In July of this year, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) and Yale Union (YU) proudly announced the transfer of ownership of the land and historic Yale Union building at in Southeast Portland, Oregon, from YU to NACF. While we won’t take ownership of the building until February of next year, we wanted to start conversations about the significance of this act of rematriation* from the perspective of some of our funders, stakeholders and partners. We invited Tina Kuckkahn (Ojibwe), Vice President of Indigenous Arts and Education at the Evergreen State College, Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, and Angelo Baca (Diné/Hopi), cultural activist, scholar, and filmmaker to share their thoughts.
To be sure, NACF has begun this great journey with serious mindfulness. With its many stakeholders, it is critically important to hear from the myriad of voices who join us in the excitement. To this end, NACF has invited leadership from throughout the country to respond to these events.
As you might imagine, news about the transition of the Yale Union building in Portland to NACF spread very quickly throughout the Native community and there is tremendous anticipation about its promise for local and national Native artists and culture bearers, for all of the Native community, and for our non-Native allies. The event is unprecedented. While incredible in its narrative, it is not solely a symbolic act – it is one that holds great potential for us all to gather, to create, to celebrate, and to flourish. Locally, this event responds to the rapid redevelopment and gentrification of urban Portland neighborhoods that has greatly affected artists and the arts community. Nationally, it offers the opportunity for Native artists from across the US to develop, exhibit, and present their work. And in a broader sense, this rematriation of space and land is ultimately an act and a call to action which confront systemic inequalities. Of the land and building transfer, Tina Kuckkahn (Ojibwe), Vice President of Indigenous Arts and Education at the Evergreen State College says, “This is the kind of structural change that begins to address the inequities faced by Indigenous peoples resulting from centuries of oppressive federal Indian law and policy. It can become a model that other like-minded allies can and should consider.”
Each of them bring their own unique perspectives from their various positions in the community – writers, educators, land protectors and philanthropists alike. Our hope is that through their words we find inspiration and begin to lay the groundwork so necessary for the work ahead of us. Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation remarks, “There can be no justice in America without justice for Native Americans. Whether it’s preserving their rich cultures or defending their rights to land and resources, the actions we take to support Native and Indigenous communities are crucial to any fight against inequality.”
With all of the challenges that are swirling around us in this time, Tina Kuckkahn asks, “Where is the hope in what feels like an apocalyptic world?” And in response, we find inspiration in the words of activist, scholar and filmmaker, Angelo Baca (Diné/Hopi) as he contemplates future possibilities, “We can find solace in the fact that home is where our people are, and if we make the Yale Union building, which is being renamed the Center for Native Arts and Cultures, filled with our people, brimming with hope, love, and imagination, it can bring healing back to the people and the land for shared future.”
*The Indigenous concept of Rematriation refers to reclaiming of ancestral remains, spirituality, culture, knowledge and resources, instead of the more Patriarchally associated Repatriation. It simply means back to Mother Earth, a return to our origins, to life and co-creation, rather than Patriarchal destruction and colonization, a reclamation of germination of the life giving force of the Feminine.
Tina developed, and continues to oversee, the grant-making work of the Longhouse, which supports Native American artists in the broader Pacific Northwest. With degrees in education and law from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tina regularly teaches fund development and tribal relations in the Master of Public Administration Program at Evergreen. She also serves on the Indigenous Program Council at the Banff Centre in Alberta, as well as the Board of Directors for Grantmakers in the Arts and the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s Waaswaaganing Living Arts and Cultures Center. Affiliated with both the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (enrolled) and the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribes, Tina works with a multitude of tribal peoples and artists from throughout the Pacific Rim in her roles at Evergreen.
In the 1990s, he was COO of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, Harlem’s largest community development organization. Darren co-chairs New York City’s Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, the New York City Census Task Force, and the Governor’s Commission and serves on The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform and UN International Labour Organization Global Commission on the Future of Work. He serves on many boards, including Carnegie Hall, the High Line, VOW to End Child Marriage, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of 16 honorary degrees and university awards, including Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medal.
Educated exclusively in public schools, Darren was a member of the first Head Start class in 1965 and graduated from The University of Texas at Austin. He has been included on Time’s annual 100 Most Influential People in the World, Rolling Stone’s 25 People Shaping the Future, Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, and OUT Magazine’s Power 50.
He is also the Cultural Resources Coordinator at Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the defense and protection of culturally significant ancestral lands. Shash Jaa’: Bears Ears is Angelo Baca’s latest award-winning film about the five tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition that works together to protect 1.9 million acres of Utah wilderness through a national monument designation. He has published a widely read op-ed in the New York Times, “Bears Ears Is Here to Stay,” presented at the 17th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues about Bears Ears, and worked with Patagonia on the public lands film, “Public Trust,” about the current administration’s assault on Indigenous and Public Lands. His work reflects a long-standing dedication to both Western and Indigenous knowledge, focusing on the protection of Indigenous communities by empowering local and traditional knowledge keepers in the stewardship of their own cultural practices, landscapes, and sacred places.