Native American symposium encourages high school students and UW Tacoma to share and rewrite stories.
What’s a story you can’t live without?
That question was posed by Christopher Teuton, the keynote speaker at the UW Tacoma’s Symposium on Contemporary Native American Issues in Higher Education and UW professor of American Indian studies. Teuton’s questions infused the symposium: How can we shape our own stories, and what can we learn by sharing them?
High school and middle school students, chaperones, UW Tacoma students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for the symposium on November 6. The event was an opportunity to connect UW Tacoma and local tribal communities, to “bridge between cultures,” says Sharon Parker, UW Tacoma’s assistant chancellor for equity and diversity.
Teuton set the tone for the day with his keynote presentation on the tales of Cherokee tribal elders. Stories are incredibly important to the Cherokee community, Teuton explained, not simply as entertainment, but to tie people together. Teuton quoted Cherokee Nation Elder Hastings Shade, who told him, “Sharing is probably the main thing, as far as a value, that we have.”
Teuton shared some of the tales he collected for his book Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars’ Club. He told the story of the unassuming water beetle, the only animal able to reach the bottom of a water-covered world, scoop a bit of mud from the depths and form that into the earth. He also played a recording of a Cherokee elder, who told the story of a know-it-all wolf who wears traps on his feet rather than admit the traps are not shoes.
Then Teuton shared his own story. Growing up in poverty in Colorado, the adults around him hated their jobs and often drank. Teuton says he saw his life laid out before him, following a similar path. So he decided to rewrite that story. He took summer courses to get into University of Colorado, where he found he loved college. While in college, Teuton found his experiences to be “all too common, but they can be overcome.”
Teuton encouraged students to think about the stories we tell ourselves, the stories the media tells, and how we find stories to shape our lives. “I hope what the experience today shows you is that you do matter, and you all have something to give,” he added.
Other speakers shared their experiences and encouraged students to think about going to college. Cynthia Parrot, a peer adviser, Native American Student Organization leader and first-generation university student, told the audience, “Live your dreams now, because you never know what tomorrow brings.” Of UW Tacoma, she said, “It changed me for the better.”
Danica Miller, a new professor of English at UW Tacoma and a member of the Puyallup Tribe, told attendees that college is a “place to learn, to grow, to think so much about yourself and your people.”
The symposium also featured events and activities to encourage students and educators to think about the diverse perspectives we all bring. “You all have strength, and when we work together, we are stronger,” said Teuton, in his talk.
After lunch, Nancy Maryboy, David Begay, Laura Peticolas and Chris Teren shared their experiences researching native astronomy. The group has created a traveling planetarium to tell eight Western and eight Navajo stories about the skies. They showed pictures of the sun as viewed through different telescopes, each dramatically different from the others. Like these images, they suggested, each of us sees the sky, and the world, through our own lenses.
The event also featured voices from local tribes. The symposium opened with a prayer by Robert Satiacum, Puyallup Tribe spiritual leader, and featured a performance by the Chief Leshi Drum Group and Scott Pinkham of the Nez Perce Tribe.
The event also gave UW Tacoma a chance to talk with high school students about ways in which the university could better serve them. Chancellor Kenyon Chan, in his opening remarks, encouraged students to share their feedback with the university.
“(This symposium) helps the UW Tacoma community learn about the complex issues impacting educational attainment for Native Americans and ways that we can help make a difference,” said Parker. “The symposium also serves to make our tribal community neighbors aware of UW Tacoma and our accessibility to potential students, as well as our willingness to explore ways to address the educational needs of neighboring tribal education programs.”
The symposium connected the university to local students, celebrated perspectives and encouraged the audience to think about writing new stories for themselves. That spirit was articulated when Teuton quoted Cherokee author Thomas King: “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.”
Abby Rhinehart / November 24, 2014
John Burkhardt, Communications, 253-692-4536 or email@example.com