Humanities Washington Fri, 18 Nov 2022 19:53:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Indigenous Roots of American Democracy Fri, 18 Nov 2022 19:53:17 +0000 Storyteller Fern Naomi Renville discusses her talk about The Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s Great Law of Peace, which united six Indigenous Nations in an alliance and helped inspire the US Constitution.

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Fern Naomi Renville started theater accidentally—she registered for the wrong club in school. But her parents encouraged her parents to continue, and she transitioned from being behind the scenes to being on stage. Today, she is a theater director and playwright.

In her talk, “American Democracy’s Indigenous Roots and Future,” she explores the intersection of theater and storytelling, and highlights the influence of feminist Indigenous governance on the current model of democracy in the United States.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Humanities Washington: Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for this talk?

All the political upheaval of the last few years. We’ve had continuing threats to female reproductive rights and to rights in general for women in America. So it feels really relevant, more relevant than ever.

Humanities Washington: And could you talk a little bit about your background in theater and how it influenced your talk?

Much of my talk is really letting the stories do the heavy lifting for me. Storytelling is a form of theater, and Dakota people have had the tradition of the winter lodge, which is out on the prairie spending the time from January to March together in our winter lodges. A storyteller in each lodge shares the entire mythic arc of our people and ends with the current year.

You probably have seen the buffalo hides that are painted with the stories. Those would be collectively and conceptually created by the occupants of the lodge. It was theater, the repertoire that was shared every year. It remained the same, except for the current years, and was added on like covering of growth on a tree. And that winter lodge tradition is not that unlike the Greek religious festivals that influenced Western theater.

So absolutely, the Dakota tradition of storytelling is a form of theater. And the older I get the less boundaries I find between theater and storytelling.

Humanities Washington: In your talk description, you mention the influence of clan mothers in matriarchal societies. Can you talk a bit more about that?

The clan mothers are the inspiration for the Supreme Court, but in the way that the Haudenosaunee Law of Peace was adapted by our “Founding Fathers” as a model of governance. But the part that was left out was true to clan mothers toward grandmothers, the women who’ve lived the longest and raised families, as the ultimate moral authorities in our communities. So the Council of Grandmothers did, in fact, inspire the creation of a Supreme Court. But as we know, very few [Supreme Court justices] have been female.

But in Haudenosaunee times, only a clan mother, a grandmother chosen by their communities, could choose and remove the male leaders. And a clan mother was the only one who could pass the sentence of death in Haudenosaunee communities. It was a Haudenosaunee belief that a grandmother, who has changed the diapers of an important man, knows his true character, which was a really cool way to look at and value the work of women.

So in pre-contact times, Haudenosaunee women enjoyed enormous social, political, economic, and spiritual clout that the Founding Fathers saw to a degree. But because they literally had never seen female equality or representative government in action before, Ben Franklin wrote about it extensively. He was amazed by how much power women held, but with his limited perspective, he actually didn’t perceive how much power women held. So it’s just this invisible, erased part of history on this continent.

And it’s a reminder that for Indigenous women, female rights and equality isn’t something new that we’re fighting for. It’s our birthright and our Indigenous birthright that we’ve always had. Dakota people and Haudenosaunee people very much prioritized in our philosophies, male and female balance. So that’s the clan mothers.

Humanities Washington: How did you select the Seneca story of The Peacemaker and the Dakota story of White Buffalo Calf Woman to tell during the talk? What stands out about them?

I really felt like each of these stories say a lot about each of my cultures: about my Haudenosaunee culture, my great grandmother’s Seneca-Cayuga family, and my Dakota family and identity, which is, to be honest, a lot stronger because that’s the community I was raised in. I actually have a fairly insecure identity as a Seneca-Cayuga person, which is kind of sad. And that’s actually partly why I really wanted to tell, learn, and tell stories from my Haudenosaunee ancestry because I don’t want it to be forgotten and felt like that should be honored. And the reason I don’t know nearly as much has everything to do with the Carlisle Indian boarding school. So learning these stories is also very much an active reclamation and resistance to being erased.

Humanities Washington: What would you want listeners to take away from your talk?

That female power is all around us, whether we see it or not. It really wasn’t until I was a young woman that I recognized my own mother and grandmother as incredibly powerful women. Because I was immature, I didn’t see it. Female power is something that we can help to acknowledge and support and nurture by seeing it. And I never saw or heard any of these stories when I was growing up, or anywhere in the public education system—stories of Indigenous women, leaders, holding social and spiritual, and political clarity in our communities.

Precontact is not a story that’s told. But it’s also a story that right now feels so needed. And it lifts me up every time I get to share these stories. Also, our problems aren’t new as humans. We’ve been struggling with this for a while.

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Your COVID-denying Uncle Isn’t a Bad Person Tue, 08 Nov 2022 23:28:07 +0000 Many Americans don't believe the scientific consensus. Philosopher Michael Goldsby talks about why, and examines how good people can be led to bad ideas.

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In an era when terms like post-truth and alternative facts have entered the popular lexicon, it can be useful to take a step back and reflect on the conditions that give rise to those terms in the first place.

Michael Goldsby, an associate professor of philosophy in the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs at Washington State University, gives a Speakers Bureau talk that examines the phenomenon of science denialism.

Fittingly titled “Why Deny Science?”, the talk is Goldsby’s attempt to answer that question through his own research on the logic and epistemology of science. In addition to highlighting the ways in which conventional wisdom about science deniers can be unhelpful, he explains why the rejection of established scientific findings poses a grave, even existential threat. On a hopeful note, Goldsby also proposes ways to find common ground with science deniers—which might just be the key to changing their minds.

Humanities Washington: Taking a page from the title of your talk, let’s start by asking the obvious: Why would someone deny science?

Michael Goldsby: It’s an interesting case. It turns out there are a lot of theories as to why those who deny science actually do so. And in my talk, I look at why many of those theories don’t actually work.

More often than not, people will assume that those who deny scientific claims simply don’t understand the science. If a science denier had more information, the assumption runs, then they really wouldn’t deny the science. But there’s actually quite a bit of empirical evidence that shows that, once you adjust for education level, people who deny science pretty much know about the same as anybody who believes the science. It’s kind of a confounding finding.

They’ve done this with, say, the theory of evolution and climate change. Instead of asking true or false questions about science, they ask, what do climate scientists or evolutionary biologists say about this topic? And when you raise the question that way, people who deny science pretty much know what the climate scientists or evolutionary biologists are saying about the science. So it turns out that it’s not really that much of a knowledge gap—contrary to what I think is a prevailing opinion.

Another claim is that science denialism is all just political and tribal. And while that can account for some results, it comes down more to an approach that ignores shared values. Specifically, in our polarized society, when you say something to the effect of, “The science says this thing is happening, and you’re partially complicit,” somebody makes the inference, “Well, I don’t feel like I’m a bad person. And since I’m not a bad person, that means the science can’t be real.”

And, unfortunately, politics does enter into it in the form of a political apparatus that reinforces that claim. It says, “You’re actually good people, and it’s the science that’s wrong in trying to make you feel bad.”

There is empirical evidence that shows that people on both sides of the political spectrum actually care about the future. Neither side wants to hurt the poor. Neither wants to saddle future generations with more burdens. And neither wants to hurt the environment.

But doesn’t consistent bad behavior define a bad person?

There’s a suppressed premise there. If living a particular lifestyle is bad for the climate, does continuing to live that lifestyle indeed make you an inherently bad person overall? No. It does mean that you’re contributing to the problem if you can’t make changes for the better. But it doesn’t make you a bad person.

Sadly, I think our political debates actually do set it up such that everybody who opposes a particular thing is seen as a villain. And, ironically, when you school somebody who’s, say, a climate denier, by saying, “You’re killing the planet,” you’re actually exacerbating the problem. Because it gives them more reason to double down. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, one way out of this is to promote shared values: “I know you’re not a bad person. You’re just doing some things that are not as good as they could be.”

