Art Is An Instrument for Change: A Look Into Three Coastal Salish Artists

The United States is a fast-paced society with easy access to information from around the world; we are only limited by the speed at which we can navigate the Internet. Basic education is now available to more people than ever in history (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina). There has never been an easier time to reevaluate how people are represented, specifically those groups that have been abused throughout colonial history. The Internet is a great platform that artists, who use their creations as a promotion of social awareness, can use to reach a broader audience. Art can provide insight for the outside world about the inequalities the Native artists and their communities are currently facing. Art can be an instrument for social change.

I was interested in how Native American artists might use their art and platform to share the modern truths of their people, and I wanted to focus on artists who are from the land I live on, land that was stolen by European settlers. As of the 2010 census, there are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives living in America. In the Washington State Puget Sound area, sometimes referred to as the Salish Sea, that would be the Salish people. Salish is the broad term for the Native groups that occupy land reaching into Canada and down all the way into Oregon covering 645,000 acres (Coast Salish Gathering). Salish refers to the language group of the people who live/d there (Wright). Photographer Matika Wilbur is Swinomish and Tulalip, Qwalsius Shaun Peterson is a Puyallup multimedia artist, and Roger Fernandes is a storyteller from the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. They are all Coastal Salish artists who seek to educate their communities about the realities of modern Native Americans and combat their negative and primitive portrayals in mass media.

Historically the Salish were known for living in large Longhouses, containing immediate and extended family. The ancestral people fished salmon freely; they hunted deer, elk, moose, birds; they gathered roots, herbs, and berries. For most of the year they lived in temporary camps and migrated to their permanent winter villages where many of their traditional ceremonies took place. The Coastal Salish created Story Poles and celebrated at Potlatch events, called Sqwigwi, where they gathered and shared their wealth with each other (Northwest Heritage Project). Much of their culture was lost in the aftermath of American western expansion and through the forced assimilation in the 1800-1900’s, some of which has been slowly recovered. Today, the Coastal Salish groups continue to honor their past with many of their historical traditions and can include anywhere from 500 to 2,000 members (Jack).

Matika Wilbur is a social documentarian who is travelling across the United States for her current photography piece, Project 562. The project is intended to provide a better representation of contemporary Native Americans than what is seen in media and history books. The number “562” is for the number of federally recognized American Indian tribes at the time she started. For Wilbur, “giving power to a number was important… even though finding an accurate number is difficult, given the ever-changing political climate” (Stretten). Since starting the project, that number has grown to 573, which she believes “is indicative of the progress Native Americans are making today” (Moya-Smith), progress towards national cultural recognition.

Around 2012, she left her life in Seattle to go work and live out of her car in efforts to complete this project. Living off funds raised by two Kickstarter campaigns and the generosity of her subjects, Wilbur has photographed over 300 tribes and traveled to 40 different states. What is important to her, is how the subjects see themselves, and so they lead the sessions. “I am not shocked by poverty…. I don’t think it’s the only thing worth photographing. [Those] are the pictures that come out about our people. It’s always the same thing,” (Graves). Instead she asks the subjects to choose where they would like to be photographed, asking only that it is on their tribal land. They dress however they like, pick a spot, and she waits until “she can feel what she calls ‘the connection’,” (Graves), and then she takes the photos. In this sense, she differs greatly from the photographer that she is most commonly compared to, Edward Curtis. Curtis was a very famous Non-Native photographer, known for a producing similar work as Wilbur, except he was not as welcome in the native communities. He intended to catalog all the groups because at the time it was thought that Native groups were going extinct. He was known for bringing his own props and dressing his subjects, “[he] wanted to show Indians in their pristine state” (Kidwell & Velie 125), which often meant stripping them of their modern artifacts. This simply contributed to the ongoing stereotype of a cultural group “stuck” in the past, instead of recognizing them as modern people. Wilbur allows her subjects to present themselves as they wish to be seen – in a sense delivering self portraits of a greatly unknown, unrecognized, and variant culture. She explores a variety of topics in her interviews with her subjects; on how they feel they are misperceived; on what they dream of accomplishing; of their favorite memories. When asked how she personally navigates being Native American in the modern world, she responded “We walk in two worlds…. We learn to navigate with a moccasin on one foot and a tennis shoe on the other” (Stretten).

Not all contemporary American Indians agree with this dual-world narrative however. “We are a contemporary people and I don’t agree with the idea of ‘walking in two worlds’, as if my Native identity was incompatible with modern life. I attend ceremony, participate in my culture, and can feel no guilt about interacting with the world of today” said multimedia artist, Qwalsius Shaun Peterson in an interview for with Asia Tail for the Tacoma Art Museum. Peterson, a member of the Puyallup tribe, has been a professional artist for nearly 21 years, and while he has commissioned work across the globe, his work has been primarily installed locally in the Salish Sea area.

Previously, it was mentioned that the Salish people were known for their Story Poles. This information was lost until recently, and the fight to recognize the true history has been led in part by Peterson. One of the first pieces of public art that Peterson would create was for the newly built Chief Leschi Schools in Puyallup around 1996. The board initially commissioned a Totem Pole from First Nation carver Bruce Cook III. However, Cook was uncomfortable with the task because he wasn’t from the local Coastal Salish groups, and because Totems are not a part of Coastal Salish culture (Farr). This misconception was established itself in the Pacific Northwest in 1899, when “the city of Seattle erected a Tlingit Totem Pole of the Raven Clan, stolen from a village in Alaska” (Farr). After the loss of cultural knowledge that was in part due to the forced assimilation of native children, many Salish people do not even realize that it is historically not their iconography. Instead, traditionally the Salish people carved Story Poles, which were stationed outside of their longhouses. The important distinction, according to Peterson, is that “A Totem Pole takes from family crest iconography, and because we are not organized by clans in our culture, here we create Story Poles where the stories essentially belong to the community, not one singular family” (Farr). Peterson took over the Chief Leschi project and the scope changed from designing a Totem Pole, to a designing a Coastal Salish Story Pole. It was the first large carving project that Peterson was a part of, and while he had mentors and a community to help him carve, there was little guidance as to the proper design he should follow. He spent much time researching and collecting information on true Coastal Salish art traditions and iconography. After it was erected, not everyone was happy with the change that had taken place. “Some tribal members weren’t happy about it” said Peterson in an interview with Sheila Farr, “They wanted a Totem Pole, the familiar iconography; they were like ‘what is this type of work you are doing?’ It was unfamiliar to our own people.”

