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

Darkfeather Ancheta, left, is pictured with her nephew, Eckos Chartraw-Ancheta, and sister, Bibiana Ancheta, on the shore of Tulalip Bay. The family adorns in traditional regalia for our annual Canoe Journey. This celebration has been indispensable to Darkfeather as a person of the Coast Salish Sea. 

“It didn’t change me. It shaped me. It’s just who we are, and where we come from. It revitalizes our cultural ways. We take care of the canoe and it takes care of us. When we’re on the water, we all have to pull together. The teachings that the elders gave to us, such as 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 inthe water and in life.” Bibiana reflected on “the journey” as part of a crucial Indigenous perspective and cultural and personal practice. “In man’s law, sovereignty is an illusion of independence under dependence. Under nature’s law, it’s a Creator-gifted right, handed down through our ancestors. Passing down our knowledge, cultures, traditions, and language is vital to our survival, helps root us in our ways so we always know who we are. Without this, we become just another human being with no identity; you risk being spiritually lost. Identity comes from our culture, our culture comes from our language, and our language comes from our environment. So, to protect our environment is to protect 

Alma Bee Manansala Wilbur and Nancy Wilbur
Swinomish Tribe

Nancy Wilbur, or Tsa-Tsique, is pictured with her granddaughter Alma Bee. Nancy is a retired Swinomish treaty rights commercial fisherwoman, former Tribal senator, fireworks dealer, teacher, amazing sea-to-table restaurateur, and Native American arts gallery owner— all of which supported her family and reinforced her Tribe’s sovereignty. She is a woman nation-builder.

“I think my ancestors are everything. When I look back at choices I’ve made, I feel like they have been guiding me. When I started fishing, once I got out on the water, I just felt like a door was opened to me. Like the clouds had separated and it just was this awakening and I felt so close to the spirit and to all the natural things, the water, the fish, everything. It was just amazing.” 

Nataani Means
Oglala Lakota, UmoNhoN, Diné

"Dog attacks, Mace, tear gas, LRAD, beat up by Hennepin County, felonies and misdemeanors, Hate Crimes, helicopters and planes, Prayer has guided us, and it still does. My spirit is hurt from a lot that I've seen and witnessed by the colonizer, but it's also stronger seeing the strength of our women, and young people. The strength of nations coming together, We are still here. The other night I had a dream we were all in the yurt, all the homies that are there right now and that I was with in NYC shutting down banks. I dreamt we were all laughing, all smiling, all free in that one moment. To be free, truly free."

Raven and Free Eagle Borsey 
Lhaq’temish, We Wai Kai 

Twin brothers Raven and Free Eagle Borsey are pictured at the power paddle to Puyallup, preparing to dance during protocol.At the time this photo was made, Free Eagle had been skippering the Lummi Youth Canoe for about three years. 

“Ever since I started coming on Canoe Journey, I’ve been dancing and making my own regalia. I’ve been in foster care almost my entire life, so being able to come here on this Canoe Journey and meet a lot of new family who I’ve never met before has been a great opportunity and an amazing experience. That’s what Journey does—it connects us. I feel way more connected here than I have anywhere else, and it feels great to be home.”

Virginia Christman
Viejas Tribe

A master of Tribal dance, Virginia is pictured doing Ashaa Takook, a Bird Dance that accompanies a form of storytelling sung at ceremonies, large gatherings, and funerals. Her family has long been part of this ceremonial tradition and lifestyle. 

“I can remember from the time I was five, six years old, hearing my uncle Calestra LaChappa, singing every morning, every night, every morning. It is just like prayer. He had learned from his grandfather, the head of the clan. My son is a singer. He’s been singing for almost thirty-two years. His sons all sing, they go all over Mojave, Grand Canyon. Around my area there’s always a dance going on. I hate to mention sad times, but like a wake or funeral, a wake especially, you’ll see the singers get up to sing right away. You’ll see the girls right up there, jumping in. And I’ll just sit there. And I’ve had girls come up to me and say, ‘Virginia, aren’t you gonna go dance?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, yeah, but not yet.’ Our Tribe, we sing on the fourth song. You wait until that certain song is sung. Then you get up there and you dance.”