So we should instead proceed from the assumption: good person, bad behavior?

Yes. I’m not necessarily religious, but I’m going to go ahead and say that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There’s some truth to that. But it doesn’t mean that we’re all bad people. We all have bits of bad behavior, but some bad behavior doesn’t make us bad.

And this again returns to my point about shared values. There is empirical evidence that shows that people on both sides of the political spectrum actually care about the future. Neither side wants to hurt the poor. Neither wants to saddle future generations with more burdens. And neither wants to hurt the environment. In fact, study after study shows both sides of the political spectrum generally agree on those issues.

The thing is, if you tell somebody that their actions will end up hurting the poor, they reflect on themselves and say, “You know, we both understand that hurting the poor is what a bad person does, which means you’re accusing me of being a bad person. And I’m not a bad person overall.” So of course they’re going to have to reject the scientific claims—at least to keep consistent in their own heads.

What’s the role of social media in all this?

There’s a lot of work being done on that. Believe it or not, philosophers of science have been looking at this for a long time. It’s called the looping effect, which is this ability to validate your choices based on further affirmative interactions.

Now, I’m not an expert on social media, but it does seem like social media in particular rewards more extreme claims. If you say, “I had a cupcake,” you’re not going to get as many likes as if you said, “I had the best cupcake in the world!” There’s a certain, dare I say, ratings-centered approach to many people’s engagement on social media.

This ratings-centered approach likewise incentivizes the vilification of people who anger you. If you say, “Oh, I had a disagreement with my friend,” that’s not going to get as many likes as, “My friend is the devil! They believe that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese!” At first it sounds kind of funny, but I believe that adds to the vilification and, actually, it encourages people to double down.

Let’s face it: The people who deny science aren’t genocidal maniacs. They’re regular people trying to do what’s best as a general rule. But when you’re not talking about a particular behavior that could be made better, you’re actually making it about the character. And of course they’re going to react.

Framing things in terms of “good” and “bad” invariably lends things a moral dimension. Couldn’t people also deny science for the sake of convenience—that is, to persist in hedonistic or selfish behavior?

I wouldn’t rule out that people are denying science for selfish reasons. Or that some people are doing it because it conveniently allows them to live the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to. And it is hard to make a lot of changes. For example, I call myself a chegan, and that’s a vegan who cheats. So I will occasionally have a cheeseburger.

But there is this tendency toward extremes, and believe it or not, the denial of science in this arena is actually informed by certain values. Someone who rejects the science that tells them to cut down on cheeseburgers is defending a value of allowing the future to be able to enjoy the same things that they enjoyed in some regard.

You’d mentioned something about remaining consistent. How does a desire for consistency inform the logic of science denialism?

One thing that I look at a lot is how people reason through these things. I’m not a psychologist. Instead I pay attention to the reasoning behind ideas and behavior.

If you engage with a science denier, one thing you can’t do, ironically, is go in and provide what you think are the scientific facts or the necessary evidence. This is because a skilled science denier—and it doesn’t really take much effort—can always come up with some response to every challenge you make. They’re able to remain consistent.

Consistency is the minimum standard of rationality. It’s a very low bar and easy to maintain. To avoid threatening that consistency, we’ve got to start thinking about emphasizing shared values and refrain from vilifying those who deny the science.

Another thing to bear in mind—and I find this link especially interesting—is that it turns out that there’s also quite a bit of similarity between science denialism and conspiracy theories. Almost every conspiracy theory can remain consistent no matter what evidence you provide. Trying to disprove them is like playing whack-a-mole with the counterarguments.

But aside from being frustrating for their interlocutor, this dogged consistency actually erodes the science denier’s or conspiracy theorist’s ability to make predictions. And that means it erodes their ability to make good policy decisions—or good decisions in general. To my mind, this is the biggest threat posed by science denialism.

One appeal of conspiracy theories is that you’re privy to some higher-order truth. Does science denialism also rest in that same sense of specialness, so that folks can romanticize themselves as skeptics or a free thinkers?

I can’t really speak to the romantic appeal. However, what I can say is that one of the best ways of combating conspiracy theories or science denialism is actually to turn it around and say, “My side, we can make predictions. Why don’t you tell us what’s going to happen in the future?”

In a way, what you’re doing there is avoiding the game of whack-a-mole, trying to defeat every claim and every assumption back to first principles. You’re not stuck trying to disprove their theory, you’re asking them to validate it: “Do you feel your theory is strong enough that you can make good predictions? Because if it is, then it’s valuable. And if it’s not, then there might actually be something wrong with the theory despite the fact that you’re able to remain consistent.”

So the practical advice for Thanksgiving dinners is to tell your ranting uncle to make a prediction for next year?

Actually, yes! Ask them to make a prediction. Because, once again, it’s so simple to maintain consistency—especially when it comes to conspiracy theories, which offer a ‘truth’ and a very fluid ‘cover story’ that allows them to remain consistent.

That approach often works because our arguments tend to rely on showing that our interlocutor is inconsistent. It’s a long and hallowed tradition in philosophy to argue in that way. However, I think people are more sophisticated. Maybe the tradition ought to be, how well can you make predictions based on the claims you’re making?

So, next Thanksgiving, do that experiment. Then, in a year’s time, see if your climate-change-denying relative has changed their mind—or at least doesn’t bring that topic up anymore.

Has our conversation been a “Why Deny Science?” spoiler, or do you have extra perks for your audiences?

It’s not all doom and gloom, and I do try to have fun. One of the things I do in my talk is teach you how to become a science denier in three easy steps. And then, of course, I explain why you ought not to be.

And I also try to offer a little hope, because it’s really easy to look at the news and the tribalism and to lose heart. But by exposing the mechanics and dangers of science denialism and the fact that shared values can help us overcome it, I’d like to think we’re working on a roadmap to a better place.

E.J. Iannelli is the arts and music director at Spokane Public Radio, and a freelance writer, editor, and translator. He’s a regular contributor to regional newspapers and magazines as well as the Times Literary Supplement.

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Found Poem Thu, 20 Oct 2022 18:26:12 +0000 by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest.

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“Literature is news that stays news.”
-Ezra Pound

Bellingham Herald, July 25, 1919*

Deadman’s Point,
ancient Indian burial ground,
is now but a memory.

It has been washed and dumped into the sea.

The last shovelful of earth from the point
was scooped up by the Great Northern’s
steam shovel Wednesday,
thus completing a demolition
that started about 1890,
when a cut was made
at the point for Harris Avenue.

about 200,000 cubic yards of earth
have been removed from the point.
The last excavation, made
by the Great Northern to get material
for filling in its trestles,
removed about 40,000 yards.

The second attack on Deadman’s Point
was made in 1901 by the Great Northern
when it put through its right of way.

Subsequently, onslaughts were made
by the Pacific American Fisheries,
the Bellingham Canning Company,
and the Fairhaven Land Company.

The latter concern washed a big portion
into the sea to make room for
George Hackett’s Cold Storage plant,
since acquired by the Pacific American Fisheries
and converted to other uses.

From time to time during the excavations
Indian skulls and skeletons were unearthed.
Early this week an Indian skull
that was almost flat from the forehead back
was found. The Great Northern still lacks
earth to fill in all its trestles in this vicinity
and it will now remove 20,000 yards
from a point south of McKenzie Avenue.

* This is the date that this found poem appeared as an article in the local
newspaper, celebrating the destruction of an ancient Lhaq’temish cemetery

With special thanks to Kolby LaBree at for bringing this story to my attention.

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Announcing the 2022 Washington Stories Fund grant recipients Wed, 12 Oct 2022 21:02:57 +0000 The grants go to organizations sharing the lesser-known stories of people or communities in our state.

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We’re excited to announce the 2022 Washington Stories Fund grant recipients! The purpose of the fund is to record and widely share the lesser-known stories of people or communities in our state. Started with generous seed funding from the Lenore and Charles Hale Family Fund, the Washington Stories Fund is a tool to dismantle barriers and add to the cultural richness of Washington State.  

