yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective’s 1.5 hectares of land to offer inclusive art curation and ecological education

yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective’s 1.5 hectares of land to offer inclusive art curation and ecological education
yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective’s 1.5 hectares of land to offer inclusive art curation and ecological education

by Vee Hua 華婷婷

Seattle-based yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective was founded in 2017 and launched its first event two years later, in partnership with the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. Featuring over 200 Indigenous creatives representing over 100 tribal affiliations and Indigenous communities from around the world, the exhibition included on-site events at King Street Station and off-site through additional programming and publications.

yəhaw̓ recently expanded its footprint through the acquisition of 1.5 acres of land in Seattle’s diverse, multigenerational Rainier Beach neighborhood. Package includes over 500 trees, access to Mapes Creek and convenient access to public transportation. Their vision for the site serves as a response to the lack of spaces owned by Indigenous communities and aims to create an “inviting interdisciplinary hub where Indigenous creatives can connect with each other and the earth,” with programming around art-making and ecological education.

“Creative expression is at the center of indigenous cultures, where seeds are planted and generations of stories told. We need land and soil to grow roots,” board member, artist and community organizer Asia Tail (Cherokee) expressed on the yəhaw̓ website.

yəhaw̓’s opening activities for the 2019 King Street Station exhibition. (Photo: Naomi Ishisaka)
yəhaw̓’s opening activities for the 2019 King Street Station exhibition. (Photo: Jenny Crooks)

During the inaugural show in 2019, they invited all Indigenous creatives living in the Pacific Northwest region to apply – and all who applied were included in the final exhibition. Their inclusive open conversation involved a decolonized curatorial process and aimed to “empower Native artisans to reassert ownership of their representational and sometimes conflicting perspectives … to unsettle assumptions and begin a critical new dialogue about what Native American art is and can be .”

“We wanted to flatten the perceived hierarchy of selection, and to acknowledge bias, and whose lens choices were made from,” says filmmaker and community organizer Tracy Rector (Black/Choctaw descent), who co-founded the collective alongside Tail and Satpreet Kahlon , but now serves in an advisory role. “Instead of ushering in one type of artwork or one artist, we wanted to work to create relationships between all the artworks, or all the pieces that were part of yəhaw̓.”

yəhaw̓ (pronounced ya-howt) translates from the Lushootseed language to mean “to continue, move forward, or do.” Taking inspiration from a traditional tale by Chief William Shelton (Tulalip), through a version retold by storyteller Vi taqʷšəblu Hilbert (Upper Skagit), “yəhaw̓” speaks to the cooperation of various earth beings who overcame their greatest challenges by “raising the sky” together. It is accompanied by an upward hand gesture with two raised arms, an action commonly used among the region’s Coast Salish tribes.

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Today, yəhaw̓ is led by an active board of directors – which includes Tail working with Punjabi artist and curator Kahlon, architect and artist Kimberly Corinne Deriana (Mandan and Hidatsa), and, recently added, interdisciplinary artist Paige Pettibon (Black and Salish ), and CEO of the Na’ah Illahee Fund, Lindsay Goes Behind (Alibamu-Koasati). The collective’s new site was secured through funding from the City of Seattle’s Economic Development Initiative (EDI) and Strategic Investment Funds, after an unpredictable eight-month process. They closed on the package on December 27, 2022.

“I think we all immediately felt this kind of magical sense of time travel, almost; it felt like the secret garden, it felt like this … time capsule, somehow, that was untouched,” recalled Tail of the parcel, which had been undeveloped since at least the 1930s. “It somehow had all the things we were looking for — water and this beautiful canopy cover and native plants and plants from all over the world, and set in this beautiful neighborhood where there are still a lot of families of color.”

While yəhaw̓ have some ideas around eventually building a community center, restoring an old greenhouse and enabling short-term installations and activations, their plans for how to approach the property are emerging. Ultimately, the effort will be collaborative and collective, largely dictated by local tribal consultations, community needs, and a deeper understanding of the land.

“We want to take the time to really get to know the land … over multiple seasons, to see what kind of emerges when we’re in that place with our community,” Tail shared. “We obviously want to work on restoring the native ecology as best we can and making sure we’re good stewards of Mapes Creek, working with the tribes on what they want to see on the site or what their priorities are for these areas are going to be very important too.”

The site of yəhaw̓’s new home in Rainier Beach. (Photo: Satpreet Kahlon)
The site of yəhaw̓’s new home in Rainier Beach. (Photo: Satpreet Kahlon)

As an architect, Deriana brings a history of experience from master planning and dreaming with local communities to envision what they want across different landscapes.

“In Indigenous design methodology, one of the key components is co-creation, thinking about how everything is connected, and how the land and the people and the activities or the seasonal cycles [are] all dependent on each other, Deriana said. “Being intentional, thoughtful, transparent and inclusive; there are all indigenous values ​​in the design process.”

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As the weather improves, yəhaw̓ plans to host gardening parties to help clear trails and invite the public to engage with the site. Of course, art is also always at the center of yəhaw̓’s work, and they plan to launch temporary art activations in the near term, including a “free library” by self-taught bead worker Cynthia Masterson (Comanche) of Blue Dot Beadwork, which will include free beading materials. Beyond that, yəhaw̓ has plans for short-term and long-term engagement with local Coast Salish Tribes.

“It’s very important to have Coast Salish people represented first and foremost, especially in land rematriation work,” Tail said. She noted that the yəhaw̓ plans to go through formal channels of tribal consultation, particularly with the Suquamish, Muckleshoot and Duwamish tribes, who have “really close ancestral ties to the land,” in hopes of finding out what they hope the site will become. and how their artists can best be represented.

Deriana also spoke about the need for the yəhaw̓ to properly navigate the balance between various non-native tribes represented in the Seattle area.

“For the urban relatives, how do we honor a place that is in the Coast Salish territories, but is also a space for our global indigenous peoples to thrive and feel welcome and feel a sense of identity?” she asks. “That will be something that we navigate and just something that we need to be really … conscious and thoughtful about.”

The yəhaw̓ see their success as part of a larger movement, following trails forged by the activism of Native organizations and tribal leaders before them. Tail noted that from what they hear, it would have been difficult to secure such significant amounts of funding for indigenous land acquisition 10 years ago. She hopes that their model will help inspire BIPOC communities.

“If people witness indigenous people being successful in getting land and taking care of that land … hopefully that will also encourage other landowners on the back end of these processes — to start giving land back to the tribes and start giving land back to the indigenous people … to start prioritizing , maybe, the community offers developers, and just opens up a different awareness of opportunities for people in our region,” Tail surmised. “What can really happen when land goes into communal ownership?”

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Robert Wade of the June Indigiqueer Joy Festival yəhaw̓ co-hosted. (Photo courtesy of yəhaw̓.)

While land has been secured for yəhaw̓’s new home, the collective is still raising money for programming. Visit their website at yehawshow.com for information on how you can support or follow their development.

This article was partially funded by a Environmental Justice Fund (EJ Fund) grant through the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE).

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unites their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are interim managing editor of the South Seattle Emerald, editor-in-chief of REDEFINE and a member of the Seattle Arts Commission. They are also a film educator at the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they previously served as executive director and played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible to a diverse audience. Their latest short, Reckless Spirits (2022), is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy, for which they are working on a feature version. Follow them at @hellomynameisvee or over at veehua.com

📸 Featured Image: yəhaw̓s 2019 King Street Station Exhibition Opening Activities by Sunny Martini, featuring the Lummi Black Hawk Singers. (Photo courtesy of yəhaw̓.)

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