Travis Goldtooth “Buffalo Barbie” 

Travis Goldtooth, whose stage name is Buffalo Barbie, is a Two-spirit powwow dancer. This picture was made in San Francisco at the Bay Area American Indian TwoSpirit Pow Wow. 

“I was pretty much raised by my grandmother and she instilled all this cultural knowledge. In the Navajo culture, it’s a matriarchal society. And with the matriarch, which is my grandmother, once she passes, the next holder is a Two Spirit individual; it’s usually a male/female, an individual like me. When I moved back home five years ago, I fell into that role, and I guess I never looked back. My brothers and sisters look up to me. I have to do all the family event gathering and when somebody’s in the hospital or something like that, I’m the first to be informed. It falls on me to give the news because they say, if it comes from me, it has more of a subtle warmth feeling.”

Fawn Douglas
Las Vegas Paiute

Fawn is pictured in front of the "Welcome to Fabulous Downtown Las Vegas" sign wearing a traditional Jingle Dress. Most people don't think of Las Vegas as a Native place, but for Fawn, it is her traditional homelands, and home to the Las Vegas Paiute community. Tourists seldom know that the Nuwuvi or Paiute people are the original keepers of that territory, which is now known as a vacation destination. Fawn explained that Las Vegas would not be the city it is today without the Nuwu-the Southern Paiute word for "the people." In fact, Fawn's Grandpa Raymond Anderson was a fabricator of the original "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.

"Paiutes worked in welding and fabrication back in the day and didn't get the credit," Fawn explained.

Making art is not just something her grandfather did. Fawn is the head of Nuwu Art + Activism Studios, an Indigenous-focused gallery, art collective, and performance/community space.

“My art draws me closer to my Nuwu (Nuwuvi) culture and identity. I have learned much through the lessons of our Tribal elders and traveling to visit our ancestral lands and sacred sites in Southern Nevada... my art translates these oral traditions for the viewer. Many pieces operate as a filter that keeps the integrity of sacred information that my people hold dear, while allowing Nuwuvi culture to be shared with a broader audience.”

Canoe Pullers Wait for Permission to Come Ashore
Lower Elwha Klallam

The Coast Salish Sea is the life blood of Coast Salish people. The water provided ancestral highways which supported vibrant economies, strong Nation-to-Nation relationships, and nourishment through salmon and other essential foods of the sea. The dugout canoe was the vessel to travel long distances, ensuring sufficient quantities of food, establishing and renewing Tribal alliances, and preserving social and ceremonial contacts. The canoe served as the locomotive engine to industrialization and provided the harmonious, potlatching way of life that endured for thousands of years.

The canoe way of life remained until the colonizer banned canoes, burned them or sawed them in half, making Coast Salish people homeless in their own homelands. It wasn’t until 1978, with the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, that the spiritual vessels returned to the water.

In 1989, seventeen canoes participated in the first Paddle to Seattle. A few years later, by invitation of Frank Brown from Heiltsuk, there was a paddle to Bella Bella and the annual Canoe Journey was born. Every year since then, “canoe families” have been paddling their canoes in the Coast Salish Sea for multi week-long journeys to visit different host destination Tribes.

Pictured here are canoe pullers waiting for permission to come ashore. When canoes land in a new host destination, pullers wait, sometimes for hours, to be welcomed ashore, honoring an ancient tradition of Nation-to-Nation respect and protocol.

Joe Tohonnie Jr.  and the White Mountain Apache Dancers
White Mountain Apache

Joe Tohonnie Jr. is a member of the White Mountain Apache Dancers, a revered dance group. They are infamous within Indian Country and have crossed over into the mainstream. They’ve received two Grammy nominations. Joe was initiated in this Apache culture at a young age.