Since then, Peterson has been a key figure in reviving the Coastal Salish art traditions. The Coastal Salish aesthetic is distinct from the other groups is many ways. The most obvious way is its fluidity, varying greatly from the art style more commonly found in northern groups called Formline. Coastal Salish art can also be distinguished by the shapes it uses. The Coastal Salish basic design utilizes three shapes: the circle/oval, the crescent and extended crescent (similar to the Formline U-form), and the trigon (Peterson). It is believed that the design originates from low relief carvings (Wright; Peterson). This is evident through design development; Coastal Salish work relies on carving out the negative space to create the design – Formline designs are created by building up shapes using the positive space (Wright; Peterson).

Peterson is also very outspoken about how he feels his people have been treated. “Our people are part of this land and its history, but most importantly we are part of the present. The art I create will aim to communicate that and, in the process, create space for dialogue” (Tail). But the space he has created goes beyond his artwork. He also has a blog that features several op-ed pieces that could be a discussion on about how Native American’s are portrayed in the media, or a behind the scene look at his most recent public work commission (Qwalsius). He uses the aesthetics and design traditions that are not well known in hopes of bringing the knowledge back, that artwork itself largely inspired by his people’s stories and characters. “I believe that the art itself has been most responsible for preserving our stories…. Though I work in a variety of media I keep in mind that it’s not the media that drives the works themselves but the story or feeling it is supposed to carry to the observer” (Stonington Gallery). His public works installed around the Salish Sea area have opened up a cultural and historical education to, not only non-Native Americans living locally, but also the high number of tourists who travel from all over the world to see the great city of Seattle and it’s surrounding areas.

Unlike Wilbur and Peterson, who utilize social media and pop culture to educate their audience on Native issues, Roger Fernandes as hardly any internet presence. Fernandes, a member of the Lower Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indian band in Washington state, is a well-respected artist and educator. He is the Executive Director at the grassroots non-profit South Wind Native Arts and Education Foundation; he is also on the arts advisory committee for the Potlatch Fund, a Native-led nonprofit that provides grants and leadership development to local tribal members. But primarily, Fernandes spreads awareness about Native American issues in a more traditional form, arguably the most traditional form. Roger Fernandes is a Storyteller.

Storytelling goes beyond the literal reciting of a story, it is an entire performance that includes music and dance. The power lies in repetition. Learning the stories begins as a child, hearing the stories over and over until the point they “[know] the story well enough to tell it, as the story [is] now a part of them and their memory” (Fernandes). The stories evolve as the listener hears them again and again. Initially, they serve as literal lessons to teach children what is expected of them, and real-life dangers. As they get older, they can explore those metaphors to help guide them through adult issues. At a cultural level, “These stories explained the world and how it worked and demonstrated how human beings were to live in the world in balance with each other and all living things” (Fernandes). Fernandes is an active educator in his community and surrounding communities at events, such as the “Native Oral, Visual, and Digital Storytelling for Social Justice” hosted by Antioch University, or Native Storytelling sessions with local libraries. He helped create a lesson plan for grades k-5 with Washington State Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) project, so that teachers have a Native American story component while teaching science lessons. “Books and television and the Internet have replaced storytelling. We believe they are the new and improved way of communicating and teaching” he says, “[But] the true power of storytelling comes when the moisture of the teller’s breath gives life and power to the story” (Fernandes).

These stories are fundamental for one’s health, “Stories lead to a spiritual and emotional understanding on how to live in the world….  Spiritual health that people need is told in stories that convey how a human being is to live in balance with family, community, and nature” (Wisdom of The Elders). Fernandes’ storytelling is for all people, “sharing these types of stories Native people can teach non-Natives about the aspects of their culture that go beyond food, shelter, and clothing. These stories actually define the culture of the tellers” (Wisdom of The Elders). While the stories can be shared with people outside the tribe, to tell these stories as an outside citizen is to directly insult the practice itself. “To truly know the meanings of the beings represented in Coast Salish art, the owner or artist would need to tell us, or the story would have to have been passed down” (Wright). It takes more than pure memorization to tell the stories, it takes cultural knowledge and years of fundamental analysis of one’s self and their environment. Fernandes’ willingness to perform these stories for outer communities allows Non-Natives to not only learn from tribal wisdom, but better understand the modern voice of a marginalized group which they may have previously misunderstood due to stereotypes that still persist.

While it is important that we work collaboratively to revive cultures, and to help limit the destruction to cultures, it is also important to ensure that the people leading those projects are from the culture itself. Such as was seen with Peterson and his work with the Chief Leschi schools. The knowledge necessary cannot be taught in a class or a book. There are techniques and resources that cannot be mimicked. Art is something that is enjoyed across cultures, and interacted with on a regular basis, even if we are unaware of it. From huge sculptural pieces, to photographs, to Storytelling – art is all around us in its variant forms. Art is accessible across languages and perspectives. By using art as a tool to talk about their present culture, while using the methods of the past, these artists have found a beautiful way to take back the narrative and create representation that is raw, honest, and cultural. We need to open a dialog for change, and art is the perfect instrument to do so. Fernandes said it best, “Art raises questions” (SAM).


