh” Collins, Onk Akimel O’odham, Arizona

Thosh is a photographer and strong advocate for indigenous wellness—as a trainer for the Native Wellness Institute, leader of traditional revitalizations of ceremony, and the co-founder of #WellForCulture, a hybridized indigenous wellness movement. He is from Onk Akimel O’odham, which translates to “the salt river people.” He describes the complex relationship with the river: “The water was taken out of our possession in the late 1800’s. Now we don’t have anything. We are the descendents of the ‘Onk Akimel O’odham’- the river people. What do we think about calling ourselves ‘river people’ even though we can no longer access the river for sustenance? Even though we don't expect people to return to the economies and ways of life in the past, we do hope that we can acknowledge, respect and take pride in the physical strength and healthy lifestyles that our people maintained for thousands of years. It is important to adapt as many of these practices as we can, to recognize where we can learn from some of these ways, and to commit to challenging ourselves further in our contemporary lives, even though we now live with a lot of comforts that prevent us from being healthy. Our people’s ancestors were strong - remember that. That is the legacy we come from.” - Thosh Collins

Juanita Toledo, Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico

Calling Walwatoa (Jemez Pubelo), New Mexico home, Juanita is a community wellness advocate and works for her tribe’s community wellness program. She lives on her tribal lands, and feels grateful for the opportunity to serve her people. Born in Washington, DC while her mother was working for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Juanita moved back to her community when she was young. Her mother "wanted my brother and I to know the language and the culture, and that's a big part of why I continue to reside on the reservation, because growing up it's become a big part of who I am and my identity as a human being. Even though I'm mixed, I'm half Indigenous and half african american, I tend to identify more with the indigenous side, only because I grew up on the reservation. Culture and family is why I'm here, and my mom is a big reason also, and that attachment to family and land is why I'm still here on the rez. I'm a rez kid at heart."

Sharlyce and Jennie Parker, Northern Cheyenne, Montana

Jennie Parker is a Northern Cheyenne elder, and the last living child of a Ft. Robinson breakout survivor. In 1879 a band of Cheyenne were imprisoned at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and on a cold winter night prisoners overpowered the guards and broke free of the prison. Many were killed in the attempt, and others were hunted like animals as they attempted to escape. However, a small group, including Jennie’s father, managed to travel on foot over 400 miles back to their homelands in Montana. This journey is commemorated every year with a reenactment run of youth from the community, who travel the same path as their ancestors. Jennie is always included in the ceremony, and able to tell the living history of the event. She also speaks out about stroke awareness for Native elders, and believes that prayer and the support of her granddaughter Sharlyce, pictured with her, is what helped her heal. “On January 19th I had a stroke. I was totally paralyzed on my left side. I was in the hospital for about three months. And then I was in rehab for thirty five days and when I came home I had to go to physical therapy to learn how to talk again. My hands are only at 75%. They told me not to do any sewing, but I started sewing again anyway . . . But it was through prayer. Prayer is what brought me back to where I am now. And Sharlyce, she said, ‘Grandma, I’m going to move in with you, I’m going to take care of you.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’ll have to pray with me.’ And she said, ‘I will.’ And she really encouraged me. We’d walk a mile every day on our land. If it wasn’t for her and my strong belief, I think I would have given up a long time ago.”

Bahazhoni Tso, Navajo Nation, New Mexico

Bahazhoni (Navajo) is sitting in front of the Holy San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, Arizona. The peaks are part of the Navajo people’s four sacred mountains. With elevations topping 12,000 feet, the peaks are, quite literally, the place where earth meets heaven, and at least thirteen additional tribes also consider them sacred. Bahazhoni sat with her family in peaceful protest to protect the sacred mountain as the City of Flagstaff proposed to use reclaimed water to create man made snow for a ski resort on the mountain, an act that many Navajos feel desecrates their sacred space.

