Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories: Poetics and Power of Native Voices, Stories, Creators, and Educators

Forum Overview

Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories is a series of forums designed to convene Native American and Alaska Native families and students from across Washington to inform efforts in Native education. The Region 16 Comprehensive Center (R16CC), one of the 19 centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education to support states in enhancing student success, hosts these forums in collaboration with Kauffman & Associates, Inc (KAI). R16CC, which comprises a network of 29 educational service districts throughout Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, has a Tribal advisory board for the state of Washington that specifically focuses on enhancing wellbeing and opportunities for Native students in Washington.

On February 1, 2023, R16CC and KAI delivered a session in the Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories series with the theme Poetics and Power of Native Voices, Stories, Creators and Educators. The forum began with welcoming remarks and an opening blessing. Next, a storyteller shared a poem with the participants. Following the storytelling session, the attendees divided into breakout groups, where they reflected on the poem and responded to several discussion questions about the importance of art and how to increase art education for Native students. Participants then reconvened as a full group and reported on the ideas and themes that emerged from their breakout discussions. Finally, the next steps were reviewed and the session adjourned.

Opening Remarks

The forum opened with Mary Wilber (Osoyoos Indian Band), R16CC Washington Tribal Advisory Member, offering a song and an opening prayer.

Beth Geiger, WA Director for R16CC, welcomed the participants to the session. She explained that purpose of the ongoing Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories series is to gather input directly from Native American families and students. Since September 2020, R16CC and KAI have held four of these sessions per school year. Notably, students, family members, and school personnel from the Taholah and La Conner School Districts each gathered to join this virtual session as a group. The Taholah School District estimated that over 70 family participants joined from their district. Ms. Geiger welcomed other schools and districts to do the same in the future to maximize participation and input.

Dr. Iris PrettyPaint (Blackfeet/Crow), the meeting facilitator, greeted the participants and reviewed the meeting agenda and practices for making the best use of the meeting time. She then introduced Sara Marie Ortiz (Pueblo of Acoma), the storyteller for the forum.

Storytelling Session

Ms. Ortiz began the storytelling session by encouraging students to create and share art, emphasizing the power of storytelling through all forms of art. She noted that storytelling through art carries important teachings and tremendous healing power, and she highlighted the importance of ensuring that Native American students have equitable access to arts education.

Ms. Ortiz then shared one of her poems, entitled Iyáaní (Spirit, Breath, Life), as follows.

At Haak’u.
Within the community, on the land, in it, and of it,
there is a way in all things that Acoma (Haak’u) children are taught.
Shadruukaʾàatuunísṿ. It is a way of saying.
It is a way of saying our life and the way things grow and grow.
It is a way of saying the children are growing so quickly.
It is a way of saying the plants, which we so lovingly care for in the fields,
are growing and growing.
It is a way of saying neither would grow and grow without our love.
Amuu’u haats’i. It is a way of saying our beloved life.
Our beloved land. Our beloved children and community.
Sráamí. It is not always easy.
And we, the People, the Hánʾu, are not always good and right.
But the right and good way is the way that we go, that we might live.
Srâutsʾímʾv.
Srâutsʾímʾv, say the Ancestors, our old ones, speaking up from the land,
from the rivers, in and through the rain, and all the cycles of the earth we know.
Srâutsʾímʾv, children.
Do you know just how much we love you and are praying for your lives?

Breakout Discussion Report-Outs

In their virtual breakout rooms, participants reflected on the poem above and information share by Ms. Ortiz and responded to the following discussion questions.

  • How does one center art education and stories in school systems? What have you seen or what is missing?
  • What relationships need to be in place to make this happen?
  • Bonus: What models are in the community that you can build on?

When the participants returned from their virtual breakout rooms, they shared what they had discussed. The following sections summarize key themes from these report-outs.

The Value of Art

All participants acknowledged art as a necessary component of wellbeing and described its many benefits as including:

  • Self-expression
  • Benefits to mental health
  • The transmission of knowledge and culture
  • A path to relationship-building
  • Important teachings
  • A sense of belonging and connection

Approaches for Centering Art Education

In discussing avenues to centering art education within school systems, participants recommended the following approaches.

  • Securing additional funding for art education
  • Employing alternative approaches to supporting art in districts with limited funding, such as by bringing in elders to teach art
  • Increasing the number of Native American teachers and staff in art education roles
  • Promoting collaboration between schools and tribal programs

Increasing Access to Art Education

Participants described numerous ways to generate more opportunities for Native American students to create and share art. Many of these suggestions stemmed from approaches used at their own schools.

  • Offering academic credit for students who are already creating art on their own
  • Recruiting elders and community members to share art with students
  • Connecting students with art mentors
  • Taking students to tour Native American colleges that offer arts education
  • Incorporating storytelling into the teaching of all subjects, such as having students develop math algorithms based on a creation story
  • Using music to draw out feelings during other artistic activities, such as drawing
  • Engaging students in traditional activities, such as drum decorating, beading, canoeing or canoe making, singing, dancing, drumming, weaving, wood carving, regalia making, learning their Indigenous languages, and participating in historical celebrations and observances
  • Providing opportunities for experiential learning
  • Offering instruction for a wide variety of art forms that is rooted in Indigenous ways of learning
  • Creating opportunities for students to share their art with others

Timeline and Next Steps

Ms. Geiger thanked the storyteller and the participants for their involvement. She noted that a summary of this session will be shared with all registrants and posted to the R16CC website. The next Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories session will take place on March 29, 2023.


Published March 23, 2023

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