I wrote this VERY LONG paper as my final project at Bellevue College in my Native American Studies class. I spent many hours on it, had many friends look and edit and reedit, and I am very proud of how it came out despite the challenges that I was dealing with while writing.

I was drawn to write about these artists because they were local to where I live. When I first started that quarter, I realized that I didn’t know very much about the indigenous people of my own backyard. It felt very hypocritical to pursue my goal of archaeology without knowing about the living people that have been in my own city for thousands of years. Because we live in an age of social media I wanted to include a bit of that, but that really isn’t the main focus. The main focus was the people themselves and the culture they are fighting to keep alive.

If anything, I hope that you come away with VERY BRIEF insight to the Salish people, and that you investigate the culture of the people in your area that were forcibly removed so that you could live there. 🙂



R+B: Our First Week On Our Own

    Bree and I have been living in our very own apartment now for a week. In that week we have  cut pizza with a pie server, because we don’t have knife or a pizza cutter. Bree has mastered the art of cooking pizza right on the oven rack, because we don’t have a baking sheet. Our only frying pan is the size of a small thank-you-note envelope, but I have learned how to get the perfect quesadilla. We have boiled countless pots of water for coffee and tea and oatmeal and mac and cheese. We used a metal frosting spatula to spread the embers of our celebratory fire, because we don’t have any tongs or fireplace tools. I managed to get in and out of Bed Bath and Beyond without spending more than $15 AND only left with items that we needed: a can opener, measuring cups, and two bowls. I found a box of chocolate cake mix on sale for $0.83 because the box was damaged, and discovered that the giant container of kinda-bad-for-you margarine was cheaper than the only-slightly-better-for-you brand half the size, and it should last us until next year. I have only caused two minor fires, and Bree saved us from both of them. We did lose the tip of one of our rubber spatulas in the process, but Bree cut the melted bits off and now it is a conveniently shaped square spatula – perfect for getting the last bits of pasta sauce from the jar. The jar was then saved for future food-storing needs.

    We start each morning together unless someone is leaving before 8, with coffee and dog snuggles, we end the day with a show and a cup of tea. SInce our trip to Australia a few weeks ago, I have learned how to make a proper cup of tea and I understand the importance of milk in black tea. I may disagree, but I know that it is necessary. I have learned to kinda make the bed (?), but I Have not managed to learn how to use our new toilet without the lid sliding from underneath me and almost falling in. Bree appreciates our new shower, which is now tall enough that she no longer has to crouch to wash her hair. Diamond loves getting to run around and explore a new location on her walks. She is no longer taunted by the bossy large birds that were frequent on Lake Bellevue. She was definitely traumatized the first couple days, but she seems to be warming up to the new layout. We have accidentally taught her that if she sits near the kitchen she will get a treat, so we are trying to now untrain her but that does seem impossible. Have you seen her little nose? It’s so cute!

     Our new housing community is very cute, and despite being in near a large tech campus, it feels like we are in the middle of the woods. The grass is the greenest green I have ever seen, dark damp moss on every tree, and the lake is much cleaner than our last (although I would still consider both to be a pond. Fountains are not in lakes, they are in ponds). There are millions of little mushrooms along the pathways and rock walls, as well as giant mushrooms that pop up through the ground overnight. here don’t seem to be any geese, but there are very fat ducks and many dogs that are residents here. Our neighbors are quiet, and so is the road, despite the bustling traffic and the fire station next door. The giant dark evergreens lining the roads and maples lining the path are hugged in fog, making every morning feel like I’m stuck in an autumnal movie, or at least an episode of Gilmore Girls. I feel very lucky and very safe to live here, and I am so grateful to our parents and friends who helped us move in and helped this happen.

Some photos:

I’m Bisexual.

When I first started writing this blog, it was a place for me to vent about what I was going through. I had recently been forced to drop out of school, I had to quit my job, I was in the midst of a deadly disease that was doing its best to kill me. And I wanted a place to talk about that and to have the blog as a middle man to talk to my friends, family, and community. And for the most part I had that, and writing helped me recover pieces of my self that had been buried under “i’m stuck in bed all day because i have no energy to move” depression. Once I was back on my feet and in school and then a new fulltime job, I didn’t need this middle man to explain my situation anymore. I was confident enough to have difficult talks in person. The blog has become more of a thing I do when I want to have fun or for when I need to really talk something out with myself.

But today I need the comfort of the screen between us, because I have to talk about something difficult. And this isn’t like my long-lost coat story, or when I came clean about being a morning person, where at the end it’s been a silly dramatic post. This time it’s serious, and if you’re reading this, I really hope that you can hear me and fully digest what I have to say.

I am a bisexual. I have loved two boys, and one girl. I don’t know if I will deeply love another, or whether they will be a boy or a girl, but I do know that I loved those boys very much, and I love this girl more than I’ve loved anyone.

The summer I came out as not Heterosexual, I came out because I started dating this girl. I don’t know when I would have come out if I hadn’t met her, but I met her and I knew I needed to know her. Apparently she needed to know me too, and so I came out. And it was really scary. But it wasn’t fear of how my family would react. I grew up in a home with a mother who was daring and brave and preached openness and exploration. I knew that she wouldn’t mind in the least. And so she was the first person I told, and we cried together on the phone out of love and respect and relief and it was beautiful.

No, I wasn’t worried about mom, I was worried about how my friends would react.

I live in the Pacific Northwest. We are known for being liberal coffee snobs, running around with too much hair, too many opinions, a lot of Gay, and poor interpersonal skills.  At the time I was contemplating my sexuality, I was working at a camp where we had (privately, on our breaks, semi-jokingly) calculated that at least 40% of staff were out and openly queer and at least 15% were closeted or oblivious. That proportion was pretty typical over the past three years of working for camp, and I had made many gay/queer friends. But in that time they had addressed me and treated me like I was straight. I was an ally in their eyes. And that was fine, but I also had taken in the jokes they made about straight girls who experiment, or the torment of falling for a straight girl, or what a lesbian should look like, and what is gay and what isn’t. At the time, it was intimidating. At the time I didn’t know what they genuinely believed,  what was a joke, or what was a remark masking their insecurities. They were my only IN to an entire community, and so far it looked like they didn’t want someone who looked like me.