“I learned through our traditional way—it was my grandfather. It was sort of forced upon me. I was only six years old at the time. He said, ‘I’m just going to pick you, and you are going to carry this tradition on.’ I didn’t want it, but I’m glad that he did it.”

Helen Williams
Lovelock Paiute 

I spent the better part of six months in Paiute Country before I learned what to look for in the Great Basin. Miss Helen was my teacher; her presence and stories awakened my ability to see in the desert. She was the last living person of Lovelock Paiute that learned to speak her language in the home. There are more than twenty Paiute Tribes, and as I traveled throughout Nüümü (Paiute) territory, several folks recommended that I go to Miss Helen without delay.  She was about ninety-five pounds, had lost her sight and much of her hearing, but was so lovable and revered by everyone. She was wrapped in her Pendleton blanket, fuzzy socks sticking out the bottom, eyes fixed on the middle distance. Miss Helen told us stories about red-headed giants, water babies, harvesting pine nuts, how to find water in the desert, the captivating and revealing intricacies of Nüümü life. She sometimes repeated herself, speaking as if it all needed to be told before it’s too late. This lovely elder made me want to hold her rather than just create her portrait.

“I feel real honored to get to sit with you Miss Helen,” I told her. “When they told me you were the last speaker here, it made me feel real sad and scared, because that’s the same thing where I’m from in Swinomish. There’s no more people left anymore that learned how to speak from their parents.” I asked Miss Helen if she thought the language here will be able to be saved.

“I really don’t know,” she said, “because I’m the last. I’m the last person.”

Sometimes it seems like our rich Indigeneity will be gone forever. Sometimes it seems hopeless, like nothing can be done. The thought of losing Miss Helen, and the precious language she carries, her wonderful Indigenous stories and priceless knowledge, the beautiful songs she’s taught her students, or the idea of those beautiful children losing her, or us losing those children to Rez cycles . . . as I got ready to drive off from Lovelock, it was too much for me to hold in. I pulled over and sobbed out there in that desert. I gave my sadness to the desert. I gave it to the Creator. I looked up, and for the first time, saw an explosion of life, abundant desert medicine that has existed all along, however camouflaged at first glance. Sage, tsudupe, petroglyphs, jack rabbits, desert cactus flowers, piñon, songs in the wind, history in the rocks. We may not always realize that life that surrounds us in the desert (or anywhere), but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Kathy Jefferson
Lone Pine Paiute, Shoshone

The waters of Owens Lake have been emptied by an aqueduct to satisfy the endless thirst of the City of Los Angeles. The LADWP currently owns the water rights and has drained the land dry, creating a toxic dust bowl that has brought disease to the Indigenous folks who occupy the land. Kathy Jefferson has been part of a group effort that tirelessly monitored, cajoled, and pleaded with mitigation crews and state and federal authorities to stop “building stupid on top of stupid out there.” 

“LADWP has a lot of control over the Indians in this valley…It changed the way of life for all the people here. When they started drying it out, it really started affecting our health trying to breathe that dust. If everybody in this valley has breathing problems, COPD, heart problems, doesn’t that shit tell you something? DWP dumps all their hazardous waste out there. We’re breathing toxic chemicals and heavy metals, and nobody even talks about or monitors that. They built this aqueduct without Native peoples’ uses or anything in mind. They’re so water hungry down there and can’t get enough. They’ll never give up this water. They have swimming pools and waste so much water and don’t even care about where it came from. It doesn’t take into consideration that there are human beings here too. We have a way of life. Nobody said it’s okay for them to destroy our valley.”

Rex Tilousi

Rex told me the history of encroachment by what is currently known as the United States and the relocation of Havasupai people, the first European contact being with miners coveting precious metals in the 1800s and then in the twentieth century with President Theodore Roosevelt, who laid out grand designs for the Tribe’s homelands. 