Any nonprofit organization can apply, and recipients are selected once per year through a competitive process. 

The awardees are: 

  • Wing Luke Memorial Foundation for “Japanese American Resisters to WWII Incarceration.” The Wing Luke Museum will produce an exhibition that weaves together historical materials, first-person stories, and contemporary artwork. On view from October 2022 to Sept 2023, the exhibit will explore the complex landscape of resistance to the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, illuminating connections between this history and the experiences of other communities who are working to heal from trauma, right historic wrongs, and dismantle oppressive systems.  
  • Living Voices for “Home Front/War Front.” Home Front/War Front is a new Living Voices historical multimedia program about Washington’s working women in the World War II aeronautics industry, focusing on the little-known stories of women pilots and women of color.  
  • Tasveer for “Community Speaks 2023: South Asian Social Justice Storytelling.” Community Speaks acts as a forum for South Asians impacted by violence to break the isolation they have experienced by sharing their story. Each year the Community Stories narratives shed light on the special challenges and opportunities experienced within the South Asian socio-cultural context, whether in their native lands or their adopted homelands. 
  • Golden Bricks Events for “Public Lands UnEarthed.” Public Lands UnEarthed is an oral history project produced by Golden Bricks Events and the Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission Folk and Traditional Arts Program. The project will document and share the experiences of BIPOC communities on public lands in Washington. It will focus on digitally capturing interviews of participants and partnering selected stories with artists/creators to bring the narratives to life. A youth field school will provide paid skill-building training to collect stories and learn about outdoor access. 
  • Helen House for “Transrural Lives: Connecting Trans+ Elders and Youth in Washington through Digital Storytelling.” Transrural Lives is the first digital storytelling project focused on creating an online repository of narratives from transgender, Two-Spirit, gender-nonconforming, and gender-variant elders (referred to as trans+) in rural locations throughout Washington. Given the erasures and silences in LGBTQ+ history following years of exclusion and violence, and the specific exclusion of individuals from interventions due to age and locale, Transrural Lives seeks to ensure the stories of elders are documented and celebrated. Additional programming aims to encourage intergenerational connections while underscoring the vitality of rural trans+ lives. 

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Lost Waters Fri, 16 Sep 2022 22:26:49 +0000 The Duwamish has been a vital waterway for Indigenous peoples for generations. Now it’s largely invisible, drastically reshaped, and among the most polluted rivers in the nation. Can it be saved?

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A bulldozer was churning up the ground where Cecile Maxwell’s ancestral village had once stood.  

Maxwell, the great-great grandniece of “Chief Seattle” and the new chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe, had been visiting the site upriver of the West Seattle Bridge often. In the months leading up to this day in early July 1976, she had frequently talked with the archaeology students sifting through carefully excavated bores of black dirt specked with shell and bone fragments. She was eager to learn about their finds and how they might affect her tribe’s claims to land and fishing rights in the area. 

No students were working: their project had been wrapped up, the grids and tools they’d been using in their research removed. The site had been quiet for several weeks, but today a bulldozer was working the area where the students had meticulously documented fragments of bone, stone tools, and myriad seashell deposits. Alarmed, Maxwell hurried back to her office and dialed the number for the Army Corps of Engineers. 

The previous fall, Maxwell had received a letter notifying her that the Army Corps had found evidence of a tribal settlement on land owned by the Port of Seattle. The Corps’s district archaeologist, David Munsell, had been reviewing an application from the port for a permit to fill a river bend that was left behind when the Duwamish Waterway was constructed more than half a century earlier. The port moved to fill this last remaining river bend with an eye to adding more land along the Duwamish Waterway—land that could be used to build a new marine terminal. 

The port’s permit application was routine, but a new Washington State law, passed in 1975, declared a state interest in protecting archaeological resources for their historical and scientific value. The Corps of Engineers had never examined any Duwamish River sites for their archaeological value before, but the port’s Terminal 107 property, which sat along the remnant stretch of river, was right across the channel from Munsell’s office: he could see it from the windows of the Army Corps building.  

Munsell drove across the West Seattle Bridge to take a look. He parked his car and walked to a cluster of houses in the process of being demolished. To prepare for developing the property, the port was evicting the occupants of an entire neighborhood of modest homes that stretched along the river bend. Some of the houses had already been removed, their shallow foundation pits exposed. Peering down at the exposed layers of earth in one of the pits, Munsell immediately knew that he would not be approving the port’s application. A swath of exposed shell and bone fragments more than a foot deep cut across the face of the dirt—a classic midden, or disposal ground, of a type commonly associated with prehistoric villages. The Port of Seattle’s Terminal 107 had archaeological resources in abundance, lying bare for all to see. 

The day Cecile Maxwell came upon the bulldozer desecrating the remains of her ancestors’ village, the archaeologists—mostly brought in from the University of Washington—had just submitted their findings to the Port of Seattle. The shell midden that David Munsell had spotted on his visit had been confirmed as part of a site with great archaeological significance, and the university team called for further study before any development of the area. The report recommended that the site “be actively protected from any further disturbance.” Nevertheless, a few weeks later the port ordered the demolition of several condemned houses on the property, right in the middle of the study area. The incident destroyed much of the documented village site before Maxwell’s frantic call to the Army Corps could stop it. 

According to Tom Lorenz, the university’s lead archaeologist at the site, the remains had been destroyed. “I’m sort of overcome by how much is gone,” he told the Seattle Times. “This area has been so disturbed that there is very, very little left that’s of use.” The port insisted the demolition was accidental, but an irate letter from Washington State’s historic preservation officer, Art Skolnick, accused the port of having “willfully altered this significant archaeological site” and said the bulldozers had “irrevocably destroyed a prime source of scientific data.” The digging and compaction destroyed 80 to 90 percent of the known archaeological remains. 

By the time the valley filled with the noisy bustle of commerce and industry, less than two percent of the river’s original habitat remained, pushing local salmon runs and wildlife close to extinction. For the rest of the century, the river was used as a waste repository.

The story of the Duwamish River and the experiences of its people—Native, immigrant, and industrialist—is largely missing from the popular history of Seattle. The river’s original watershed extended from Mount Rainier’s Emmons Glacier to the north King County suburb of Woodinville and included the White, Green, Black, and Cedar Rivers, Lakes Washington and Sammamish, and a spiderweb of interconnected creeks and lakes, from north Seattle’s Green Lake to Roaring Rock Creek in southwest King County. The entire watershed drained through the Duwamish River to the Puget Sound embayment we call Elliott Bay, on downtown Seattle’s waterfront. It was the land of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh or Doo-Ahbsh (“people of the inside”) and the closely related Hah-chu-Ahbsh (“lake people”), today collectively known as the Duwamish Tribe. 

The changes to the watershed did not begin with the arrival of the Denny Party, commonly believed to be the city’s first settlers, but with the very first white immigrants to the area now known as Seattle: Jacob and Samuel Maple, Henry van Asselt, and the Collins family. After a foray into California gold mining, Luther Collins abandoned his farm on the Nisqually River, near the British-owned Hudson Bay Company’s trading post. He joined a trio of other travelers to scout out a new destination a full day’s paddle north of the company post. Collins, who had visited this “unsettled” river before, stoked his new companions’ ambitions with descriptions of the fertile Duwamish Valley as an ideal homeland with friendly natives. 

The settlers of the 1850s named their new city Seattle, for the tribal leader who welcomed and supported them when they arrived. Since this pioneering party first settled on the Duwamish River, alliances and conflicts between and among Native peoples, immigrant residents, and local and global industrialists have transformed the watershed’s natural resources, its economy, and all of its communities. The City of Seattle grew from the rich resources of the river’s tide flats, from the monumental feats of its early industrial barons, and from the persistence of generations of Native and immigrant residents. But this growth came at a high cost. 

