Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories is a series of forums designed to convene the families of Native American students in Washington to inform efforts to promote student wellbeing. The Region 16 Comprehensive Center (R16CC), one of the 19 centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education to support states in enhancing student success, hosts these forums in collaboration with Kauffman & Associates, Inc (KAI). R16CC, which comprises a network of 29 educational service districts throughout Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, has a tribal advisory board for the state of Washington that specifically focuses on enhancing wellbeing and education experiences for Native American students in Washington.
On December 7, 2022, R16CC and KAI delivered a session in the Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories series, which launched in September 2020. The forum began with welcoming remarks and an opening blessing. Next, a storyteller shared a story that centered around the burdens we carry and how to find hope when we feel overwhelmed. Following the storytelling session, the participants divided into breakout groups, where they shared and reflected on the story and discussed their interpretations and takeaways. Participants then reconvened as a full group and reported on the ideas and themes that emerged from their breakout discussions. Finally, Beth Geiger, Washington Director at R16CC, reviewed the next steps.
The forum opened with an overview of the Zoom interface. Next, Thomas Williams (Tulalip descent) offered an opening prayer.
Ms. Geiger welcomed the participants to the session and highlighted the evening’s theme of hope in action. She explained the purpose of the ongoing Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories series is to connect with Native American students and their families to gain a clearer understanding of how to best support student wellbeing.
Dr. Iris PrettyPaint, the meeting facilitator, greeted the participants and reviewed the meeting agenda and ground rules. She then introduced Natosha Gobin (Tulalip Tribes), the storyteller for the forum.
Ms. Gobin began the storytelling session by sharing a video of her daughter, Lizzie, telling a story that her great, great, great grandmother, whom she is named after, originally told. In the video, Lizzie shared each sentence in Lushootseed, followed by English. After showing the video, Ms. Gobin told the same story to the session attendees. She followed the storytelling approach used by her daughter, telling each sentence in Lushootseed and then English. A summary of this story is as follows:
Lady Louse lived in a big house. She was all alone. She didn’t have any friends or relatives. So, she picked it up and she swept it—that big house. There was a lot of dirt. Just when she got to middle of the house, she got lost. Lady Louse disappeared. That’s the end.
Ms. Gobin explained that the piles of dirt represent responsibilities in life and thus are different for everyone. For example, some of the piles of dirt in her own life are family responsibilities and work duties. The story highlights the importance of ensuring we do not become overwhelmed by these piles and encourages us to assist others in managing their piles.
Breakout Room Report-Outs
In their virtual breakout rooms, participants reflected on the story above and responded to the following discussion questions.
- What are the “piles” that we tend to? When we consider the heaviness of these “piles” and the responsibility we take on, how does that make us feel?
- Can you recognize the weight of what you carry, and find “piles” that you can let go of, or ask others for help to take care of them?
- What “piles” are others tending to that may be consuming them? How can you ensure that you recognize the “piles” that others are tending to, especially our youth, and what steps can you take to help them before they “disappear/disengage”?
When the participants returned from their virtual breakout rooms, they shared what they had discussed. The following sections summarize key themes from these report-outs.
Sources of Support
Several participants described who or what they turn to when they are feeling overwhelmed. These reported sources of support included:
- Family members
- Prayer and spiritual practices
- Role models
Connection to others was a common theme in the sources of support mentioned. One participant shared, “Family is how we take care of it … We let go because we have connectedness, and we know we aren’t doing this alone.”
Several participants also discussed the unhealthy ways in which people may deal with feeling overwhelmed, such as substance misuse. However, instead of benefiting people, these unhealthy coping mechanisms become additional piles that amplify existing burdens and often cause people to disengage.
Ways to Manage Responsibilities
Several participants emphasized the importance of learning how to manage our own piles. This management may include striving for balance, asking for help, and saying no to additional responsibilities that might overwhelm us. As one participant pointed out, those who feel the need to assume the burdens of others often become overwhelmed themselves. She underscored the importance of addressing our own piles first to create the space to assist others.
Stressors for Youth
Many participants described sources of stress that may place additional strain on youth. These stressors included:
- Seasonal changes
- Difficult home lives
- School activities such as fundraisers
- The conflict between Indigenous identities and mainstream appearances
- Childhood trauma
- Intergenerational trauma
One participant described unresolved grief or trauma as a cumulative pile. If we do not address these issues within ourselves, we will be less equipped to handle new difficulties when they arise.
Helping Youth Manage Their Piles
To help youth avoid disappearing under the weight of their responsibilities and stressors, it is important to listen to them and build strong, trusting relationships. As one participant said, “How do we help youth and young families feel like they’re not disappeared? We need to listen and show them we care and treat them tenderly.”
Timeline and Closing
Ms. Geiger thanked the storyteller and the participants for their involvement. The next Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories session will take place on February 1, 2023.
Patsy Whitefoot, Marlene White, and Mary Jones provided a closing prayer and song.
Dr. PrettyPaint adjourned the session.
Region 16 Comprehensive Center engages State, regional, Tribal, school, and community partners to improve the quality and equity of education for each student by providing evidence-based services and supports. It is a network of 29 educational service districts in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington and seeks to be a responsive and innovative partner guided by the needs of educators and communities to improve educational outcomes.