Bioneers 2015 Indigenous Forum: A Trusted Touchstone

Thanksgiving is when I think about early encounters between Indigenous peoples and Europeans and all the complexities of colonization and race relations over the last 520 years.

All of those complexities play a role in my everyday life as a bi-racial Indian (Native American/Anglo), and I suppose I have been a cross-cultural communicator all of my life. Reaching and engaging Indigenous communities is delicate work. Cross-cultural bridges can be fragile and never before crossed. It’s not the kind of thing any one person can tackle alone—as the Bioneers Indigenous Knowledge Program Director, I know I could never do this work alone.

[pullquote align=”right” class=””]Sometimes, it’s not about building bridges…it’s about leaping tall buildings.[/pullquote]

It takes a network of highly trusted Indigenous partners to make the magic happen, and on this day of thanksgiving I am so grateful for my partners and allies [link to list in full post], and for the commitment of Kenny and Nina, who made Indigenous knowledge and voices a cornerstone of Bioneers since its inception in 1990. It’s in our cultural DNA – and as Indigenous poet John Trudell puts it, “DNA” means “descendants ‘n ancestors!”

Bringing Indigenous communities from across the country and the San Francisco Bay Area to the Bioneers Conference requires year-round funding, but more importantly, it requires the trust of Indigenous peoples.

Trust? What does trust have to do with Indigenous peoples attending and participating at the Bioneers Conference? Everything, in my opinion.

Cross-cultural Values

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At Bioneers, Indigenous attendees, presenters and youth can trust that there will be no exploitation, no appropriation, and no commodification of Native cultures. Instead, Native attendees find respect for intellectual property and cultural privacy, respect and acknowledgement of the California First Peoples’ land on which we gather, and respect for the incredible biocultural diversity reflected in our many different Native nations present (that means no stereotyping us as one culture).

Those values are at the heart of all the cross-cultural work we do to support the leadership of First Peoples, and to ensure critical visibility for Indigenous peoples who are at the heart of the Bioneers movement.

The program has grown into a trusted annual touchstone for Native leaders. The groundbreaking, culturally sensitive work we have done together has had resounding outcomes including sharply increased attendance and participation by Native Americans.

That’s why Kenny and Nina hired a Native person to lead the program, and long before me, always worked in close partnership with Indigenous leaders to make sure the work was done authentically. The program has grown into a trusted annual touchstone for Native leaders. The groundbreaking, culturally sensitive work we have done together has had resounding outcomes including sharply increased attendance and participation by Native Americans.

Bioneers Indigenous Forum 2015 Highlights

I’m proud to share the following 2015 highlights:

  • A record 70+ Native youth attended on scholarship, and most received additional food and transportation support through a grant from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
  • Special arts programming designed for Native Youth included: a youth mural, a photography project, silk screening, a comic strip workshop, a dance/movement building workshop and a digital ambassadors program.
  • 222 enrolled tribal citizens and 87 different tribes participated, with over 30 representatives from Navajo Nation (most ever). Here’s a list of tribal nations:
  • Onondaga Nation
  • Northern Cheyenne
  • Kichwa
  • Sarayaku
  • Blackfoot
  • Chumash
  • Mexica-Xicana
  • Yaqui Nations
  • Muskogee Creek
  • Oglala Oyate
  • Northern Paiute
  • Mayan (Mexico Yucatan)
  • Pima
  • Chippewa
  • Cherokee
  • Lakota
  • Chickasaw
  • The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
  • Tohono O’odham Nation
  • Chiricahua Apache
  • Kul Wicasa Oyate Lakota
  • Yankton Sioux
  • Manukiki
  • Navajo
  • Dine’
  • Laguna Pueblo
  • Mayan (Chiapas)
  • Igbo
  • Lenape Big Horn band
  • Sioux
  • Caddo
  • Kiowa
  • Delaware
  • Shawnee
  • Seminole
  • Mayan Tarascan
  • Potawatomie
  • Santa Clara Pueblo
  • Nompitom Wintu
  • Kiowa
  • Ohlone
  • Coastal Miwok
  • Aztec
  • Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe
  • Mohawk
  • Yaqui
  • Pomo Yuki
  • Akwesasne Mohawk
  • Hawaiian
  • Mathais Colomb Cree
  • Chemehuevi
  • Manda-Hidatsa-Arikara
  • Apelousa-Atakapa-Ishak
  • Tlingit
  • Zuni Pueblo
  • Onandaga
  • Chibcha
  • Kichwa
  • Dakota
  • Ponca
  • Gwich’in
  • Beaver Lake Cree
  • Athebaskan Chipewyan
  • Oneida
  • Pyramid Lake Paiute
  • Eyak
  • Tigua Pueblo
  • Salinan
  • San Manuel Band of Serrano Indians
  • Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians
  • Owens Valley Paiute
  •  Colorado River Indian Tribe
  • Havasupai
  • Hopi
  • Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa
  • Tzeltil Maya
  • Choctaw
  • Seneca
  • Tongva
  • Ajachmeme
  • Quechua
  • Mexihcatl
  • Absentee Shawnee
  • Northern Cheyenne
  • Samala Chumash
  • Lenape
  • Sierra Mewuk
  • Over 40 Bay Area Natives were represented—the largest Bay Area Native delegation ever.
  • A traditional Coast Miwok dance group blessed the conference grounds, a huge honor!
  • We partnered with the Indigenous Fine Art Market and Warrior Project to bring 10 Native Artists to attend (first time ever).
  • Highest audience attendance ever at Indigenous Forum.
  • One outcome is that the Grand Canyon Trust will co-host and produce the first-ever Inter-tribal Indigenous Bioneers near Hopi in Arizona in the sacred Four Corners regions in November 2016. Stay tuned!

