Tracy Rector is a dynamo. I met her through SPoCS (Seattle People of Color Salon), when she invited the entire community to join her for the penultimate SuperFly launch dinner at the Suquamish Longhouse. Since then she and I have continued to celebrate, and celebrate each other. It’s really easy to support Tracy’s ambitions and achievements. Her work with Longhouse Media and the wider community has been a consistent force of inclusive engagement. I admire the joy I see her protecting in herself and within the community she is building around her.
Of course, what I really wanted was to indulge in a four-hour-long brunch of wanton consumption—lingering over questions made of chewed dirt and ephemera that spring from my mind organically, and in the moment. I wanted her to linger with me on a Holodeck without deadlines and agendas, to lick the loose threads of cultural and diasporic dialogue, to really needle word choices like indigenous, to pry open and unhook the scaly undersides of terminology, the claiming or renunciation, the significance of such an articulated artifact, revivified. I wanted the palpable connection—something like a steady gaze over dim sum—the first-hand account of her words (as solid as hands) reaching, choosing, pulling from the many, a few to huddle around her specific definition of home …
But this is reality folks. And in reality, that kind of indulgence has yet to occur because we are women of color who do too much. The way water is wet, this is the way women of color push themselves to the marrow beyond the bone. So, using only the technology and the scant time available to us, she graciously fed me a few morsels about her latest project: YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND which just closed at Core Gallery on Friday, January 29th.
Look through my eyes to see Tracy at the opening of YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND: She is relaxed, her stance is ajar like an open door—I, like many, swoop in for hugs, taking them quickly like handfuls of bread. Easily, her head tips back to laugh, recognize, or agree. She is generous, welcoming, and open. She is smiling and her smile seems earned.
[Natasha] Tell me about your first experience with curating a show like this.
[Tracy] Well, curating is not for the thin-skinned, or for folks who buckle under stress. It's hugely stressful, an enormous balancing act, a constant exercise in troubleshooting, an opportunity to practice relationship skills, a time to be decisive, and above all I found that I needed to be OK with frequently asking for help and just holding the faith that something would come together!
I loved it!
[Natasha] How did the idea for YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND come to fruition?
[Tracy] I firmly believe in working with as many women, women of color, and POC as possible while I mature as an artist. My foundation for any creative goal or community work is centered on uplifting others. Leveraging this space [Core Gallery] for a group show, and as an opportunity for many of these artists to have their first gallery exhibition, felt and feels vitally necessary given the still entrenched everyday inequities that we face.
In terms of tribes or Nations represented, we have a huge diversity ... Aztec, Tlingit, Duwamish, Haida, Creek, Muckleshoot, Tulalip, Native Hawaiian, Lakota, Cowichan and loads more. I truly love how inter-tribal and mixed-race most everyone is in the series.
[Natasha] How do you and Melissa know each other? Have you worked together before?
[Tracy] For years, Melissa [Ponder] has been volunteering for me and for Longhouse Media events as an event photographer and as a SuperFly mentor. When this portrait idea came to mind, I asked Mel if she would be "into" collaborating on it. She said yes!
[Natasha] Can you tell me the tribes/nations represented by the project to date?
[Tracy] We’ve taken about 130 photographs with a goal of reaching 365, but with an even more ambitious goal of 1001 Indigenous faces.
In terms of tribes or Nations represented we have a huge diversity to date, which I think is typical of Urban Native communities for many reasons. Aztec, Tlingit, Duwamish, Haida, Creek, Muckleshoot, Tulalip, Native Hawaiian, Lakota, Cowichan and loads more. I truly love how inter-tribal and mixed-race most everyone is in the series.
[Natasha] Who is your community? Who is your family? How do you decide this?
[Tracy] I truly feel like a mom, first and foremost. I adore my two boys and have sacrificed a lot for them to have many opportunities. I've also learned so much from them, too.
I am connected to my family of origin. I am also very involved in an intentionally crested family of loved ones and peers. I've been especially lucky to meet so many incredibly beautiful people through my work as Longhouse Media, and SuperFly, too. These people have certainly become a spiritual family.