Only seventy years after the first colonists settled on the Duwamish River, its watershed had been reduced to less than one-quarter of its original size of more than two thousand square miles, and only the waters of the Green River still flowed to the Duwamish. The White, Black, and Cedar Rivers had been diverted to bypass the Duwamish or had dried up entirely. The waters of the freshwater lakes that these rivers fed and drained were forced through newly engineered routes. The Native people who lived by the changed rivers had been similarly “diverted” to reservations, relegated to shantytowns, integrated into settler society through marriage, or eliminated through disease and warfare. 

As an engineering feat, the transformation was remarkable. The dramatic alterations to the Duwamish watershed, and to the river itself, allowed for the birth of a thriving industrial city. Business boomed. Immigrants flocked to the growing metropolis from all corners of the world. From the banks of the Duwamish, a city was born. 

Today the Duwamish River is polluted, its neighborhoods in poor health, and its industrial base struggling. At the start of the twentieth century, the city’s boosters filled the mudflats at the mouth of the river to create one of the world’s largest artificial islands. In 1913, dredgers began to straighten the river’s bends and deepen its draft for easy access by ships. The land bordering this new channel was leveled and filled as a site for factories in an effort to create a modern industrial city. By the time the valley filled with the noisy bustle of commerce and industry, less than two percent of the river’s original habitat remained, pushing local salmon runs and wildlife close to extinction. For the rest of the century, the river was used as a waste repository.  

Image: Tribal canoes paddle up the industrialized Duwamish River during the Spirit Returns Paddle in 2002, signifying the Duwamish Tribe’s return to their ancestral land. A Port of Seattle shipping terminal is in the background. Courtesy of Paul Joseph Brown.

But in the closing decades of the 20th century, a growing effort to clean up the Duwamish began to form, led in part by an unlikely environmental champion.  

South Park’s John Beal was a hard-drinking chain smoker with Coke-bottle glasses and yellowed teeth, and could often be found smoking a cigarette on a streamside rock while local schoolchildren planted saplings nearby or released juvenile salmon into the bubbling waters of Hamm Creek.  

But that was after the children had adopted Beal as their grandfatherly eco-savior and inspirational hero, after they had surrounded Beal while he told them about the regenerative power of nature and of their own power to heal the world around them.  

“This right here,” Beal would say, using a stick to draw a circle in the dirt around their feet, “this is the environment. This is your environment. And what happens to it is up to you.”

John Beal moved to South Park in 1976 with his wife and three young children. Born in Montana in 1950 and raised in Spokane, he never knew his father, who died of a heart attack a month after John was born. A learning disability and an inherently acerbic nature set Beal up for difficult teenage years. In 1967 he was expelled from high school, and according to his family, a local magistrate gave him the choice of going to jail or enlisting in the military. Despite his extreme near-sightedness and dyslexia, he shipped out to Vietnam as a marine rifleman to push back against the Tet Offensive in early 1968.

After months of direct combat and multiple battlefield injuries, Beal wrote a letter home to his wife, Lana, a high school sweetheart whom he had married just before shipping out: “The doc seems to feel that I might need some mental care,” he confided. “When I was hit, we were under mortar attack. He seems to think it might have done a little something to my mind.” After recovering from his physical injuries, Beal was sent back into the field, joining a regiment with orders to level a jungle island with bombs and Agent Orange. There he earned the nickname of Johnny the Terror for his hand-to-hand combat, until he was captured, beaten, and locked in a cage as a prisoner of war. With the help of a local woman, he escaped after thirteen days in captivity and was sent back home eight months after being shipped out. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of his life. By age twenty-nine, he had suffered three heart attacks that may, ironically, have saved his life. 

In 1976, Beal’s doctors diagnosed him with terminal heart disease, warning that he was likely to suffer another, potentially fatal, heart attack within months. “Get a hobby,” they advised, hoping to channel his anxieties and prolong his life by a few months. Beal turned for solace to a deep ravine behind his house—a murky tributary stream that flowed through discarded trash and blackberry brambles on its way to the Duwamish River. Thinking about the Vietnamese island of Go Noi where he had fought and denuded the riverbanks of their thick forest cover, Beal resolved to clean up the little
pocket of creek in the time that remained to him. 

Beal began to drag washing machines, abandoned cars, construction waste, and everyday trash out of the stream. Digging out the blackberry choking the slopes at the bottom of the ravine, Beal read up on what kinds of plants he could bring in to replace the invasive bushes. He planted watercress, duckweed, and other native plants. Slowly, his private refuge became a rare pocket of native plant and wildlife habitat along the south end stream. He next turned his attention to the oily water that continued to flow through his hard-earned ecotopia. 

After a series of hit-and-miss efforts to filter out the oil, Beal dragged a hay bale down the hill and laid it across the narrow channel of water flowing between the saplings he had planted on the stream banks. It worked. In the following days, Beal visited Hamm Creek and watched as water with an oily sheen flowed along the creek upstream of the half-submerged hay bale and clear water flowed away from it. Beal continued reading, refined his hay-bale water filter with an oil-absorbing boom of his own invention, and began reaching out to scientists and government employees who might be able to help him restore his creek. 

As the creek began to thrive, Beal followed its flows upstream and down, removing trash and planting saplings as he went. He could only go so far, though: Hamm Creek traveled underground for much of its length, having been channeled into pipes and stormwater drains designed to keep the creek out of the way of businesses, streets, and homes as the Duwamish Valley transitioned from farmland to urban and industrial use. 

In the 1980s, John Beal approached the Duwamish Tribe to ask for help restoring salmon runs in the Duwamish River and its tributary stream in South Park. James Rasmussen, a tribal council member, was particularly impressed with Beal’s work and his passion for the river. Rasmussen and Beal worked to focus attention on the river that had sustained Rasmussen’s family for generations and the creek that Beal credited with saving his life. They organized a broad constituency of public and private interests to support the restoration of Hamm Creek and the larger Duwamish watershed. In 1990, in partnership with the City of Seattle and King County, they created the Green-Duwamish Watershed Alliance. 

With the tribe and local governments now providing assistance, Beal redoubled his efforts to save the creek. In 1995, King County agreed to purchase a reach of the creek where Beal had spent years working to remove trash and debris. The project included a series of restored wetland ponds connected by fish ladders winding up the ravine where Beal had first discovered the creek. The project, named Point Rediscovery, was completed in 1998. 

Shortly afterward, the federal government declared the entirety of the Duwamish River a Superfund site—one of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites—and ordered a cleanup. News of this directive was published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on September 14, 2001—150 years to the day after the first settlers arrived. 

The studies that followed the cleanup order revealed a legacy of water, land, and air pollution with tragic health consequences for local residents and fishermen. Land and business values stagnated as more contamination was discovered, and the full cost of cleanup—and liability—skyrocketed. 

 * * *

In just seven generations the changes brought by Euro-American explorers and colonists in the Northwest have transformed the Duwamish River and its communities nearly beyond recognition. Yet some of the river’s Native people and their kin in the natural world hang on. The salmon, the cedar, and the great blue heron can still be found in and near the river if you know where to look. And Duwamish tribal members today frequently echo their chairwoman’s mantra when they remind us, “We are still here.” 

In 2019, the Duwamish Tribe celebrated the tenth anniversary of their longhouse and cultural center, built on the waterway’s sole surviving river bend. Erected more than a century after their last ancestral longhouse was burned down, the center serves as a reminder that Native places and people survive in Seattle. The Muckleshoot Tribe, which absorbed many of the Duwamish people, also remind us of this each fall when they lay their nets out on the river, catching salmon for the tribe and for trading, as they have always done, in the commercial market. Despite all the changes, the Duwamish River, its people, and its salmon are inextricably linked. 