We’re also leveraging all the truly one-of-a-kind conference talks through our media and powerful Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Forum Media Collections. Thank you for your support in getting these unique Native voices out there and into the mainstream.

Now we’re working on bringing them into schools too, as well as into Indian Country. And I am so pleased to tell you that we have produced our first Indigenous Knowledge Study & Discussion Guide. It’s world-class, and you can help us disseminate it!

Here’s to growing this uniquely important work together, and we hope to see you next year for another amazing conference and the best Indigenous Forum ever!

The Power of Indigenous Scholarships

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I had this strange, deeply resonant moment shortly before this year’s Bioneers conference that I want to share with you. We were working on conference badges, checking and double-checking to make sure all of our Indigenous guests had badges with their tribal affiliations (spelled correctly).

Our registration specialist asked me, “So, basically, what you’re saying is that all the Indigenous participants at the conference are here on scholarship?” At first, I felt ashamed. It’s true, yes, I told her. I don’t think one of us paid to be there. I don’t think any of us could’ve afforded it. It brings a lump to my throat for so many reasons—reasons along the lines of why social justice work is so hard.

Sometimes, it’s not about building bridges…it’s about leaping tall buildings.

And we can’t do it alone—your partnership is essential to keep sending Indigenous people the message, “You are crucial to this movement.”

Contribute once a month and you can make a huge difference. It can be as small as the price of a weekday lunch—$10 a month adds up to $120 a year. If you can commit to $50 a month, you’ll fund a full Indigenous Youth Conference Scholarship! Or if you prefer, you can also make a one-time gift.

And please spread our Media Collections as holiday gifts – what better way to give thanks than to give the gifts of wisdom and justice.

There is true power in your giving. To be honest, we rely on you to make this powerful program and these profound opportunities real.

With your support, we can continue to provide this authentic, one-of-a-kind space and support for Indigenous peoples to connect, collaborate, create and lead.

Thank You!

A special thanks goes to Kenny and Nina for their tremendous vision and support in founding and sustaining our Indigenous Knowledge program and delegation to be at the heart of Bioneers. They work tirelessly all year for us to be included. For free. Very special thanks to our founding partners The Cultural Conservancy and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

And more special thanks for the funding and in-kind generosity of our partners:

  • San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
  • The Christensen Fund
  • Aurora Foundation
  • Ames Foundation
  • Trisons Foundation
  • The Cultural Conservancy
  • Indigenous Environmental Network
  • San Francisco Unified School District Indian Education Title VII
  • Humboldt State College
  • Rez Refuge
  • Grand Canyon Trust
  • SNAG Magazine
  • Seventh Generation Fund
  • Audiopharmacy
  • Dancing Earth
  • Indigenous Fine Art Market
  • The Warrior Project
  • The Star School

And many thanks to you, the Bioneers global community, for supporting this work, sharing our media and taking part in this Revolution From the Heart of Nature!

Photo credits: Republic of Light

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