Starflower Montoya, Digueno (Barona) and Taos Pueblo, California

Starflower was raised in Barona, a Digueno village in Southern California, but she is also Taos Pueblo. Although she feels deeply connected to her Digueno roots, she chose to be photographed in her traditional Taos Manta because of her deep respect for the religious practices of her Pueblo ancestors. Every year she participates in the pilgrimage to the Taos Pueblo people’s most sacred shrine, known as Blue Lake, a beautiful glacier lake located 12,000 feet above sea level. Blue Lake offers more than water and nourishment, it is central to the cultural and spiritual beliefs of the Taos Pueblo people. Starflower expresses that she is “honored to have the opportunity to visit Blue Lake,” as it has been a long-thwarted battle to maintain access to their sacred site. For twelve thousand years the Taos Pueblo people made annual pilgrimages to blue lake. Then in 1906, without warning the Taos Forest Reserve stripped the tribe of their aboriginal title and designated Blue Lake a “multiple-use” area for recreation, grazing, and extraction of natural resources, devastating Taos Pueblo people. In an effort at reconciliation, the Pueblo Lands Act of 1924 awarded the tribe monetary compensation to settle the land dispute, but the tribe continued to press its ancestral right to the area. With continued organizing from Taos Pueblo, the U.S. offered permits for land access in 1933, and finally in 1951 admitted that the land was taken unjustly, but still only offered monetary compensation rather than return of the land. Taos Pueblo continued their campaign, recruiting support from other tribes and the non-Indian public for effective new legislation. The Blue Lake Bill was signed in 1970 by Richard Nixon, returning Blue Lake to the tribe. This was the first Indian activism and legislative campaign that succeeded in returning ancestral land to Native Americans, setting a precedent for self-determination for all American Indian people.

Rosebud Quintana, Northern Ute and Dine

"In school, the chapters on Native American histories are mostly lies, or are just about the wars. It's only one perspective. But when you're at home you have your parents and grandparents who tell you the stories that were passed down. Then you have the whole picture and can choose your side."

Michael Frank, Miccosukee, Florida

Michael Frank of Miccosukee, the Everglades, Florida, is a seer and guardian of his people and their natural home who in early life and now as an elder has been unshakably devoted to this extraordinary ancestral territory. In his childhood in the Everglades, Frank’s family and community enjoyed plentiful fish and hunted for deer, bear, and alligator. Now widespread toxic mercury levels in the Everglades prevent the tribe from fishing, compromising this crucial aspect of the culture along with many others, because of the overall wounded condition of their homeland. Frank shares his unfailing commitment to protect, restore, and celebrate the Everglades in face of such challenges: “All our land is sacred . . . Respect our sovereignty, respect our home, respect our tradition. We know they will destroy our home if we walk and talk like the rest of the world.” - Michael Frank

Daygotleeyos “She Has Nice Eyes”, Wolf Clan, Oneida, New York

Daygotleeyos is a musician, born and raised on Oneida lands in upstate New York. She uses her music to tell the stories of her people, and of the activism and work going on in Indian Country more broadly. She believes that music has the power to “speak to people at a level- I speak right to their heart. The language. The frequency. The feeling. Everything that I am transmitting is an expression of places that I don’t even realize. Pieces of myself that I don’t even see until I bring light to them. That’s the way art works. It exposes dark places within us. And so it’s an inspiration and it’s a gift and I want to be able to share it and speak to people. Luckily I have been given the tools I need and now it’s just doing it.” She also believes that connections between Native people are being severed by classifications of blood quantum (“percentage” of Native blood), “traditional” versus not, and other categories that come from outside Native communities: “We have all lost a lot of our Native ways . . . That whole blood quantum thing just segregates our people. I really do not like it when people say, ‘I’m traditional’ because even if you go to church there can still be Native values that are being upheld. No matter how many times you go to the Longhouse, chances are there are some very, very colonized ways of thinking that you are carrying on. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. It’s just not right to judge one another. Especially about what you know, how much language you know. We’re all in this together. We’ve all lost in this together... No matter what it is, no matter where a person is, what they are trying to do to recover what they’ve lost—no one is more Native than another person.”