Recently, government, industry, and community representatives working to clean up the Duwamish River are struggling to find common ground, overcome past divisions, and build trust as they move forward together to address the river’s challenges. None of this work is easy, and its success is not guaranteed. But most consider the rewards of creating a new model of collaboration to be well worth the trouble. Ridding the city of the stigma of having one of the nation’s most contaminated rivers is a powerful incentive to succeed. For this to happen, everyone will need to be at the table—listening, problem-solving, and lifting their share of the burden—in order to provide for the needs of the city’s diverse Native and immigrant communities in the complex urban and industrial waterscape of Seattle’s only river. 

The Duwamish story is one case study in the national effort to express our values in the way we treat our rivers and their people. The Standing Rock battle cry—“Mni wiconi,” or “Water is life”—captures the threat many communities perceive in sacrificing our rivers for national “progress” and financial gain. As we begin to restore riverbank habitat and to scrub decades of chemical waste from our river bottoms, we have the opportunity to act in accordance with our values. If we do enough to create a result pleasing to the eye, but insufficient to protect the health of our river-dependent communities, that decision will speak volumes about the classism and racism that underpin it. And if we demand a pristine restoration of a romanticized past, we may disenfranchise exactly those people from whom our rivers were appropriated in the first place. 

Collaboration, respect, and justice are core values that we may or may not choose to guide our efforts at environmental restitution, but they are most certainly the only path forward if we want to ensure that our actions make the Duwamish into a river that serves all the people who live, work, fish, play, and pray in and along its waters. 

* * *

After David Munsell’s refusal to approve the application to build a new terminal at the site of Cecile Maxwell’s ancestral village, the Port of Seattle was not pleased. Munsell and Art Skolnick became so concerned about the port’s actions and the political pressure it might exert to get its permits approved that they took the highly unusual step of alerting the news media about their findings. Public support for preserving the site erupted. 

The Army Corps demanded a new study to examine the rest of the port property in order to determine whether any more artifacts remained outside the disturbed area. The new study revealed that while the demolition had destroyed the half acre that made up the original research area, an additional two and a half acres of archaeologically important resources were found dating back 1,400 years. They included shell, bone, and stone tool fragments, along with the remains of an “aboriginal house structure”—possibly one of the Duwamish Tribe’s ancestral longhouses or perhaps a fish-drying shelter used during the winter salmon runs. The new study recommended that the site be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places and that immediate steps be taken to ensure its protection. 

By the end of the 1980s, the port had cut its losses and laid a layer of protective soil over the historic village to preserve its contents, opening up the river-bend property to public recreational access. The Duwamish Tribe’s village would not be erased to make way for a new shipping terminal. 

Today, public art installations and interpretive history signs dot a pedestrian walking trail along the riverbank where the Duwamish Tribe’s longhouse stood at the center of the village called Yuliqwad—Lushootseed for “basketry hat,” a traditional cedar headpiece. Adjoining the site is a city park, Herring’s House, named after another tribal village once located about a mile away, on the shore of Elliott Bay. Today, everything up- and downriver of the historic village has been altered by the construction of the Duwamish Waterway, but the river bend itself—the last remnant of the original river within the Seattle city limits—remains the same. 

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Black Labor, White Wealth Thu, 11 Aug 2022 21:20:07 +0000 Author and Humanities Washington speaker Clyde W. Ford on the troubling foundations of American prosperity.

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“I didn’t see eye to eye with my dad about a lot of things.” 

In his memoir Think Black, Clyde Ford explored his and his father’s relationship through America’s tumultuous Civil Rights era. From his father’s first day at IBM, to his own first day at the same company, Ford traced the history of how technology has been used, and continues to be used, as a force of oppression. 

“My dad, to his credit, was of the Greatest Generation. He and his brother fought in World War II. They really were of a generation which felt that America could do no wrong, even though they were in the midst of being wronged in so many ways by America as Black men.” 

Ford is now back with another book, Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives and the Making of White Power and Wealth, which reveals “how Black labor helped to create and sustain the wealth of the white one percent throughout American history,” he explains. 

“Coming up in the generation after him,” he continued, “the Civil Rights generation and the Black struggle for freedom, I didn’t feel the way he did. I felt that we should be holding America to the highest standards of what the country proclaimed in its great founding documents, and of liberty and equality and justice for all, regardless of color.” 

Ford is currently giving a talk for Humanities Washington called, “Biased Code: Technology and Human Rights.” We sat down with Ford to discuss both books, as well as issues surrounding reparations and critical race theory. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Humanities Washington: Can you give us a peek into what your new book is about? What are the connections between Think Black and Blood and Sweat? 

Asia Lara: The idea for Of Blood and Sweat really emerged, in part, out of the work I did in the historical aspects of Think Black, when I looked back and considered the relationship between technology and the history of racism in the United States, as well as in Europe. The premise for Think Black is that all of the major institutions of power and wealth in Europe and America have at their core this idea that people of color, people of African descent, either helped to build those institutions or those institutions were built to control people of color, people of African descent. In either case, some folks benefit from those institutions by accumulating power and wealth. But the people who helped build them, particularly the enslaved individuals, people of African descent, never got anything for their efforts.  

In Of Blood and Sweat, I started in West Africa with the Portuguese in the middle to late 1500s, because I thought there was more of a story there that I wanted to know about. Instead of writing a dry history of events and facts and dates, I wanted to find individuals who had lived that history—if those records had survived. In an almost amazing way, I was able to find the stories of individuals who lived in pre-colonial Africa and what their experience was like—Africans who were enslaved and came over to this country, like a man and a woman named Anthony and Isabel, who were on that first ship of Africans that docked in 1619 off of Point Comfort in Virginia, who later got married and had the first African American child in 1625. I took all of the major epics in American history, from 1619 through the end of the Civil War, and tried to identify several individuals who might represent the essence of what was taking place during that time, and then tell the story through their eyes, often through their words—if I could find those words.  

For example, I tell the story of the slaveholding South through the words, actions, and deeds of men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. I don’t have to put words in their mouth. They wrote them, they said them. Jefferson wrote a mortgage out to his creditors in England and Amsterdam in which he said, “Look, I know I owe you thousands of dollars. What I want to do is, I’m going to pay you back, but I want to give you as collateral the slaves that I have enslaved on my plantation.” Human beings used as collateral for debt. That began a process in which the banks in this country and the farmers, the white farmers in the South, saw an incredible way to get funds to expand their business to make money. They simply said to banks, “Look, I want money, and I don’t have anything but my slaves.” And the bank said, “Fine, that’s great. We’ll take your slaves as collateral for your debt.” That became a whole way of debt financing and mortgage financing, which wound up generating wealth not only for banks, but for Wall Street as well. They packaged all these slave-backed mortgages. People around the world bought parcels of them or portions of the slave-backed mortgages. Now you’ve got this system, which is ultimately tied to a human life, that forms the basis for a lot of the financial system that we know today. 

“From beginning to end, the technology we use—in concept, in design, and in manifestation—is exploitive of both human and natural resources. It has always been that way.”

Your memoir Think Black contests this general opinion that technology is inherently value free. If it’s not inherently value free, what are those values that are being put into it? Is it dependent on the creator or the user of that technology? 

The notion that technology is not value free is really an idea that goes back to Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher in the post-World War II 1950s, whom many people discard because of his relationship with the Third Reich. Certainly, that is a stain on any person to have a relationship with such a heinous organization at that time in Germany. But Heidegger—and I certainly would recommend his essays on technology to anyone—said that one of the great misunderstandings of modern life is that technology is value free. I’m paraphrasing him here, but Heidegger would say technology is inherently exploitive of natural resources, to which I would also add it’s exploitive of human resources as well. Heidegger really would look at any piece of technology and say, you’re taking all these various resources, some of them extractive. We certainly see that with high tech. You’re extracting precious metals and other material from the ground in order to make these objects that we then use.  

