Happy Native American Heritage Month! The month of November celebrates the histories, cultures, and traditions of Indigenous peoples. Portland, Oregon is home to the 9th largest Indigenous community in the United States. Specifically, Jesuit High School is located on the ancestral lands of Atfalati, Cowlitz, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, and Kalapuya Peoples .
To honor Native American Heritage Month, the DEI office has partnered with Vanessa Auth, a JHS senior with a passion for history, social justice, and voter advocacy. Vanessa shared with us her identity as an Alaska Native. Her maternal family is part of the Tlingit tribe, located in Southeast Alaska. Below, Vanessa shares her experience as an Alaska Native and the importance of storytelling, ancestral history, and Indigenous traditions:
"Initially, moccasin-making was simple. I guided my needle through the fluffy sherpa interior lining with little resistance. However, I soon realized it was a challenging task to drive my needle through the unforgiving elk leather for the exterior. As my fingers ached, my mind wandered. I thought of how much easier it would be to buy slippers from Costco for $19.99. While this would have saved me several finger pricks and 18 hours of sewing the various layers of sherpa, elk leather, turquoise felt, and beaver fur, it wouldn't have allowed me to participate in the tradition of working alongside multiple generations of Tlingit women making moccasins.
"Our sewing circle included my mother, older sister Kaitlyn (JHS '20), and several other Tlingits from Southeast Alaska. We spoke and laughed about current happenings in our Alaskan hometowns and passionate opinions surrounding tribal politics. I imagine they discussed similar topics threading their needles many generations ago. History has long been a fascination of mine, and now I felt it was coming alive in my hands.
"As a child, I carried a positive outlook about my Alaska Native heritage. It was synonymous with family trips to Southeast Alaska and Anchorage, where I spent time reveling in family stories with my grandparents and extended family filled with aunties, uncles, and many generations of cousins. As I grew, I learned about my family's diverse background and the history of discrimination and acculturation Alaska Natives faced, particularly in Indian Boarding Schools. My great-grandmother was punished for speaking Tlingit and taught to assimilate to American culture.
"In discovering this legacy, I learned how many doubted the veracity of these accounts and that history books often glossed over the details. Recent discoveries of mass children's graves at Indian boarding schools across Canada brought my great-grandmother's story to the forefront of my mind. As I reflected on my family's past and the effect of current discoveries on my life, I realized I possessed a deep desire to gain a fuller understanding of history, not just the convenient narrative of many history books.
"My Tlingit heritage is an important piece of my identity, and particularly after learning this piece of our history, gives me a special sensitivity to the struggles of underrepresented populations. Parts of history can be painful to learn; however, the suffering is real, requires documentation, and is vital to understand. I can't change the atrocities of the past, but I will actively work to seek out the truth, educate others, and thereby contribute to the healing of our society."
Thank you, Vanessa, for sharing your experience so poignantly and powerfully with us!
Want to learn more about Indigenous culture and traditions? See the Indigenous People's Tool Kit. Want to be part of listening sessions to explore the creation of a Jesuit land acknowledgement? Stop by the DEI Office!