Dr. Mary Evelyn Belgarde, Pueblo of Isleta and Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico

Dr. Mary Evelyn Belgarde is a retired professor of Indian education from the University of New Mexico. She has collaborated in establishing several charter schools focused on indigenous education. She has raised funds to support thousands of Native students. She is very passionate about training culturally competent teachers to work within indigenous communities. She is well-versed in the history of boarding schools and governmentally-engineered education systems of assimilation. During our conversation, she asked, “When are we going to stop asking our children to choose between cultural education and western education? I think we are ready to stop the assimilation process. The time to change is now.” - Mary Evelyn Belgarde

Chief Bill James, Lummi Nation, Washington

Chief Bill James of Lummi Nation is pictured at the sacred site xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) in the northwest corner of Washington State. He is standing in opposition to the Army Corps of Engineers who are proposing to build an international coal export terminal at this site. As Chief James explains: “The elders said ‘I want you to protect this here, this is the home of the ancient ones - not just the old people, but the ancient ones lived here. This is where our people come from and this is why, today, I believe in protecting this territory, because the spirits are always with us. People don’t believe in the spirits of the ancestors but it is real. They are still with us—guiding us and showing us the way. If we forget who we are as a people—we are going to be just like everybody else.” If built, the coal terminal would cause vast ecological devastation, including continuous massive release of toxic waste and chemicals. Its presence will severely pollute the environment of the Lummi’s sacred burial grounds and traditional fishing sites that remain central to their nation’s well-being and to that of the many other peoples of the Coast Salish Sea.

John Keikiala A'ana, Kanaka Maoli-Independent Nation of Hawaii

John is pictured on the west side of Kauai’i at his kalo (taro) farm that has been in his family for several generations. To John and other Kanaka Maoli’s, kalo is of supreme importance - defined in the Kumulipo, or Hawaiian Creation Chant, as the plant from which Hawaiians were formed. According to Indian Country Today: “The Kumulipo, Papa (Earth Mother) and Wakea (Sky Father) gave birth to Ho’ohokukalani, who became the most beautiful woman of all time. When she grew to adulthood, she became pregnant and gave birth to a child who was named Haloa-naka (ha= breath,loa= long,ka= quivering). Haloa-naka, stillborn, was placed in the Earth. From the ground in which Haloa-naka was buried grew, with a long stem and leaf that quivers in the wind. Kalofed the second-born son, also named Haloa. It is from the second son that Hawaiians trace their lineage.” In 2002 the University of Hawaii genetically modified kalo and patented their hybridized taro, charging farmers for the new breed of seed. Strong Native opposition followed, forming coalitions and peaceful protests to protect the natural ancestral kalo. As a result of Native activism, in 2008 the state of Hawaii designated kalo as a state plant in a bill to ban genetically modified taro and coffee on the islands of Hawaii.

Juanita Toledo, Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico

Calling Walwatoa (Jemez Pubelo), New Mexico home, Juanita is a community wellness advocate and works for her tribe’s community wellness program. She lives on her tribal lands, and feels grateful for the opportunity to serve her people. Born in Washington, DC while her mother was working for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Juanita moved back to her community when she was young. Her mother "wanted my brother and I to know the language and the culture, and that's a big part of why I continue to reside on the reservation, because growing up it's become a big part of who I am and my identity as a human being. Even though I'm mixed, I'm half Indigenous and half african american, I tend to identify more with the indigenous side, only because I grew up on the reservation. Culture and family is why I'm here, and my mom is a big reason also, and that attachment to family and land is why I'm still here on the rez. I'm a rez kid at heart."