A week before I told Bree I liked her, and thus a week before I came out, I was sitting on my bunk chatting with coworkers and somehow the conversation got steered to who we thought was gay at camp. This is INCREDIBLY common. It is one of the few environments that is so saturated with Gay, that everyone gets way too excited. If someone is gay it means you get to like them, or at the very least provides common ground and a sense of unity. I asked why in the past three years no one had asked me if I was gay, and my cabin-mate laughed and said,  “Raelee, we know you aren’t gay because – ”

Lets just stop here for a second, I think it would be important for me to tell you that up until this point I had only started dating in the past year. The two boys from before had happened that year when I was 19-20, and there was no dating in high school (there was a date or two, but they were as innocent as can be). There had been crushes, there had been flirting, but ultimately there had been nothing until the year before that summer. I knew myself, I knew I wasn’t ready or willing to give anything a go until I was ready. But I had known my camp friends for three years, before any dating and they had never once asked me if I was straight or not. Straight people are not unique in their heternormative thinking. Gay people do it too. Its how most of us were raised, it is a part of Western culture. Not assuming someone is straight takes a lot of time and homework that I am only now getting better at and I’ve been working on it for four years. But back then, I assumed that my friends, so deeply involved in the queer community, would be naturals at it. I hadn’t yet known the reality that everything takes time and practice. I assumed that they could read it in my eyes that I had been questioning myself since I was 16, I thought they could smell the gay on me. I thought gaydar was a real thing, dammit! I thought I was just really bad at it, I didn’t realize that it is developed by depending on stereotypes.

She told me I couldn’t be gay because I wore too much pink and liked Taylor Swift, and that, “no self-respecting lesbian would listen to Taylor Swift.” That is the direct quote. I know for a fact that was what she said because it echoed for days and I wrote about in a diary, and I cried about it on the phone. Those two things took away my queerness. And looking back now, I know that’s not what she intended. And I still know her and she has learned and grown so much, and by the end of the summer she apologized. But in that moment, it was a punch to the gut.

But the bigger reason that it hurt was not because I felt left out or misunderstood, it was because her instinctual response was to assume that a girl who was gay couldn’t like boys, and couldn’t be feminine.

And that was what I had been telling myself for years.

“Well, I don’t like girls that way because I like make up.”
“I’ve had all these crushes on boys for years, maybe I just think she’s pretty and smells nice because I look up to her/I’m being supportive/I’m being compassionate.”
“I can’t be gay because I don’t like covering everything in rainbow, isn’t that what they all do?”
“I can’t be gay because I like having nice painted nails/I like pink/ I have long hair/ I don’t like queer movies/”
“I can’t be gay because I don’t do this/I don’t look like that/”

It would be a while before I was able to get over those things. It took a year or so into my relationship with Bree to really start feeling comfortable with my frilly and pink self. And I still battle with silly inner arguments about if I am presenting too feminine or not feminine enough. And its easy to throw those insecurities away when they aren’t yours, but for me they are much harder to conquer.

Everyone’s sexuality and romantic history is their own to share. It is not owed to anyone, and it should not be assumed by anyone. I don’t care what age, what gender, how they dress, who they have dated before. It is never your place to tell someone who they are. We have created an environment that makes people afraid to be themselves, one where they think they can’t change their mind about their opinions or lifestyle without getting judged for it. And what do we gain from that? What do we gain by continuing this tradition? Aren’t we just holding each other and ourselves back from our full potential?

I am a bisexual. I have loved two boys, and one girl. I don’t know if I will deeply love another person or whether they will be a boy or a girl; but I do know that it is none of your business until I say otherwise, and that my sexuality is only a small part of who I am as a person.


Logged Out October

We need to take a break, social media, I’m not sorry about it.

     I don’t know if you have picked up on it yet, but I have a lot of interests. I’ve done theater, interior design, I read a lot, I like pop culture and fashion, I have a million writing ideas that I am scared of forgetting, I have two jobs, I am in school, I was trying to learn how to play the ukulele, and I am also trying to start relearning french. I also try to maintain strong relationships with friends and family. I’ve been trying to learn to meal prep, I’m learning about financials and boosting ones credit report. I’m trying to move and find my first apartment, I have more than a casual interest in the Sims. I love tv and movies and podcasts. And I have reached the point where I want too many things and I want to know too many things. I have been broken by my own curiosity.

     In theory, I claim to balance all of these things as well as my delicate health. But the reality is that I get so overwhelmed by all that I want to do, I end up doing nothing but wallowing in misery because I can only multitask so much and so often. I have found myself getting bored with books because I am distracted by ten others I want to read. I’ve been getting bored in classes because I have such restless energy I can’t even focus. And then there is the anxiety that I get from realizing ALL of this, that I get even more overwhelmed – I have to find a way to chill out, essentially.

     Growing up, my mother restricted my computer and tv time. And even then, when I was on the computer I was playing math and grammar games. I felt like I had the most brilliant imagination, playing with my barbies until I was 16. I spent hours reading anything I could get my hands on, even really big hard books, even if I didn’t actually understand what I was reading. Now days I get bored so fast that I have to force myself to keep dense books on my radar. It’s something I feel ashamed about. I want to go to school forever! I want to spend my days talking and learning surrounded by other academics. I want to tackle difficult literature and learn about the great academics before me. But I can’t do that if I can’t even get through biographies about people I admire. What good is it to read stacks of books, if I wasn’t once challenged?

