Monday is Indigenous Peoples Day. It’s an alternative to the federal Columbus Day holiday that many people feel essentially erases Indigenous history.
Seattle, Edmonds and Bainbridge Island are among the communities around the region that have recently opted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead. A Seattle-based nonprofit is launching a new children’s book to mark the occasion.
The book is called “Journey of the Freckled Indian.” It tells the story of a young girl called Freckles who gets bullied by her classmates after sharing that she’s Native American. Author Alyssa London says it’s loosely based on her experience growing up in Bothell and sharing her Tlingit heritage in a show and tell.
“They don't believe her because she does not look like the type of Native person that we typically see in the media with dark skin and long black hair, as she is mixed,“ London said.
Freckles' parents send her on a journey to Alaska where she spends time with her grandfather. She learns to become proud of her heritage and later inspires her classmates to do the same.
London herself went on to become Miss Alaska USA and also an entrepreneur, in both cases with a mission of showcasing the vitality of Alaska Native and American Indian Culture today.
“Most times Native culture is shown in natural history, museums shown as something that is no longer living and breathing and is a thing of the past,” she said. “You know, Native people today are doctors or lawyers or teachers or the kids in your classrooms — you just might not know it at first glance.”
She recruited two mixed-heritage Native American artists to illustrate the book. One of them is Seattle-based glass and formline artist Preston Singletary.
Having grown up in an urban environment outside the traditional Tlingit region his family comes from, Singletary says he identified with the message of the book.
“You know, (it’s) not completely the same story. But it was also a discovery for me to go in and get deeper into my own cultural heritage. And now that I've done that, it's become the most fulfilling thing that I could have done,” he said.
Singletary’s traditional formline drawings are integrated into colorful contemporary illustrations by Chicago-based Monica Rickert-Bolter, who is of Potawatomi, African American, and German descent. Singletary says the concept was to let the Native designs gradually become prominent within that contemporary context as the story progresses.
“As if it was sort of taking over, you know — enhancing the story as Freckles gets more in tune with her culture,” Singletary said.
Rickert-Bolter jumped at the chance to add to the limited literature she’s seen about mixed Native identities. She’s also delighted with how the project came out.
“It's completely something new,” Rickert-Bolter said, adding that they worked to make the formline figures, which are normally quite flat, integrate well into the Alaskan scenery while still making “everything pop.”
Rickert-Bolter also is delighted to be part of an event marking Indigenous Peoples Day. She says Chicago is coming closer to recognizing it, but efforts there have stalled, because some Italian Americans don’t want to let go of the celebration of Christopher Columbus.
“What we're trying to say is, just, this is not the one to celebrate. And to really just honor the legacy and the trauma that so many indigenous peoples of the Americas had to face and experience because of his mistake in coming to ‘the new world,’ as they call it.”
Author London says helping the region celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in Seattle with a panel discussion about her book makes sense.
“I mean, that's a big message of my book," London said. "We are still here. We just may look different. And please accept us and please be open to learning more about our history, but also our present-day experience.”
The panel discussion about the book will takes place Monday from 3-4 p.m. on Facebook Live. It is presented by the Seattle-based Potlatch Fund, which supports tribal communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.