Mari Sanipass, Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Maine

Mary Sanipass, is a beloved Micmac basketmaker who embodies what is most traditional about Wabanaki basketry - a deep knowledge and respect for the northern woods of Maine and a love of sharing this knowledge with both her family and the entire Wabanaki community. Mary recounts her young life, strong faith, and introduction to basketry: “I went to boarding school in Canada . . . I was there for eight years, until the eighth grade, with nuns and priests. In a way, I liked it and in a way I didn’t. Half and half, I guess. I was mistreated. But it is all over now, I don’t worry about it any more. Now I am a Catholic, I love Mary, she has a lot of my prayers and I will keep loving her until I die, I guess. I pray everywhere; if I go in the woods and look at a tree, that is a prayer; if I go to the lake and look at it, that is a prayer; if I go to the ocean, that is a prayer. God is a prayer. Everything I see is a prayer. I wish my kids would do that, go in the woods, do things, and pray. I used to go alone in the woods; when I was little, I lived in the woods. I loved it. My daddy loved it, he was a woodsman, sometimes he worked in the city, but mostly in the woods, he was a carpenter, he made things, he’d sell them and that was how we made our money. I miss him, he’s been gone so long now. When I was eighteen I started, making wee little baskets. I used to watch my Grandparents. Grammy used to throw some baskets on the floor. I would go over there, and pick them up, she didn’t want them. That was how I started making baskets.”

Marva Scott, Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, California

Marva Scott is the director of the Talowa Dine Culture Department located on the coast of Northern California, also known as The Smith River Rancheria. She explains the cultural significance of her “one hundred and eleven” chin tattoo, a powerful signifier of the people and culture: “For me, I always knew I wanted to get my 111, especially after learning the history of it being outlawed in California. Learning my history empowered me more to get my 111. For me it signifies my commitment to who I am and it signifies my ability to carry forward my ancestors’ message and the work that my people have laid for my community and to share that work. And it also signifies courage and strength, something that I always need and I like that it stood for status and beauty. We had a really rough year, the year before I got it, and I felt so much stronger afterwards than I ever have in my life.”

Myra Masiel Zamora, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, California

Myra Masiel Zamora is an assistant curator at Pechanga Cultural Resources, with a degree in Anthropology from University of California, Berkeley. She says, of her decision to work in Anthropology: “Indians have always had a bad experience with anthropologists, but that won’t ever change until indians are anthropologists. That was my way of navigating into that world, but still maintaining my own world. How I’ve approached research and anthropology is very community centered. Every research project that I’ve done, I’ve tried to shape it to benefit the community. That’s kind of a 180 to what normal anthropologists research has done. They have a hidden agenda, doing what will benefit them, and instead, as researchers, we have to ask ourselves what will help the community. To me that is the biggest thing that I see. It’s not unique to anthropology, other disciplines are similar. It’s not just about you. It’s always about your community, and everyone else and how you can work together and what is going to benefit everybody. Mainstream western society is not that way. It’s more about the individual. The ultimate goal of sovereignty is to be able to sustain our culture and take care of our own people, for the future and for the people that are here now.”

Hayes Lewis, Pueblo Zuni, New Mexico

Hayes, a member of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, worked very hard to help his people break away from the neighboring school district to form their own. Now the superintendent of the recently formed Zuni Public School District, Hayes believes that “The next step in development is actually changing the policies and practices and the structure of education that will make a difference. If you just take the structure of education the way it is, with its policies, practices and mandates and you have a brown face sitting there governing it, what difference does it make if you don’t go back into the community and basically rebuild from the bottom up? In terms of education for tribal people, it goes back to those original messages and instructions . . . we need to go back to the ancestral teachings of who we should be and how we should relate to people . . . I think there's a lot of power in that.” - Hayes Lewis

Sinéad Talley, Karuk and Yurok, California

"It’s taken a long time for me to get outside of the blood quantum construct of thinking. I’m low blood quantum and my family was disconnected for a while before we came back to the river. It’s been a returning process and blood quantum has factored hugely in how I felt growing up. As a child I could feel the tension, that there was something about my identity, that I was being viewed differently. But you don’t understand why or how to combat it. In a lot of ways you have a hard time seeing that you can be Karuk and you can be low blood quantum. Learning more about history and the fact that blood quantum is a European concept and that’s not how Native people determined who was a community member and who was not helped. When it comes down to it blood quantum doesn’t mean anything. It’s your connection to place, it’s your kinship ties and how involved you are in the community. It has a lot to do with a lot of things but indigeneity doesn’t have to do with blood quantum. You can know that and you can feel that but they’re two different things. For me it’s taken a long time to feel that."