yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective is the new steward of 1.5 acres of land in South Seattle. What keeps coming up for me now is that I want to be present in my body for the work ahead.
The last few years I’ve been forced to reconsider my physical self. The pandemic taught me what distance and touch really mean. And I keep becoming allergic to things—like after 32 years, my body has accumulated too much and won’t hold anymore.
And with the outward symptoms, I’ve been paying more attention to my internal reactions lately too. I try to bring Indigenous values with me in my arts advocacy work, but mainstream processes are rooted in harm, pitting applicants against each other and requiring hours of uncompensated labor. I’ve been complicit in these systems for a long time. What my head was slow to recognize, my body knew was wrong right away.
Sometimes as a young administrator sending batches of rejection emails, or hearing decision-makers use the same thinly veiled racist reasoning, I would turn bright red and get tingly all over. Nowadays, when I sit on selection panels, being asked to choose between Indigenous artists leaves me sick for days. Of course those experiencing the dismissal feel it so much more intensely. It can be enough to turn someone away from applying to anything again or do serious long-term damage to community relationships.
I’m learning and relearning that because we already experience so much trauma every day as Indigenous people, each “no” is compounded. Even well-intentioned feedback or seeing others succeed can feel like personal violence. I saw a meme that said one in five Natives think about loss of land daily, one in three think about loss of language daily, and one in four think about broken treaties daily. How little time that leaves for us to dream freely.
I’m ready to work outside of the colonial systems that keep us sick. Our arts collective will be attempting to create a center for healing, and eventually, when it feels right, building together—a space where our value isn’t determined by our productivity or defined in juxtaposition to whiteness but rather where our work is liberated from settler gaze entirely. And when we gather there, I wonder how our bodies will feel.
Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation)
A note on why this piece was included: Artworks featuring humans, in relation to land, accompany the texts in this journal. While the essay authors come from global territories, the images were created by yəhaw̓ collective members based in the Pacific Northwest. The pairings illustrate the diversity of our urban Indigenous community and how we remain connected to a far-flung ancestral network through shared bloodlines or ways of being, even when we are physically apart from each other. Simultaneously intimate and universal, each contributor helps us better understand the cultural currents that shape our built environments, our bodies, and our imaginations. The individual is always a projection of the collective.