[Natasha] How do you feel about how Seattle is changing?
[Tracy] Ugh...I'm very sad about the drastic changes happening in our beautiful city. In my opinion, money has governed many of the decisions that have shaped and will shape the aesthetics and culture of Seattle.
I really try to stop myself from complaining and try to practice letting go and welcome change. But to be honest, there's just a lot of fucked up shit happening right now, steered by outsiders who have no emotional connection to the city, the people, the land or the cultural heritage of our home.
A few bright spots of hope for me are: the amazingly passionate young people at Garfield High School, who have lead the way for much of the Black Lives Matter work; the team in the Office of Arts & Culture, the incredibly powerful change-makers and artists in our local Indigenous community, the fact that the International District is landmarked, the diverse music scene, and the foresight of Capitol Hill Housing has been pretty impressive.
[Natasha] A well-meaning white person recently mentioned Seattle's "Scandinavian roots" to me and I almost hissed at them. What does Seattle need to know about itself that it's in denial about?
[Tracy] There are some deep Scandinavian roots here, which characterized much of my reality and many of my experiences growing up in Seattle. I love that there is a stronghold of Scandinavian awareness in Ballard. Buttttttttt, I truly wish that we could protect our other heritage areas and pockets of diversity.
Perhaps it has to do with skin color, access, money and or resources? I'm really feeling bummed about the CD lately. In a perfect world, I want to love all these wealthy Millennials moving into the sweet bungalows of the Central District, and believe they won’t behave as entitled outsiders; but I feel a huge disconnect to this group of new people. I feel angry. I feel displaced. And I feel upset that an African-American grandma who has lived in her home for 50 years can't afford the property taxes anymore, and is made to feel like an outsider in the very same neighborhood she grew up in—which was during an era of redlining and people like her couldn’t venture out of the Central District because of a lack of safety and intense racism and hatred.
Also, do folks know that after the Civil War many Southerners moved up here to get away from the influence of the North? As I understand, the largest Klan rally ever—or was it white supremacist rally ever—took place in the area now known as Belltown. Do people know that Natives were outlawed from being in the city of Seattle? The early settlers were especially nasty towards the First People, and there were many deadly attacks in order to seize land. Governor Stevens even put a bounty out on the scalps of misbehaving or "bad Indians", and made many promises in treaties that he had no intention of honoring. Or that a smallpox epidemic furthered by the federal government killed about 75-90% of the local tribal people? We are all on stolen land. Land gained by American colonizers and dishonorable men by sacrificing the lives of the Indigenous people living here. In my opinion this city is the unseeded territory of the First Peoples. And so I just want everyone to beware that they ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND, and know exactly what that history entails.
Tracy Rector expands on the concept behind YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND:
"Art is not separate from life for many Indigenous people. It's as essential as food and water in many ways. It keeps us grounded and connected to creator and spirit. My concept as part of this show was to create a space where the artists can practice their work as they would any day and for the public to learn about the vast diversity of contemporary talent in our communities. It's not all just leathers and feathers as stereotypes would lead the public to believe.
YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND is in response to the pervasive colonizer mentality of racist xenophobes who don't want to allow refugees into this country, or those extremists in Oregon who want "their land" back which was actually violently seized by the federal government from the Paiute. Native history is everyone's history here on the lands now called the United States of America. Our show is a proud reminder that we are still here on the land of our ancestors despite the American genocide that our relatives experienced.
YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND carves a space for Indigenous people to support one another. There are far to few Indigenous spaces if any inside the city limits and it's time that we change this fact. First Peoples history is everyone's history and all citizens would benefit from such spaces!"
FEATURED ARTISTS INCLUDED:
in·dig·e·nize (Tracy Rector and Melissa Ponder)
Joe 'wahalatsu?' Seymour
— Author Natasha Marin is struggling to accept the danger of identifying as a single black mother living in America. She practices radical transparency as a form of digital performance art and serves tea to strangers all over the world at midnight. Follow her like a creeper on Twitter @mikokuro.
Please browse the gallery below by clicking on any image and scrolling through.