     For the past week I have allowed my phone to track how often I am on it. Even though I carry a book with me everywhere, I have noticed that if I am in line anywhere, or waiting for a bus – or even waiting for someone while they run to the bathroom – I pull out my phone immediately. I didn’t even have a phone with internet access until 4 years ago, so this habit where I spend all spare time scrolling is a new one. I am hoping that because it is so new that I can easily break it. In the past week I have spent an average of 2.5 hours every day on my phone. I will say that a lot of that was while multitasking, because I watch shows when I put laundry away or cooking, and I watch shows on my phone while I play games on my computer. With that in mind, I am honestly surprised that the average time wasn’t higher. But that is still two and a half hours I could have been doing something else. 

     Don’t get me wrong, I love the ease of social media. I love that I can hear an interview with my favorite Egyptologist a mere hour after she gives it, and that I can hear interesting people write or talk about their lives and perspectives. Those stories are really important to me. They help me relate to the people around me and help me form my own opinions on things. But I also know that I am not spending 2.5 hours everyday partaking in that. A lot of that time is being spammed with ads for foods and lifestyle trends that I don’t need or have interest in. A lot of that time is spent reading comments written by people I don’t know who aren’t doing anything proactive but are very angry. A chunk of that 2.5 hours is spent locked in my echo chamber.

     For the month of October I am removing Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and all the games from my phone. I am logging out of them on my computer. I am going to train myself to stop reaching for my phone for those few minutes I am waiting somewhere and learn to stand there waiting doing nothing or reading the book in my purse. My phone will be to stay in contact with people and to take photos. I am allowed to post to my blog page on FB if I write something – but otherwise you won’t see me until November.

      As much as I love being a part of the community that I have created here, I want to be able to look back and recognize accomplishments that I made, not just articles I shared on Facebook. I’m excited to get lost in my books and my classes. I’m excited to let myself be flooded with writing ideas. I’m excited to daydream again, and to get bored and not have a safety net waiting in my pocket. I’m excited to meet my imagination again. I’m just really excited.


That Damned Fence

“Loyalty we know, and patriotism we feel,
To sacrifice our utmost was our ideal,
To fight for our country, and die, perhaps;
But we’re here because we happen to be Japs.”

“That Damned Fence” Author unknown, Poston Camp 1942

Nation of “Immigrants”

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that America started around the 1500’s as the English and Spanish monarchies were exploring more and more of the mysterious land that is now the North, Central, and South Americas. The English’s first colony on the new continent was Jamestown, in what is now Virginia. By 1611 we begin to see the first African slaves in North America. They were previously found in the southern Spanish colonies, and white Europeans were beginning to find that the cheap labor could lead to faster and less expensive processes. Prior to the colonization of the America’s, slavery meant something completely different than what we associate with it today. Previously, slavery was between feuding religious groups or large cities where the defeated were placed into indentured servitude. Indentured servants were often allowed the opportunity to work out of their servitude through repayment, religious conversion, or sometimes they worked off their debt in hopes that their children could be free. In the building stages of early America, indentured “white and black servants worked side by side” (Goodman 18). These are the days before “white” and “black” were used in legal terminology. Race did not exist yet. It was much later, in the 1700’s, that we see deepening racial categories. Slowly, more and more propaganda that was released helped to create deep social divides between the lower class. Racial scientists sought out “evidence” as to what made each race so different. Carolus Linnaeus described the six distinct people; he even determined what each race was “governed by” and their “universally shared” attributes (Goodman 20). Benjamin Franklin wrote false articles about the danger and violence that the Native Americans were causing for the settlers, “leaking” them to the French newspapers and other European circles in hopes of gaining sympathy – money and resources – from them (Parkinson). These same fake articles made their way back to the colonies, stirring up concern from the white populace, and encouraged the racial distinctions between the immigrants and the indigenous peoples.

Build A Wall:

Since 9/11, white America has been most concerned about middle-eastern and Mexican immigrants. The government has increased its budget from 7.5 billion to 417 billion on border protection and immigration enforcement (Pringle). There are articles every day about children that are being separated from their parents when caught crossing the border. Recently there has been controversy over whether the children are being treated properly after reports of a child that died just days after release (Sacchetti). Families are risking their lives just for the chance to make it across America’s borders. Restrictions and increased security have only changed the routes that the illegal border crossers are taking, and there is inconclusive evidence that the heightened security is actually decreasing the number of people who try (Pringle). Jason De Leon, an anthropologist studying the routes and lives of the migrants, says that “the more recent the migrant site is, the smaller and more remote it tends to be” (Pringle), people are now rock climbing, risking coyotes, dehydration, etc. In terms of racial strife, our Mexican border is the tip of the iceberg. There have been Muslims targeted, refugees are being denied entrance to the country, there have been mass shootings, and public arenas have been bombed; all in the name of Making America Great Again. And while it would be easy to blame the violence on our current political leaders, given that was their slogan, reports show that while there was a spike in hate crimes following the beginning of our 45th president’s term, the number of incidents is on a decline in most major cities (Farivar). America’s racist history is far from being healed over. In a time full of hatred and turmoil, it is absolutely shocking that we are not looking back at what damage our racial division has caused previously, especially past events that haven’t even reached their centennial.

