2017 Running Strong for American Indian Youth Dreamstarter® Riel LaPlant (Blackfeet Nation) applied for his original Dreamstarter grant to realize his dream, “Rising Cedar Storytelling Project,” to partner Native American youth with teacher candidates in the Evergreen State College Master in Teaching program to construct a lodge (tipi).
“Native elders and artists will help guide the project which will teach urban Native youth about the significance of indigenous symbols, the environment, community, and the healing properties of art and anti-colonial activism behind constructing a lodge with a modern context,” he told us.
Once completed, the lodge was used for a workshop where youth and the teacher candidates shared lived experiences and participated in a sacred tradition for many indigenous people — storytelling.
In addition, the lodge was designed to be able to be stored and reconstructed so that future teacher candidates can continue to interact with Native youth, hear their stories, create sustainable relationships and carve more paths towards healing.
Today, Riel’s Dreamstarter GOLD project is to support salmon and orca conservation in the Salish Sea through the scientific and cultural empowerment of Seattle’s Native youth who will engage in project-based learning to design solutions that support salmon and orca conservation.
Riel outlined three distinct goals for his Dreamstarter GOLD grant: to increase salmon and orca numbers; increase interest among Native youth in scientific careers; and “cultivate strong self-identification with indigenous identities.”
He told us that his project will emphasize “project-based learning” (PBL) to design solutions that support salmon and orca conservation.
“PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex problem,” explained Riel. “Each month, students will be engaging in seminars and field trips where they will interact with salmon and orcas, storytellers and Native conservation specialists.”
By the end of each summer, 2022 and 2023, students will put their projects into action and make a formal presentation about their work to local stakeholders in salmon and orca conservation in Seattle.
This project is particularly important to the ecosystem of the Salish Sea where salmon numbers have been reaching historic lows and is negatively impacting orca numbers in the sound.
“Students will be tasked with the complex problem of reversing this trend,” says Riel. “Our role is to give students the mentorship and material resources to turn their ideas into realistic solutions.
“My most paramount goal is to have students grow within their indigenous identities. I want these urban Native youth in Seattle to recognize their own power as indigenous people.
“By creating a community, driven by purpose and tradition, I hope to water seeds of belonging and self-empowerment.”