Podcasts Connect Youth for a Brighter Salish Future

Michelle Polasky and Isabella James discuss current events at Lummi for the pilot episode.

Michelle Polasky and Isabella James discuss current events at Lummi for the pilot episode.

It started over lunch at an ice cream parlor. From there it grew to a communications platform, a podcast series designed to unite generations on issues that, left ignored, could increase division and compromise the strength of the Salish culture. This is how one production company in Bellingham, Washington, is engaging youth and giving them a voice – and a microphone – to make a difference for the future.

Reaching today’s youth

The Lummi Nation is a self-governing nation within the United States and is the third largest Tribe in Washington State. Here, the Coast Salish People have a history built on art, fishing, language, and oral traditions. As in Native communities everywhere, there is an increasing need to keep their culture and ways of life alive.

But specific to the Lummi Indian Reservation, there is a disconnect among tribal members stemming from certain controversial issues in the community that can be largely attributed to the friction between the old ways of governing by family law and the colonially imposed system of governing by Tribal Council. The regulation of marijuana, changing laws, and the use and effectiveness of seasonal per capita payments are creating conflict among tribal members, a discontent that is being felt by this nation’s youth.

According to Children of the Setting Sun’s Michelle Polasky (age 20), there is not a lot of effective communication going on, and people are not always listening to each other. What has resulted is disengagement of the younger population, growing resentment, and a potential threat to the future and strength of the Coast Salish traditional lifeways.

Cover art depicts the creativity and culture behind the Youth Podcast Network.

Cover art depicts the creativity and culture behind the Youth Podcast Network.

Lending a voice

Children of the Setting Sun Productions is a multimedia, film, and theatre arts production company specializing in enlivening the rich history, legacies, stories, and traditions of the Salish People. They do this by using interviews and performance arts to share the “Lummi Family Tradition of Native Storytelling,” fulfilling their mission to create, share, and educate.

As such, the company was uniquely positioned to engage youth in a modern medium that would resonate with them – audio podcasts. Elli Smith, Youth Program Director and Development Administrator, sought funding through First Nations Development Institute’s Native Youth and Culture Fund to create a Youth Podcast Network. Polasky was brought on board as a youth advisor and podcast host, along with co-host and youth advisor Isabella James (age 24).

With the grant funding, Smith and Polasky both took part in First Nations’ professional development training, which set the stage for setting up and implementing the podcasts. From there, the grant made it possible for Children of the Setting Sun to invest in the research, resources, and equipment for production. Key to the project has been providing technical training, as well as teaching the appropriate cultural protocols that promote respect in the community and best share the language and Tribal stories.

In the works is a three-part series on Being Indigenous, featuring individual episodes on Reviving the Lummi Language, Healing, and Youth Indiginaity. These initial episodes are being produced and created by Polasky, James, and Smith in the studio as well as in the community, directly engaging multiple stakeholders.

Polasky shares on the Children of the Setting Sun website: “As a community, it is our responsibility and duty to come together as one and make important decisions that should only benefit all of us. In order to do that we must first listen to the people of the community for their thoughts and opinions, this includes everyone: the council, the fisherman, the elderly, the youth, and the children.” The organization also extends this responsibility to people in recovery.

Amplified impact

Polasky explains that through the podcasts they hope to give youth a voice to talk about important issues, and also reconnect them with the Lummi language and culture. “We want to inspire them,” she says.

She says this work is more important than ever because, even with such a large presence in Washington State, many people do not know of the Lummi Nation. Even within their shared city of Bellingham, “People still don’t know who we are.”

And where this is a diminished presence, there is diminished strength to draw from — strength that Lummi Youth need in defining their own self-value and future. Smith adds, “We’re aiming to change the perception of how others see the Lummi people outside the community. Through these productions, we can let them know that the first peoples of this land are still very much alive and that culture is rich in knowledge, love, and ingenuity.”

Moreover, this new project by Children of the Setting Sun is creating a more formalized mode of communication. Polasky explains that in the past, the voices of youth would be heard only on social media. It lacked the prominence and professionalism needed in an environment of community leaders and elders. Now, having an official podcast gives their voices more credence and elevates their role. The podcasts have also led to the creation of a Youth Advisory Council, which is further engaging teens in ways they can contribute and lead.

This is the story of what can happen when friends meet for ice cream, when conversations begin, and when people are given the opportunity to express themselves thoughtfully. Further it is the story of storytelling itself. Smith says that, as producers, they can bring music, imagery, and story together to tell a broad picture of humanity. “With film and podcasts, you can rise above the political issues,” she says. “You can bring people together above conflict and shine a spotlight to see what was and what could still be. That’s the power of art, for youth and for our future.”

The first episode of the Youth Podcast Network by Children of the Setting Sun Productions is available at https://www.facebook.com/ChildrenSSP/

Isabella and her baby Connor in the Children of the Setting Sun Production office recording on the Lummi language using the new equipment. Elli Smith adds, “Listen to the episode! Connor has a lot to say!"

Isabella and her baby Connor in the Children of the Setting Sun Production office recording on the Lummi language using the new equipment. Elli Smith adds, “Listen to the episode! Connor has a lot to say!”

By Amy Jakober