Guest Column | A celebration of cultures
As Native Americans, we are all united in many ways in knowing, honoring and sharing our culture.
Yet we also vary in all the same ways. There are differences yet the similarities are what carry us to the next generation, from our ancestors to the future of known and unknown possibilities.
Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 25th anniversary celebration of the First Peoples Fund organization event named, “We, The Peoples Before,” which consisted of a three-day event, June 30 to July 2, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
As the organization states: “We, the peoples before, spoke to the diversity of nations, cultures, languages, philosophies, spiritual traditions, peoples and practices rooted in land and territories that flourished across North America long before the founding of the United States and the U.S. Constitution.
“We are the peoples who came before ‘We, the people.’
“We are the peoples before ‘We, the people.’
“We, the peoples before, celebrate Native cultural expression and sovereignty and truth manifested through performance, story and education.
“We, the peoples before, embodies how we walk on this land.
“We, the peoples before, showcased Indigenous knowledge and stewardship and environmental justice approach.
“We, the peoples before, explores the intersection of Black and Native experiences.
“We, the peoples before, celebrated thriving Native communities throughout history, today, and for generations to come.”
Day one, on a Thursday, we were introduced to a panel of experts who discussed language revitalization efforts and the importance of language to cultural survival.
Reportedly, there are only 150 Native speakers out of the 500 languages in the United States.
At the Community Spirit Awards reception, the organization recognized the four 2022 honorees who are artists and culture bearers who have the knowledge and ancestral talents to share with others.
There was a canoe builder, basket weavers and a storyteller.
Then for the evening on Thursday, we were able to see an outdoor film screening of “Imagining the Indian; The Fight Against Native American Mascoting,” which examined the movement to eradicate words, images, and gestures that Natives found demeaning and offensive.
Day two, on Friday after an evening reception, the procession of attendees from different nations was incredible to see from the REACH to the “We, The Peoples Before” stage production in the grand Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater.
The show was an innovative stage performance which played out the Six Directions of the East, West, South, North, Sky and Earth. It took us through the past, present, and into the probable indigenized future.
Performers included actors, dancers, musicians, and poets. There was a mixture of drama, storytelling, dancers with spoken word, theater with hip hop, and ever exciting sets and décor in all colors.
We went through the history of Native American backgrounds and places. It was extraordinary.
The next day on Saturday, there were panels of culture bearers, a chef cooking Indigenous foods, poets and writers, discussions on sovereignty, and then another stage performance of Native hip hop.
They sang and rapped with messages about colonialism, sovereignty and genocide intertwining the traditional with contemporary music.
Saturday evening ended with six short film screenings followed by a panel of Indigenous women filmmakers from San Ildefonso Pueblo, Wyandotte, Chippewa and Navajo nations discussing their work.
It was such enjoyment to be among the artists, culture bearers, performers, intellects and so many colorful people.
Over the years, the First Peoples Fund has reportedly reached “more than 4,000 Native artists, honoring, supporting and simultaneously revitalizing the spiritual well-being of our communities while creating opportunities.”
“The anniversary event will be a celebration of cultures, rich histories and perseverance to make a better future for the generations to follow.”
It was a different week for me as photographer, admirer and traveler.
I learned so much about tribes that I had no knowledge of, of music I wasn’t familiar with, and enjoyed all the contemporary and traditional wear of dthe more than 2,000 attendees.
I can’t wait for the future generations that offer such strength and beauty of our Native cultures!
Bazhnibah is Ruth Kawano, a retired registered nurse and captain with the U.S. Air Force.