“One of them came down and said he was the Great White Father who lived in the big White House to the east. He told us, ‘You live in a very beautiful place where Mother Nature has been at work. We’re going to call this place a national park, just to look at it, feel it, where everyone from all over the world can come. And the boundary that we are going to put around this canyon, you are not allowed to go behind.’ So that’s when the Havasupai elders were told to leave their homes. But we didn’t want to leave. That’s where we belonged. Not the canyons, the land, the springs belonging to us, but we belonged to these things, to this place. 

Around the early 1900s this is where we came to live, supai (a side canyon), where we felt protected and comfortable living in the canyon, away from the mainstream of America, from all their problems ever since the upper lands were turned into a national park. We just remain within our people, hidden inside the earth, inside the canyon. 

Maybe we can find peace and quiet where we live. The Grand Canyon came to be. A lot of the things that are part of the Havasupai have been lost because of the government. But we still speak for these things, we still fight for these things. We have songs, stories of how water is from the upper rims and comes to our village, still white in the canyon, still getting the canyon deeper. The songs that are sung by the floodwaters, we still sing and dance to that music today. These lands, the waters, the air, the plant life connect the Havasupai to these areas; they have tried their best to disconnect these things from their Native people, but as we know, everything in this life is connected."

MaryJane Anuqsraaq Litchard

MaryJane Anuqsraaq Litchard lives in the hills above the Bering Sea in Nome, Alaska. Her first language is Iñupiaq, although she holds a master’s degree in English. 

“That’s why I had to go to Evergreen State College, which is in Olympia, Washington, and got my double major, then later I got my master’s because I want to improve my English because Iñupiaq was my first language and teachers used to punish us for speaking that. I still have trouble trying to learn Iñupiaq, sometimes I’ll go like that [winces] because when you get punished as a little kid, it’s still traumatic for me to just even practice my words.”

Daniel Clay Stevens

Nine-year-old Daniel Clay Stevens, Wahatalihate (He Made It Warm), is pictured with Oskʌnutú (deer). Daniel’s mom, Stephanie, explained the importance of deer to Oneida people:

“Shukwayatisu [creator] gave us the deer for sustenance. Oneida people used all parts of the deer. The deer are peaceful animals and it is understood to have peace in our hearts and minds when we eat venison.”

Temryss Xeli’tia Lane
Lummi Nation

Temryss Xeli’tia Lane is an Indigenous sports icon. She played soccer at Arizona State University, then professionally for Bälinge Idrottsförening, at the time in the top women’s premier division Damallsvenskan in Sweden as a center back. After retiring from playing professionally, Temryss went on to become a fitness model and sports broadcaster. When this picture was made, Temryss was thirty-nine weeks pregnant.

“We all have such different experiences surrendering. I knew I had to surrender and release societal pressure or fear and just go, I’m going to be a mother. I’m so grateful to know this experience, to be able to carry this baby, my body changing more than it ever has or maybe will again. Being an athlete, I thought I would be super active, but it has been more of a surrendering to the softness. In order to get to this place, I had to soften my body, gaining some weight, surrendering the LA fitness model-athlete beach body, perceptions of identity and what’s beautiful based on outward appearance. I rarely shave my legs anymore. I’m in this mom-bod; I love it.”

Wilson MuŊgnak and Oliver Tusagvik Hoogendorn

Wilson and Oliver are brothers from Nome, Alaska. They were the first to summit Mount Denali in the 2019 climbing season. The brothers recall walking into the ranger station to register to climb and being met with sideways glances. Despite the ranger’s doubts, the brothers proceeded to break trail for the 2019 season on the third-most prominent and isolated peak on Earth, after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. When asked how they prepared for the climb, they attributed their success to their upbringing of hunting, fishing, and Alaskan outback life. Wilson explained, “just doing hard things makes everything easier.”

Dr. Mary Jiron Belgarde LoRe
Pueblo of Isleta and Ohkay Owingeh

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 and has raised funds to support thousands of Native students. Her life’s work is 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.”