“Our misfortune to be here in the west / To keep us penned behind that DAMNED FENCE:”

It is a common misconception that tensions between whites and Japanese Americans were due to World War II. In actuality there were many events leading up to the war where the Japanese Americans faced blatant hatred and racism. Down in Arizona, during the depression in the early 1930’s, there was a “cantaloupe blight” (Walz), which led the white farmers to band together in protest of the Japanese farmers who were only guilty of turning a profit from a fruit the white farmers had stopped growing. A protest of white farmers descended to the streets of Glendale, Arizona, with signs demanding that the Japanese residents “LEAVE BY NOON AUGUST 25th OR BE MOVED” (Walz).  The protest was followed by a series of hate crimes; bombing the Japanese farms, firing shots at the Japanese farmers, or vandalizing their farming tools. By 1940, the numbers of Japanese farmers in Arizona went from an estimated 121 to 52 (Walz), over half of the original Japanese population.
In Washington, there is evidence that “US government had been monitoring the activities of Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island” as early as 1922 (UW), with no evidence then and no evidence now to show that they were guilty of espionage. Japanese Washingtonians were first evacuated from Bainbridge Island. They were given six days to pack up their belongings, sell their homes, and be ready to board the ferry. There weren’t too many events of Japanese rebellion. It was a shared belief that by following what the American government asked, they would be protected. In the book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, author Jamie Ford tells the story of a young Chinese Seattleite, Henry Lee, who falls for Keiko Okabe, a Japanese American girl whose family is taken in 1941 to an internment camp. While visiting the Okabe family in Camp Minidoka, Keiko’s father explains to Henry why they do not fight being relocated. By following the restrictions, they are proving their loyalty to America, “We don’t agree, but we will show our loyalty by our obedience” (Ford 229). He goes on to talk about if they issue a draft for the Japanese men that he would go in a heartbeat, that “the only way we can prove we are American is to bleed for America’s cause…. In the face of what’s being done [to us]” (Ford 230).
Henry’s father expressed similar feelings of making a sacrifice of himself, for the sake of being considered American. He accepts the fate of limited conversation with his twelve-year-old son so that he will be proficient in English. He sends his son to an All-American white school, to further assimilate Henry to American culture, instead of local Chinese schools where Henry would be more welcome. But his sacrifices for Americanization have a limit, and once he has the money saved he sends Henry to China to finish up school instead of staying in the United States. This was also a practice that Japanese Americans followed; raising their children in America, but sending them back home to finish up their educations. In fact, many American born Japanese were stranded in Japan during the war, only to speak very little English upon their return (Walz).
It was not only white people who expressed distrust towards the Japanese; Chinese Americans also expressed hatred and prejudice to their Japanese neighbors. During WWII, the Japanese were not just fighting with Americans, they were also fighting with China. I think that the hateful attitude Chinese Americans expressed was not just because of the war happening on China’s soil, but also because most Americans, and including some Asian Americans, couldn’t tell the difference between the two ethnicities, and so the fear of being mistaken as “the enemy” led to Chinese Americans doing all that they could to distance themselves from the Japanese. In the book, Henry is worried about getting trapped in the Idaho camp because “Caucasian people” wouldn’t know the difference between him and the Japanese prisoners (Ford 226). He couldn’t even tell that Keiko was of Japanese descent when they first met. Recognition came from cues like traditional dress, language, and names.

“find the sweet among the bitter:”

While the Japanese Americans had difficulty bringing their religious beliefs with them to the very Christian America, they were able to bring over some of their other traditions and cultural knowledge. Walz notes that Japanese farmers utilized traditional farming methods they had learned from family back in Japan. Growing lettuce and green onions involved similar irrigation processes that are used to grow rice. In Henry’s family, we see that they maintain the use of traditional Chinese dining habits; using chopsticks, the lazy-Susan they use for serving, the proper etiquette followed when serving tea. Throughout the book Henry describes the Chinese meals that he eats at home, such as preserved duck egg, or jook – “thick rice soup, mixed with diced preserved cabbage” (Ford 45); meals that would not usually be served for breakfast by “traditional Americans.”

Never Again:

The United States has this nasty issue of major problems that are built on a history of false perceptions and irrational fears. From selective housing reforms, to the Trail of Tears, to literally rounding all the Japanese residents and shipping them off to camps; America and its values are so intertwined in race and racism that it will take centuries to have an established system that isn’t still benefiting from prior injustice. Distributing funds to the families that were mistreated is not a solution, it is a band-aid. We as a country need to work to create opportunities for each other. We need to acknowledge the damage that our ancestors have caused. We need to learn from our history and the personal accounts of people who have been wronged. We need to develop a better system of letting people come into our country and take a holistic approach to the issues that surround immigration. Until we take these steps, we are doomed to keep making the same mistakes.

(anonymous poem circulated at the Poston Camp)

They’ve sunk the posts deep into the ground
They’ve strung out wires all the way around.
With machine gun nests just over there,
And sentries and soldiers everywhere.
We’re trapped like rats in a wired cage,
To fret and fume with impotent rage;
Yonder whispers the lure of the night,
But that DAMNED FENCE assails our sight.
We seek the softness of the midnight air,
But that DAMNED FENCE in the floodlight glare
Awakens unrest in our nocturnal quest,
And mockingly laughs with vicious jest.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do,
We feel terrible, lonesome, and blue:
That DAMNED FENCE is driving us crazy,
Destroying our youth and making us lazy.
Imprisoned in here for a long, long time,
We know we’re punished–though we’ve committed no crime,
Our thoughts are gloomy and enthusiasm damp,
To be locked up in a concentration camp.
Loyalty we know, and patriotism we feel,
To sacrifice our utmost was our ideal,
To fight for our country, and die, perhaps;
But we’re here because we happen to be Japs.
We all love life, and our country best,
Our misfortune to be here in the west,
To keep us penned behind that DAMNED FENCE,
Is someone’s notion of NATIONAL DEFENCE!

Poston was one of the largest camps run by the War Relocation Authority and was built on the local Native American reservation. I found the poem on:

This essay was one that I wrote for my American Life and Culture class this past summer. We were instructed to read the book House on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and then talk about racism within the book and American culture. One of the most surprising things I learned in this class came from Ford’s book, and that was learning that the Puyallup Fairgrounds in Puyallup Washington was used as a temporary relocation camp during the Japanese Relocation. I grew up in the area but had never know previously that it had a darker history. That solidified this idea to me, that we have to talk about our history, even the bits we aren’t proud of so that we can respect what people were forced through and to honor them by not repeating those mistakes. We’ll never get any kinder as a species if we don’t pay attention to our past. The world is as kind or cruel as we make it.

