Don’t get me wrong, I love flying. I’m just not very good at it and I have to constantly remind myself that its actually something I enjoy. What is most confusing is my body’s reaction to the weird effects of flying: Time feels as if it’s judo flipped into a swirly straw and minor events/inconveniences such as the dreaded airport line budging leaves me murderous and I begin to rely on suspicions like crossed fingers as proof I will get to my plane in time.
Even after that, these travel shenanigans transporting me from Vancouver YVR to the Seattle Airport and eventually to Ontario, California were only the first rollercoaster slope (rollercoaster slope as in scary but rewarding and ultimately very fun) in the densely scheduled map of the day.
After hours of clenched fists and many uncomfortable silences shifting in between trailed-off small talk about Canadian weather with the businessmen who sat next to me; I gathered my belongings and got off the plane.
The first thing that hit me was the heat. It was the type of heat that is tangible, that you can smell and taste and roll between your fingers; saturated with that dry, signature California imprint of gasoline and desert air and the distant smoke from burning mountains.
Standing in the parking lot I spotted Scott and Rose who loaded my bags into the car and cranked up the classic rock radio. Rose, my elder, was singing along to KISS and yelling over the highway wind that I was to be dissecting worms upon arrival.
Walking into the lab, before I noticed the worms, I noticed Nika, my program mentor. This was a relief as I had spent some time with her earlier this year and between her and Scott and Rose, I felt a secure and in a circle of friends and familiar faces. Over the next few days this circle would only grow bigger.
When I saw my first worm through the microscope I got excited and did what any reasonable, caring person does to their worm, I named her Guadeloupe. The form of Guadeloupe and her other worm cronies were only possible via scientists studying the worms genetic sequence, and editing it as to produce a glowing worm. In the company of Guadeloupe and Nika I frantically rambled on about ethical codes in genetic engineering technology reflecting on the future history of humanity in a way I felt was much deserved after hours at 10,000 feet.
After this lesson the group marched over to the Pomona Campus to view their collection of Indigenous artifacts, dashing fully clothed into water fountains in a desperate attempt to avoid heat exhaustion.
The lesson provoked a sensitive and highly layered conversation on how institutions dedicated to preservation of history can reconcile with and apologize for the fact that their field was based in a system of genocide. A system of genocide of which these white historians emerged, stealing sacred treaty hides and and the beaded bear claw necklaces from the native bodies their culture killed. I feel like the historians at the museum could’ve done more to honor and encourage a dialogue about how museums can return sacred items that contain much political relevance between tribes. And perhaps not just allow contact between the artifacts and the next generation of native youth, but return that power to the local nation, so it is no longer just ‘theirs’ to allow. The museum was still fairly progressive and open to these issues.
Regardless, I had a lot of fun. An elder came in to teach us about traditional crafts, giving the youth a tutorial on basket weaving (my basket looked horrible (but made with love)) and traditional painting. The paint was made by mixing various dampened pigments with salt which acted as a fixative, and storing them in small shells. Pounded pieces of soaked bark were used as brushes. It was really beautiful to watch native youth not only become skilled and able in this activity, but experiment with colors and ways to make the craft unique and improved.
Myself, I became overly ambitious and embarked on a journey to create’great artwork’…Which I never came close to finishing and in its final product…at best looks, ‘abstract’, at worst, horrifying.
After lunch there were two presentations: One was a timeline on Native American representation in the media up until now and the other one was a presentation listing modern day Native filmmakers and their accomplishments. As a Native American child who was passionately involved in acting throughout the elementary school years, I had a few opportunities to star in films about residential school. I would say from the age of seven I had to learn about the implications of residential school on indigenous communities; but that isn’t technically true. Even as a child I already had a sense of the trauma in my nation and those films encouraged me to look into my history and further change my relationship to that history from powerless to powerfully informed.
I think it was this acting and the knowledge that came with those films that launched me on the path that landed me at this Pitzer program
AAAANyways, At the end of the day I was just amazed and exhausted by the amount of learning I received. I am so honored to be apart of this program and I’m looking forward to writing more about my next adventures