Q&A with Suquamish activist Calina Lawrence

Lawrence was chosen to attend the Golden Globes by actress Shailene Woodley for her social activism

SUQUAMISH — Kitsap News Group’s Jacob Moore recently interviewed Activist Calina Lawrence of the Suquamish Tribe on her experience at the Golden Globes, her work as a poet/singer and what she hopes to accomplish with her platform.

Question: It must have been a great honor to have been chosen to go to the Golden Globes. Can you go in depth about your experience — being picked by Shailene Woodley and standing in solidarity with other activists? What was the most unique takeaway from that experience?

Lawrence: “It was definitely an honor to stand in solidarity with so many women across many industries and walks of life at the Golden Globes. Shailene and I have been close friends for a couple of years now and have worked on various national social movements for justice and liberation; violence against women has been one that we each have been advocating for in our own ways so for her to think of me while her peers were initiating the TimesUp campaign was crucial to making sure that Native Women were included in the work. Shai has been on the ground working with Native people and experiencing our world so for her to invite me into her world where they are pursuing equity, justice and liberation as well made our sisterhood and solidarity even stronger. I know that attending this action at the Globes in advocacy for Indigenous women was an opportunity to place international attention on the circumstances of women on tribal reservations as well as in urban settings and everywhere in between — we often do not receive attention nor justice when our safety and dignity are violated so it was necessary that our voice and our solidarity was present alongside the actresses and activists attending. I think that at the age of 24 — to attend this event and see so many empowered women leaders join arms to say that those of us exploited by the imbalance of power in Hollywood AND in Indigenous communities AND as Farmworkers AND as Domestic Workers AND in the Foodservice Industry AND as young women of color in marginalized communities — for all of us to come from our own realities and state that we will no longer tolerate this sort of behavior any longer, that experience will fuel me long enough to dedicate my lifetime to attaining this liberation for us and future generations. Attending also revealed how we tend to think of ourselves as separate from one another due to race/class/religion/occupation when in actuality, we can remove these divisions and unite for a stronger initiative and outcome.”

Question: You and Woodley both protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Did you witness firsthand any police violence, which was reported at the protest?

Lawrence: I was finishing my last semester of my undergrad at the time, so I was only able to physically be in Standing Rock for one week. Shailene and I had not seen each other since our cross-country “Up to Us Caravan” which happened in July—so we reunited in Standing Rock the last week of November but I personally did not witness any police violence.

Question: You are known for being a self-described “art-ivist.” What do you mean by this?

Lawrence: “In the history of many social movements for justice, art has always been incorporated as an integral representation of the message. Music and poetry are a couple of the art forms that I use to address some of the injustices that Native people have endured in the past and continue to face today. Many Native people do not identify as activists because we often don’t even have a choice not to fight for our basic human rights and treaty rights. For every Native person born into this young country — we are technically born activists due to the fact that the United States has had laws and strategies in place to terminate our race/identity. I did not call myself an activist until I received my western-scholarly training in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco. I grew to embrace the label as an activist when I learned that my campaign work (to bring awareness to issues and encourage social change) enhanced my title as a musician thus art-ivist is a term used by many creators who have very specific intention behind their art medium.”

Question: How long have you bee involved with the Suquamish Tribe?

Lawrence: “I was born and raised on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in 1993 and am an enrolled member of the Suquamish Tribal Nation where my family has inhabited what is now known as Suquamish and Kitsap County since time immemorial.”

Question: Even though you attended college at the University of San Francisco, were you able to stay involved with the Suquamish Tribe?

Lawrence: “Yes. I spent my whole life in Suquamish until I moved to San Francisco at age 21. I remained in the Bay Area for 3 years but came home to Suquamish every winter and summer break, which allowed me to still be embraced by my family and community even though I was away for school for most of the year. I still participated on Tribal Canoe Journeys each summer and attended what community events I could during my visits home. I also was able to keep up with local happenings via Facebook whenever I felt lonesome for home, which was helpful.”

Question: You are a musician as well as an activist. Do you use your platform as an artist (through your song’s lyrics) to bring awareness to social justice issues?

Lawrence: “Yes, I definitely aim to use music to tell my own life story — I invite the people who receive my music to keep spreading information about the circumstances that need to change and paradigm shifts that need to happen in order for future generations to inherit a stronger world and for Native people to receive the reconciliation that we need for all that we have suffered from at the order of the U.S. Government and our colonial enforced genocide. We are the most misrepresented group of people in our country and it is on purpose — in school curriculum, mainstream media, movies & entertainment, etc. It is not often that we have control of the narrative, so music is a tool that I have in which I can speak for myself and on behalf of my people in order to reach others who refer to music to transcend barriers of division and difference and learn through empathy and get activated.”

Question: What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

Lawrence: “I want to continue producing music as it pertains to my reality as a Native woman surviving in the 21st century. I will release several albums and tour the world singing/speaking the truth of the Native experience and informing/gaining solidarity from others who also seek the same liberation and justice in their respective homes. I hope to empower the minds of young people who have the brilliance to think of creative ways to heal from past generations’ traumas. I hope that my work (which is only possible because of those who carried out the same work before me) will contribute to the collective effort to end violence against all humans, all non-human relatives, our sacred elements of life; water, earth and our environment, and we will do this by defining power dynamics and dismantling toxic ego that leads people to harm those more vulnerable than them in order to maintain the damaging ideology of power. I hope that in 10 years, I will have done everything in my capacity so that I and others can live without fear; because today, in 2018, as an Indigenous woman, I do not feel safe.”

Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at jmoore@soundpublishing.com.