~ Raelee


• Farivar, M. (2018, August 10). Are Hate Crimes in US Peaking? Retrieved from
• Ford, J. (2009). Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet a novel. New York: Ballantine Books.
• Goodman, A. H., Moses, Y. T., & Jones, J. L. (2012). Race: Are We So Different. Hoboken: Wiley.
• Parkinson, R. G. (2016, November 25). Fake news? That’s a very old story. Retrieved from
• Pringle, H. (2011, January/February). Archaeology Magazine – The Journey to El Norte – Archaeology Magazine Archive. Retrieved from
• Sacchetti, M. (2018, August 01). Migrant child died after release from detention, attorneys group alleges. Retrieved from center child died&d=5051093762706675&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=IEsYmSEpmmT4-P15wMAAOkzoAKz-fdke
• San Pedro Daily News, Volume 8, Number 227, 12 October 1910.——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1
• University of Washington Libraries. (1997). Japanese American Exhibit and Access Project. Retrieved August 14th, 2018 from,
• Walz, E. (1997). THE ISSEI COMMUNITY IN MARICOPA COUNTY: Development and Persistence in the Valley of the Sun. The Journal of Arizona History, 38(Spring), 1-22. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from

Pirates Vs. Ninjas

Only one can win, but who?


Pirate or ninja? This question has spurned lively debates in cyberculture, to the point that now it is a debate in mainstream channels and even has an abbreviation: PvN. There is argument over when the initial argument started, but the powerful responses have created video games, board games, books, massive lists on the internet, even plot points on television. The arguments on both sides are intricate and carry the strength of the characters themselves, but nevertheless the question remains; who would win a fight to the death? Who is left standing in the center of the ring? A Pirate? Or a Ninja?

Choose Your Fighter:


    There have been active bands of pirates for centuries. Some of the earliest pirates were the Sea People in the mediterranean region during mid 14 century BC. Privateers were pirates that sailed under the protection of a crown (wayofpirates). Corsairs were Muslim naval soldiers who ravaged the shores of the Mediterranean, and also was the term used for privateers in the 17th century who went rogue. Buccaneers is the term used for 17th century Caribbean pirates known for their conflicts with Spanish ships, going “extinct” around 1697 after a truce between France and Spain.

    One strength that the pirates have that ninjas lack, is diversity. There have been famous female pirates, such as Anne Bonny; Mary Reed; and my favorite female pirate, the Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley. There have been famous pirates of color such as Ching Shih, who was Chinese AND a woman. There are multiple accounts of black crew, but often those reports are of the men being captured and sold into slavery. One exception is that of Black Caesar who ended up working with Blackbeard. There are even some historians who believe that there were entire communities of gay pirates in Tortuga (eco-action). Pirates had a form of marriage called, “Matelotage” which was a “civil partnership between two male pirates.” (Harlow). Historians assume that these partnerships were both for romantic and in financial interests. One of the most famous pirates, Dread Pirate Roberts, was reported to have a relationship with a surgeon named George Wilson. The French government, in hopes of breaking up the homosexual couples, sent female prostitutes and minor criminals to the island. However, instead of breaking up the matelotage pairings, the men welcomed the women into their groups, often settling into married polyamorous groups of three. Some of the pirate groups are even seen as having a form of health insurance (Harlow). This emphasis on the skills of a person and not their social identity is a significant attribute to pirate culture.

Ninja (Shinobi):

    While there are plenty of real world examples of historical pirates, ninjas have few historical records. It is thought that this is due to the unfortunate habit of past historians who paid little attention to lower class citizens (Turnbull). Pop culture has dubbed the Ninja as the ultimate silent fighter. They can walk on water, they can become invisible at will, they are stealthy and sly, the prominent character in any action packed story set in Japan. Likely you think of a crouching or flying figure dressed all in black, complete with a face mask so all you can see are their piercing eyes. In reality, that is not what they looked like at all.

    They were trained from a very young age, sometimes entire villages were set up to be shinobi training camps. They were trained in the art of warfare, but in a contrasting style to that of the noble samurai. Samurai were trained in a much more structured style, complete with rules and a sense of dignity. The shinobi were trained in stealthy espionage with skills in sabotage. This style of fighting, combined with their financially poor background, is thought to be why samurai looked down on shinobi. The depiction of the figure in black is grossly inaccurate, and goes against the very style of fighting that they used. To be stealthy and blend in one would not walk around in all black with their face covered up! Historians believe that more than likely, they would have dressed as normal civilians. The shinobi were covert agents, and while they were looked down on by their samurai counterparts, they were fundamental on the battlefield.

    The tangle of myth and truth is not just due to the disregard for recording the history of lower class people, but also to the secretive nature that makes a ninja a successful fighter. In order to dupe your enemy, they can not be told how you train or what tactics you use. As consequence, some interesting tales have been spun about the reclusive characters. A pop culture favorite is that of female ninja Mochizuki Chiyome, who was said to have learned the skills of the shinobi growing up in a training village. Later she rescued and taught other young women the skills, while under the guise of training them as altar maidens (Shinobi Exchange). As she accumulated more and more pupils, they were also taught the skills of a geisha, to be an actress, and a seductress. Chiyome is one of the only female ninjas in mainstream media, and although the story was quickly disputed by Katsuya Yoshimaru, an expert of the Edo period, it’s still fun to imagine that a woman like Chiyome did exist.

    Modern devotees to the art of the shinobi, known as ninjitsu, liken ninjas to modern day military Seals, and black ops forces. Some even believe that there are training camps active today. Some have even set up camps themselves in hopes of mastering the true balance and art of ninjutsu, proving that the mystique of the ninja still has many years to come.