In terms of modern technology, just think of where your cell phone is being made, by whom that cell phone is being made, and what happens to that cell phone after you dispose of it. There are huge piles of used technology, literally, in corners of the world. I can tell you: those corners of the world are not the corners of the world populated by wealthy, Western, mostly white nations. They are in Africa; they are in Asia. From beginning to end, the technology we use—in concept, in design, and in manifestation—is exploitive of both human and natural resources. It has always been that way. That was quite a revelation for me. 

It seems that a core underlying thread to your work is an analysis of critical race theory. How would you define critical race theory? What is your perspective on it? 

That’s a really important question, because critical race theory has become a cudgel by which the far-right attempts to beat down and quell any discussion of race, racism, and anti-racism in the schools and in the country. What I think is really important but lost on those who don’t think in a discriminating way, is the difference between theory and historical facts. Theory is a way you attempt to make sense of historical facts, but theory is not the same as historical facts. That has been so terribly confused by those who are opposed to something they can’t even define, which is critical race theory.  

Critical race theory is an idea that started at Harvard in the late Seventies by Derrick Bell and other lawyers who were trying to develop a theory that would explain why the legal system was so stacked against people of African descent. Remember, a theory is an attempt to understand facts. The facts are not in dispute— although a lot would like to think they are— the fact that African Americans are incarcerated more than white Americans, the fact that African Americans are stopped for minor crimes more than white Americans. How do you explain those? That’s what critical race theory attempted to do.  

My book is really a book about historical truths and not about critical race theory. That’s a distinction with a huge difference that our friends on the far right who are so diametrically opposed to critical race theory don’t have a clue about. No one teaches this level of theory to a young child in elementary school. This kind of theory is best taught and is taught in graduate school. So no, my book is not about critical race theory. Critical race theory is part of the current conversation. Now, does my book unearth historical truths that support the ideas of critical race theory? Absolutely. But there are a lot of other theories that I like to think I’ve incorporated in the book and that there are historical bases for as well.  

One of the theories that I mentioned quite regularly throughout the book is this notion that without bondage there could be no freedom. Without slavery, there would not have been the ideas of freedom we have in this country. Now, that’s a really contradictory theory that a lot of people first hear and say, “Oh, man, I don’t get that.” It’s not my theory; it’s a theory of a famous historian by the name of Edmund S. Morgan. When I got to the chapter in which I featured Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, I had a real opportunity to test out historically whether this idea of “without slavery or without bondage there is no freedom,” and here’s what I found: To grow tobacco—and I went into the actual details of how long and what it took to grow tobacco—is a time consuming, back breaking process. If Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and George Washington didn’t have enslaved people to grow their tobacco crops, they would have been in the fields working those so long each day that they would never have had the freedom or time to pontificate about the great ideas of liberty, eternity, and equality that found their ways into the founding documents of this country.  

Without slavery, there would not have been the ideas of freedom we have in this country.

Another pressing topic that you address in your book, and which has been at the forefront of some recent news, is on reparations. I think that the topic of reparations is especially salient given the recent California Task Force on Reparations vote, which said that reparations should only be given to genealogical descendants of enslaved Africans. They rejected the proposal to include all Black people, regardless of lineage. Is that correct? 

Yeah, the California Task Force said it should be genealogical descendants of enslaved people, and not just include anybody of dark skin color, even if they had been discriminated against in this culture. Personally, I think it’s the right decision. It was hotly contested and argued among the Task Force, but that’s the kind of argument that should take place. We can disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable, and we need to have a forum within which to discuss that. I recently submitted an op-ed to The Seattle Times about reparations for slavery, and how I think something like what’s going on in California should also happen here in Washington State. I think Washington State should have a commission like California, a task force on reparations.  

Reparations were actually tried in this country. In 1865, right after the North won the Civil War, there was a major bill and institution, the Freedmen’s Bureau, which had the approval of President Abraham Lincoln, for land in the South to be taken from white slave owners and redistributed to African Americans. That order was called Special Field Order No. 15. It was created by General Sherman. A lot of people know it by its more popular name, “40 Acres and a Mule,” because the idea was that there were going to be a certain number of acres given to enslaved individuals who were now free, and along with that, the implements in order to farm that land. Once Lincoln was assassinated and President Andrew Johnson stepped into the White House, one of the first acts that Johnson did was to strip away every aspect of that reparations idea. 

Taking California’s Task Force on Reparations as an example, do you see that as the beginning of larger federal change? Looking forward, are you feeling hopeful? Are you feeling uneasy? Are you feeling cynical? 

Well, I’m not feeling cynical. I’m a big believer in truth and reconciliation. Now, South Africa is not a perfect society by any means, but the late Desmond Tutu headed their TRC, their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Basically, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a way of bringing together some of the worst actors of Apartheid with the victims of those acts, of those actions, and finding a way to move forward. The Canadian government—again, not perfect in terms of their approach to First Nations individuals—but they also have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which tries to find a way forward based on some of the horrible things that were done to First Nations in Canada. So, I’m a really big believer that reconciliation should be the goal. I mean, it’s the kind of thing which Martin Luther King spoke to in almost every one of his great speeches, which was about the need and the goal and his aspiration for reconciliation. But it is called truth and reconciliation for a reason—you don’t get through the reconciliation until you get to the truth. Those of us who are authors and others who are really talking about these issues, we’re laying the groundwork for that truth, to make sure that the truth is out there, so we can get to the reconciliation. That’s what my books are about, that’s what’s important to me, and that’s why I’m hopeful for the future because I believe that as we confront the truth of the past, we can move forward to the reconciliation of the future. 

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Submit Your Poetry About Salmon! Thu, 04 Aug 2022 15:54:12 +0000 Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest is calling for submissions to a new poetry anthology about salmon, which she calls "the unsung heroes of our region."

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Rena Priest, Washington State Poet Laureate, was just awarded a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets! As part of the fellowship, she is creating an anthology of poetry dedicated to salmon, and is calling for submissions.

“Salmon are the unsung heroes of our region,” she says. “Adventurous and brave, they swim from their natal rivers out into the perils of the open ocean. Persistent, resilient, and strong, they swim upstream against swift currents for hundreds of miles to return home to spawn and complete the cycle of life.

“Salmon are sacred to my tribe, the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. We celebrate them in ceremony and song, and they have long been central to our Sche’le’ngen, our way of life. By celebrating salmon through poetry in every corner of the state, I hope to raise goodwill and a feeling of reverence for the salmon, a feeling that my people have felt since time immemorial.

“Seattle-based writer Timothy Egan writes, ‘The Pacific Northwest is simply this: wherever the salmon can get to.’ Before dams were installed, salmon inhabited streams throughout Washington state, even as far inland as Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and beyond. They have been a huge part of our regional identity, and I hope you will submit a poem or two about our iconic wild salmon.”

The deadline to submit is October 1 (note that this has been extended from the original deadline of September 18), and the anthology will be published in 2023 by Empty Bowl Press. For the complete guidelines, click below.


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Introducing the 2022-2023 Heritage Arts Apprenticeships! Fri, 24 Jun 2022 17:34:50 +0000 These sixteen teams of artists and craftspeople will conserve cultural traditions important to Washington’s communities.

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From Taiko drumming and Mariachi music to bead weaving, ancient food preservation, Yakama nation cradleboard making, and much more, The Center for Washington Cultural Traditions is excited to announce selections for the 2022-2023 Washington State Heritage Arts Apprenticeship Program.   

Created to encourage people to learn a traditional trade, craft, or skill, the Heritage Arts Apprenticeship Program conserves and helps carry on cultural traditions important to Washington’s communities. Program participants may teach or study music, visual art, occupational arts, dance, culinary traditions, storytelling and other verbal arts, and much more. The program is a partnership between Humanities Washington and ArtsWA. 

Through the Heritage Arts Apprenticeship Program, a skilled and experienced master artist mentors an apprentice, spending at least 100 hours of one-on-one time during the program year. The master artist will teach skills related to a tradition in their community, conserving that tradition and allowing it to thrive in future generations. Each year, the program culminates in a free event to introduce the public to these unique cultural traditions. 

“Because these practices are often learned informally in a one-on-one setting, they are at risk of getting lost,” said Langston Collin Wilkins, director of the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions. “This program helps ensure not only that a new generation of folk and traditional artists preserve their crafts, but they also gain ways to connect to their history and community.”

Now going into its fifth year, over 100 people have participated in the program since its inception. Check out information about participants, their traditions, and their progress throughout the year at   

The Center for Washington Cultural Traditions is a program of Humanities Washington, presented in partnership with the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA). The Heritage Arts Apprenticeship Program is generously supported by funding received from ArtsWA, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Washington State Legislature. 

The 2022-2023 Apprenticeships 

Tradition: Abhangs: Marathi Songs of Devotion 

Abhangs are a form of worship music from Maharashtra in Western India dating back to the 17th century. They are often exuberant expressions of community experience, as people join in the refrain with raised voices, cymbals, and drums. The master artist will teach a collection of 20 such songs, including those written by lesser-known female poets. 

Master: Srivani Jade, Kirkland 

Apprentice: Suchitra Iyer, Sammamish 


Tradition: American Native Shell and Stone Arts 

This apprenticeship will focus on some of the oldest arts of the Americas: tools and jewelry made of stone and shell—an art that relies on the connection between nature and the native peoples of the Americas. 

Master: Jim Baugh, Ellensburg 

Apprentice: Klairyssa Aronica, Ellensburg 


Tradition: Bharatanatyam Kalakshetra Dance 

Bharatanatyam, sometimes known as the “dance of India,” is a dance style used to relay stories of historical significance from generation to generation. Storytelling using this ancient dance form allows a connection to Indian culture, especially to those who no longer live in India and don’t have access to a large Indian community. 

Master: Devika Gates, Mead 

Apprentice: Naya Gates, Mead 


Tradition: Plateau/Yakama Cradleboards 

The Yakama Tribe has traditionally used cradleboards to safely carry their babies, whether it be on horseback or for protection from the elements. Cradleboards also provide a sense of security, since the cradleboard’s snugness imitates the way babies feel within their mother’s wombs. While there are several styles of Native American cradleboards, this apprenticeship focuses on the style of the Yakama Nation. 

Master: Janice Anne Whitefoot, Harrah 

Apprentice: Alexandria Whitefoot, Harrah 


Tradition: Los Matachines 

Los matachines is the term for a traditional religious dance as well for those who participate in it. It traces its roots to a popular sword dance in Medieval times called a morisca. This apprenticeship aims to create a spiritual praxis, a way to build awareness of history and social constructs of settler colonialism while rerooting traditional medicine and mental health. 

Pedro Meza Madera, Master, Zillah 

Pedro Jr. Meza Avila, Apprentice, Seattle 


Tradition: Bharatanatyam 

Bharatanatyam is an ancient Indian classical dance style rooted in Natya Shastra, the first-ever literature on dance and drama from between 500-200 BCE. The hallmark of this dance form lies in the beautiful confluence of rhythmic footwork, graceful lines, stylized facial expressions, soulful music and emotional connection between the artist and audience, who share a spiritual experience.  

Master: Anwesha Das, Bothell 

Apprentice: Nidhi Achanta, Newcastle 


Tradition: Japanese Taiko Drumming 

Taiko drumming dates back to the 6th century, where it was introduced to Japan through Chinese and Korean cultural influences. Since then, Taiko drumming has been used in Japan for various occasions including religious ceremonies, entertainment, and even military actions. The current popular form of “kumi-daiko,” or ensemble taiko, started taking shape in 1951 by Master Taiko drummer Daihachi Oguchi and was made popular by groups like Ondekoza and Kodo. 

Master: Ringtaro Tateishi, Lynnwood 

Apprentice: Eugene Arai, Anacortes 


Tradition: Blues, Soul and Gospel Singing 

Singing and music is a vital part of Black culture, and they are powerful tools that bring communities together for storytelling, celebrating, mourning, healing, and more. By mastering a wide variety of vocal techniques, this apprenticeship will pass down the historical significance and cultural heritage of this music to another generation. 

Anita “Lady A” White, Master, Seattle 

Patricia Miller, Apprentice, Seattle 


Tradition: Nattuvangam Techniques 

Used in Indian classical dance recitals, Nattuvangam is the art of reciting syllables and playing cymbals to follow the footwork of a dancer. The cymbal on the right hand is made of brass material and makes the treble sound, while the one held in the left hand is made of iron and makes the bass sound.  

Master: Sandhya Kandadai Rajagopal, Sammamish 

Apprentice: Vibha Krishna, Sammamish 


Tradition: Natural Color and Dyeing 

This apprenticeship focuses on revitalizing traditions of creating color from natural sources in a contemporary context. The pair will explore universals and methods of natural dyeing, including accessing local sources of color, and connecting these to heritage dye traditions with a focus on Cherokee (Elena) and Indigenous Sámi/Finnish (Marja) traditions. 

Master: Marja Eloheimo, Olympia 

Apprentice: Elena Haas, Seattle 


Tradition: Old World Techniques for Preserving the Harvest 

This apprenticeship explores traditional old-world methods for preserving high-acid foods to create products such as jams & sauces, pickles, and lacto-fermentations. Focused primarily on water-bath and pressure cooker canning methods, the pair will create old fashioned natural pectin jams, sauces, and a variety of other preserves. 

Master: Lora Lea Misterly, Rice 

Apprentice: Amber Coeyman, Rice 


Tradition: Madhubani/Mithila Painting 

For centuries, women in the heart of an ancient kingdom of Mithila, now part of the state of Bihar in India, painted vibrant wall murals. These murals contained narratives based on their social, emotional, personal, and spiritual experiences. These artworks became known as Madhubani paintings or Mithila paintings, and decorated the walls of almost every home in the region. 

Master: Deepti Agrawal, Bothell 

Apprentice: Prisha Mundra, Bothell 


Tradition: Bead Weaving and Applique 

Focusing mainly on beadwork design, this apprenticeship explores the fundamentals within bead weaving and various stitches, through advanced techniques like design, types of supplies, and how to express a narrative through beadwork. 

Master: Megan McDermott, Mukilteo 

Apprentice: Marina McDermott, Everett 


Tradition: Mariachi Music 

Mariachi is a traditional form of Mexican folk music that plays a huge part in celebrating moments in the lives of Mexican people. This apprenticeship will shed light on this vibrant musical form and bring it to Central Washington communities. 

Master: Matteo Cortez, Wenatchee 

Apprentices: Oscar Licon, Miranda Rivera, Martina Ramirez, Emilie Jimenez, Raul Mendoza, Kevin Garibay, Wenatchee 


Tradition: West African Drumming 

Drumming is a traditional art form ingrained in daily life throughout Africa and the African diaspora, transmitting and preserving the rich history and traditions of African 

culture. This project focuses on traditional West African drumming with sabar (hand-and-stick), djembe (hand-drum), and djun-djun (big-barrel bass). 

Master: Thione Diop, Seattle 

Apprentice: Monique Franklin, Seattle 


Tradition: Trinidadian Steel Pan 

This apprenticeship focuses on the native performance practice of the steel pan instrument from Trinidad & Tobago. Special consideration will be given to performance technique, and the musical and rhythmic idioms most closely associated with the steel pan instrument and its related musical genres of Trinidad and Tobago: calypso and soca.  

Master: Obejsanjo (Obe) Quarless, Tacoma 

Apprentices: Clarence (Mitch) Mitchell, Jr. and Tashie LeMaitre 

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Should Literature Humanize the Inhuman? Fri, 13 May 2022 23:31:08 +0000 Books can get us to empathize with monstrous people. Professor Richard Middleton-Kaplan believes that’s not only a good thing, but a vital part of human rights work.