The Fight:

    Among the pirates, the strongest would be the buccaneers. While they were not long lived, they were stronger than the average pirate due to their strong large armies. However, it would be unfair to have a ninja to fight a whole army of pirates and expect to get answers as to who would win. Being outnumbered would not give accurate results. It also wouldn’t be fair if the fight informal, as the shinobi would have a major advantage in a surprise attack. A fair fight between the two worlds would have one representative each in the ring. They may use their preferred weapons, and so to have honor, they would not fight to the death, but rather spar until one winner was conclusive. The typical weapons of a pirate in hand to hand combat would be a gun or a sword, with a wide range between the two. Some preferred small knives to the traditionally longer swords. Some used rifles instead of pistols. Ninjas usually used katanas or weapons that are thrown, stereotypically portrayed as throwing stars but they also used picts or axes. Assuming that both parties are using a sword (katana for the ninja) the winner would be decided by personal endurance and swordsmanship. If fighting with pistols and throwing stars the winner would be the most agile or precise. Say the fight were between a pistol and a katana, the ninja would have to be incredibly resourceful and agile. However that is the strength of the ninja, their agility. If the fight wer between a pirate with a sword and a ninja throwing weapons, the pirate would require creativity and agility which truly would be decided by how much rum they had had that day.

Grand Finale:

    Both Ninjas and Pirates have strengths and weaknesses, as we have seen. Deciding on one winner has plague the internet because the truth is that there is no single true champion. Both lifestyles are specialized in their strengths, and the two fighters could be considered polar opposites. The loud swashbuckling hero of a pirate is an equal opponent of the quiet masters of disguise that are the shinobi, and each have a high chance of success – the deciding factor is the nature of the fight itself.

Works Cited:

Boissoneault, Lorraine. “The Swashbuckling History of Women Pirates.”, Smithsonian Institution, 12 Apr. 2017,

“Pirate Utopias (Do or Die).” Thinking Like a Mountain by Aldo Leopold – Wolves and Deforestation, 2003,

“History of Piracy List.” Real Pirates – Facts about Real and Fictional Pirates,

Harlow, Kristance. “10 Things You Know About Pirates That Are Wrong.” Listverse, Listverse, 7 July 2014,

Holloway, April. “Grace O’Malley, the 16th Century Pirate Queen of Ireland.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins,

“Ninjutsu History and Ninja Weapons for the Modern Shinobi.” Shinobi Exchange | Ninjutsu,

“Ninja (Shinobi) – Secret Assassins.” Military History Monthly, Military History Monthly, 25 Apr. 2014,

“Pirates Fact and Legend.” Pirate Women | Women Pirates | Mary Read,

Seabrook, Andrea. “Pirates vs. Ninjas: Which Side Are You On?” NPR, NPR, 7 July 2006,

Silver, Curtis. “Great Geek Debates: Pirates vs. Ninja.” Wired, Conde Nast, 9 Sept. 2009,

Turnbull, Stephen (2003), Ninja AD 1460–1650, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84176-525-9

This was written as my final for my last college english class! How exciting? Most of the students picked really depressing topics like rent controversy and economics and I wanted NONE of that. I also didn’t really care much for one fighter over the other which is why there is no ultimate winner at the end. I wanted something silly and to research something historical. I hope you enjoyed it!



I wish I had been playing on my phone

I wish I had been playing on my phone.

A woman dressed nicely is not reason enough to shout.
It is not reason enough to hoist yourself out of your window,
leaning out into the sun,
while driving down a busy road…

Hey girlie! Looking good!

I wish I were vapid. So that I may think that it was a compliment.
Or at the very least, I wish I were selfless so that my first instinct is to understand and appreciate your intentions.

I wish I hadn’t worn these shoes. These beautiful painful shoes. I love to look down and see them shining back at me. But maybe if I hadn’t worn them, if I hadn’t been boosted up 4 inches to the sun, maybe you wouldn’t have noticed me.

I wish I hadn’t taken that path home. I could have walked the quieter street. The one that never serves to trucks like yours. I could have walked home in silence, enjoying the sun and flowers and the city skyline like I was before you said what you said.

I wish that I hadn’t been told my whole life to carry mace and to have my keys ready to poke out eyeballs.
I wish my mother wasn’t nervous every time I said I would be walking home late.
I wish I didn’t tell my friends to call me when they get home, and wonder if this will be the last time I see them.
I wish I didn’t start looking for any possible escape the minute a man is spotted walking towards or behind me.

I wish that we didn’t live in a world that rapes 1,270,000 women per year.
I wish that we didn’t live in a world where 1 in 2 transgender people are sexually assaulted or abused in their lifetime.

I wish I wasn’t scared.

I wish I had been playing on my phone.
Because maybe then I wouldn’t have heard you at all.


Since 1998, 17.7 million women and 2.78 men have been victims of attempted or completed rape. 21% of transgender, genderqueer, and/or nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted. At the time that I wrote this, I didn’t find a cumulative number for the transgender, genderqueer, and/or nonconforming community. 80,600 inmates are estimated to be sexually assaulted each year, 60% of those assaults are by jail/prison staff.
You can read more for yourself in a couple places. Try googling Rape statistics and look for a .org who lists their sources. I started with, I also looked at the OVC’s website.
You can also donate funds to help victims of sexual assault to a variety of places, but personally I refer you back up to the link for RAINN because their website is easy to navigate and they provide a variety of options in terms of contributing.
Here is a link to find your local women’s shelter in the Seattle area if you have resources and time to volunteer. And this is the link to The Trevor Project, they focus on helping LGBT youth.


In all I found all this information in under an hour. It is ridiculously easy to find information, so if you feel uninformed or out of the loop, take some time to educate yourself, and read testimonials, talk to the women around you, read the studies if you are still lost on why CATCALLING IS DISGUSTING. Kthnx, bye.