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How do we extend humanity to people who commit inhumane acts? In professor Richard Middleton-Kaplan’s Speakers Bureau talk Humanity in Print: Literature and Human Rights, he explores the merits of using works of literature as a way to connect with figures in historical events who we do not fully see as human. He emphasizes that we can extend these ideas, and use empathy, to prevent the next atrocities from occurring.  

Middleton-Kaplan is the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Walla Walla Community College and has a background in teaching literature.  

The following interview was edited for length and clarity. 

Humanities Washington: How did you come up with the idea for this talk? 

Richard Middleton-Kaplan: In 2011, I did a sabbatical as a visiting scholar at the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York. I contacted the director and asked him if there would be a way to help them develop a course through their curriculum. And he said yes, and that’s what I eventually did.  

The idea of their Applied Human Rights program was to train their faculty not to sit behind desks. To be not only publishing scholars, but activists in the field of human rights. So I started to think about what the value of literature could be to somebody who was working as a human rights defender. 

What I started to realize was that in many works of literature, there’s an encounter with extremity, and then an author working with their creative imagination to find meaning in their experience. And sometimes finding a lack of meaning in their experience of mass atrocity or extremity, but even that could be consoling if I’d been through something and it seemed meaningless to me. I would at least see, There’s another writer who’s worked through that—I’m not alone, and it might help me, and it also might help me understand the incomprehensible.  

So if we’re looking at something like what took place in Rwanda, or Cambodia, or Bosnia Herzegovina, or the Nazi holocaust, there are things people did that we talked about as being incomprehensible, unimaginable, inhuman. But they’re not really inhuman, because they’re done by humans. So if through literature we can understand that, we can find meaning or even consolation in that connection. Or at least a sense of feeling less alone. That, for me, was a powerful recognition. 

“If people who do these things are just monsters, then we don’t have to really try to understand them in human terms. But they are human, and another such human will come along, and we need to learn from that and understand them.”

What are some pieces of literature that have personally moved you?  

One is a play by Arthur Miller from 1947 called All My Sons. A person who has done something really horrible makes the plea, “see it human.” Meaning, please try to understand what I did in human terms. And that line really stays with me, because we’re thinking about human rights defenders in the field and the kinds of acts that they may see committed. Can we see it as human, when we’re faced with something that was just incomprehensible?  

There’s a play called Master Harold and The Boys written in the 1980s. It’s about a privileged young white boy and two Black South Africans who have essentially raised him because his own father had been a violent, absent alcoholic. That young boy can’t admit to how cruel his father had been to him, so he takes it out on these two black South African men who’ve done nothing but love him and try to be surrogate fathers to him.  

One more is a work by Linda Ellia and it’s called Notre Combat, “Our Struggle” in French. “My Struggle” was the name of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. And she changed it to Our Struggle. And the reason she did that was she grew up Jewish in Tunisia, and her family left there because of the outbreak of antisemitism. Her daughter picked up a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf that she had found at her friend’s house. Ellia did this project where she took 600 pages of Mein Kampf and first started trying to imaginatively transform the page, and decorate it in different ways. She sent them out to people from all over the world. And the results, which I saw at an art exhibit, are absolutely remarkable. So that’s really affecting to me, because it shows me the power of the creative imagination, to take atrocity, to take hatred, and not to erase it, but to instill empathy in people who we might not have thought to extend that to. And to do that without denying the horror. 

That’s what I think literature in the creative imagination does. And isn’t that the goal of human rights? To lead us to justice, to better human conduct? Those are just three little examples. Big examples, of course. 

Humanities Washington: What would you say to folks about the merits of learning about literature from the perspective of perpetrators of violence? 

I’d say a couple of things. One is that we all have our own trauma. If we can see how others who’ve experienced those things have come to a better understanding, to healing, to a more humane path, then we’re less alone. We can begin to heal by the example of others.  

As far as being exposed to the perspective of perpetrators, I’d say a couple of things. One is if we write them off as monsters, aberrations, inhuman, then we’re not going to be able to be prepared for the next one, right? Because if people who do these things are just monsters, then we don’t have to really try to understand them in human terms. But they are human, and another such human will come along, and we need to learn from that and understand them. And we can determine for ourselves through exposure how somebody might have become that way, or fought that way, through literature, which can give us insights that we might never have gotten otherwise.  

This is what literature does—it expands the optical field of human behavior, the morality of humanity, the feeling and connection and empathy. That won’t go away if we pretend they’re not there.  

Humanities Washington: What would you want listeners to take away from your talk? 

I would want them to take away that literature has a direct relevance to human rights work and can open up experiences of understanding the behaviors of perpetrators. So literature can provide us with insight and access to the psyche, the hearts, and the souls of people whom we can’t understand at the surface. And it can help us come to terms with our own trauma and can then aid in the work of human rights. Part of the goal is for people to see what’s in these works of literature, how those writers dealt with what was local to them, and how people who attend the talk can then apply that to their own communities. 

Hong Ta is a Seattle-born journalist from the University of Puget Sound, studying politics and government and Spanish literature, language, and culture.  

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Prime Time Family Reading Expands in Response to Pandemic Learning Loss Wed, 27 Apr 2022 22:42:45 +0000 Libraries, schools, and museums can receive $25,000 and more to hold the innovative literacy program in their communities.

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In response to pandemic learning loss, Humanities Washington is excited to announce that Prime Time Family Reading—an innovative reading and discussion program—is expanding! For more libraries and other eligible organizations than ever, this means financial support to hold Prime Time Family Reading series in their communities. 

What some are calling “pandemic learning loss” threatens to follow many children, particularly those from low-income households, for the rest of their lives unless there is immediate intervention. Only 52% of students in the state now meet reading standards. Nationally, the trends have been described by educators as “alarming.” “We’re in trouble,” one researcher told the New York Times. Further, recent research shows that all students, on average, have fallen four to five months behind in their learning due to the pandemic, and the impact on Black, Indigenous, and other students of color is even more significant.  

Our expansion of the Prime Time Family Reading program is in direct response to this crisis. In a typical year, Humanities Washington held around 25 Prime Time series around the state. This expansion will quadruple that, with the goal of holding 100 series in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023. 

Reading is important to every child’s development and future success. To build a foundation for reading that will last a lifetime, the Prime Time Family Reading program builds on a typical library story time by going deeper into thinking about and discussing big ideas in children’s literature, inspiring families to read, connect, discuss, and learn together. 

Prime Time serves families with elementary-school-aged children who may be struggling with reading. During six weekly sessions held in the evenings at public libraries, schools, museums, or online, between 15 and 25 families read stories and then discuss meaningful questions based on the books’ themes. The books are read by a skilled storyteller, and the discussion is led by a scholar who brings out the book’s deeper ideas, including topics like fairness, greed, courage, and compassion 

Prime Time models reading and discussion techniques that families can easily replicate at home, transforming homes into learning environments and giving children strong foundations for becoming lifelong learners. 

Prime Time is a proven success. In surveys of participating Prime Time Family Reading families, an incredible: 95% increased the amount of time they read together, 93% experienced a positive change in their attitudes toward reading, and 97% are now more likely to use library services. A ten-year study conducted by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities found that students who participate in Prime Time during their early elementary years performed at a higher level on grade-level tested content areas than non-participating peers. The same study also found that Prime Time students’ improved performance continued through high school. 

What Hosts Get: 

  • One or more of the following levels of financial support: * 
    • $25,000 to produce three in-person Prime Time series. 
    • $10,000 to produce two online Prime Time series. 
    • $8,300 to produce one in-person Prime Time series (for smaller organizations). 
  • Team member training. 
  • Access to curriculum materials. 
  • Access to experienced Humanities Washington staff. 

*Institutions may apply for a combination of these funding options.  

Beginning May 5, we will begin accepting applications to host Prime Time series in fall 2022 and spring 2023. Go to our Prime Time Family Reading page for more. 

For more information about Prime Time, please contact our Prime Time team at or 206-682-1770 ext. 104. 

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