Watch Connecting Our Heartlands: Toward an Inclusive American Creed

Connecting Our Heartlands: Toward an Inclusive American Creed combines photography and civic discussion to explore what we can learn about citizen power from rural young adults.

Recorded live on Jan. 19, Connecting Our Heartlands features photo presentations from three young adults — Jonathan Blair, Jace Charger, and Sam Schimmel — who are co-creators of an ongoing documentary media and public engagement initiative – American Creed: Citizen Power, a follow-up to the 2018 documentary American Creed.

Blair, Charger, and Schimmel share their photos and stories from their communities. 

The program also features remarks from American Creed co-host David M. Kennedy (Stanford University Lane Center for the American West); Eric Liu (Citizen University); and Danielle Allen (Harvard University Safra Center for Ethics). 

Watch the video and find a full transcript below, as well as links to each photo essay as published in the Daily Yonder.

Whitney Kimble Coe:

Welcome. My name is Whitney Kimble Coe, and I am the Director of National Programs for the Center for Rural Strategies, and I’m also the Director of the Rural Assembly. And to those of you in the audience who are veteran participants of Rural Assembly programs and events, I’m so glad you’re back. Thank you. Thank you for joining us again, um, for, uh, always sharing your experiences and your good vibes in these programs, for being leaders. I’m also wanting to welcome those for whom this is your first introduction to the Rural Assembly. Hooray! I’m so glad you’re here. We’re thrilled to welcome you to this movement of rural leaders and their allies, um, who are working together to build a more inclusive nation.

And today we are really pleased to be among allies like Citizen Film, Working Assumptions, National Writing Project, Citizen University and the National Endowment for the Humanities. All of these groups including along with the Rural Assembly are responsible for having coordinated and curated today’s event and I’m so pleased that we could do that together.

Today’s program is really special because in this Zoom room we’re bringing together citizen leaders from many different backgrounds, geographies and sectors, um, and that’s really one of the things that the Rural Assembly loves the most. We love to host pot lucks, pretty much, that bring together people from many walks of life so we can illuminate the things that connect us and reveal the ways that rural people and places are engaging with questions that are on all of our hearts. Questions about what is the future of our lives together and how do we move together.

These gatherings, we think, help us notice and help us name the ways that we’re taught in that inescapable network of mutuality that Dr. King talked about. And today we’re creating a space for rural leaders and civic scholars and young adults and educators and educational advocates. So this is a really big tent. It’s a special time. We’re going to be grappling with really big themes. So let me tell you really briefly what to expect in this next hour and a half or so.

We’ve going to welcome our civic scholars among us today. David Kennedy, Danielle Allen and Eric Lui. They’re going to open our program with remarks that will help contextualize,  this program, the themes and the questions that we’re all grappling with and then we’re going to have brief presentations from our young adult leaders who are doing really important work, um, who are tending to the heartbeat of their local communities in really expansive and unique ways. Um, they will share their photo, uh, journey with you, their photo essays with you. um, and then we’re all going to break out, um, into small breakout groups so we can hear from our audience members and so you get a little bit more of, um, intimate time with the scholars and these, um, young presenters that you’ll hear from today.

And then finally on the other end of this event we’re sticking around for the another 30 minutes or so. We’re inviting educators in particular to stick around for a session with National Project and Working Assumptions, um, to learn how you can use photography to engage students in exploring intersections of rural work and civic participation.

So just final housekeeping. Today’s event will be recorded. Please feel free to engage with speakers and o- the presenters and one another through that chat feature on your screen. You can just keep doing that this whole time if you’d like. I think that’s all I have for you at this moment.

So I’m, I’m pleased and it’s my pleasure to introduce to you Sam Ball from Citizen Film who has helped curate today’s event. Sam?

Sam Ball:

Hi, hi everyone. Thank you for coming out, so many of you for this event. I’m trying to find a gallery view where I can see you all and, um, that is not working which means that there’s a lot of you. So I’m, I’m really excited, to partner with Rural Assembly and the National Writing Project and Working Assumptions on this event. Um, Citizen Film is a documentary storytelling organization and we specialize as, … our, our, our role is to serve as the storytelling partner within coalitions working on civic engagement. And we also have a lot of experience working with communities on participatory documentary storytelling to identify shared ideals, shared challenges and shared solutions.

And the maybe impossible but I think very important challenge, we’ve given ourselves with this program that is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities Building a More Perfect Union grants program. The challenge is to think of the United States as a community and a community that can draw a circle around some basic ideals and perhaps a way to build on those ideals to, uh, make things better, to expand democracy, to address challenges that we share in common and to share challenges that are particular to certain communities because of the American History.

The American Creed Documentary Initiative of which this program is a part, uh, grows out of a collaboration with the Pulitzer prize-winning American Historian, David Kennedy, and his Stanford University colleague, Condoleezza Rice, who really started this conversation, um, about what ideals and identity we share in common. Uh, inviting audiences including students nationwide to explore what it means to work towards an inclusive vision of American ideals and identity. And we partnered on a 2018 PBS special and a set of documentary shorts that are still utilized by the National Writing Project to engage students in reflection, discussion and writing.

And together with the photography organization, Working Assumptions, we’re working on a new set of documentary stories focused on young adult experiences of the challenges facing American Democracy in their own communities and, um, some of the strategies they’re developing to address those challenges. And with professors Kennedy and Rice and with Citizen University’s Eric Liu, who was also featured in the 2018 PBC documentary and instrumental in our education campaign, we’re piloting a new story-based education campaign, uh, that I think is very topical to what’s going on in our nation today.

So think of yourselves as our collaborators and, um, testing out some ideas. This is really a pilot event for the organizations to get to know each other a little bit, for us to get to know, uh, rural leaders and educators everywhere and to think about how we kan move this initiative forward together.

Today you’ll meet at least two of the young community leaders whose perspectives our collaboration showcases. One of those leaders, Jace Charger, I believe is struggling with some, some of those pesky rural internet issues at the moment and, and trying to get online. We’ll show you and they will show you some photography work that has been published in the Daily Yonder and is inspiring general audience now and will, we believe, inspire high school students to do their own work with curricular support from Working Assumptions.

So I want to thank Working Assumptions’ Tracee Worley in particular. She’ll co-facilitate today’s workshop with the National Writing Project’s uh Casey Olsen and Christina Cantrell. I want to thank you Working Assumptions’ teaching artists Barbara Filion and Donnie Labeau who are here today. I want to thank my colleagues, Manish Khanal and Sarah Scannell at Citizen Film, our co-producer Garland McLaurin and Rachel Raney who’s the vice-president of national productions at PBS North Carolina who has really shaped our approach to, uh, storytelling and to multi-platform documentary storytelling, how we think about doing that.

You can learn about Citizen Film’s work in general, um, through a link I believe is in the chat ( And with that, I will touch the, the proverbial Zoom baton, if that’s a thing, to our colleague, David Kennedy. And David can talk a little bit more about the central concept our collaboration explores. So, um, with that over to you, David. And, and thank you so much to Rural Assembly for hosting this.

David Kennedy:

Well, thank you Sam. You-

Sam Ball:

… and the pleasure to discover your work.

David Kennedy:

Thanks, Sam. It’s always a pleasure to be in collaboration with you and great pleasure and honor to be in this platform with so many other people who are concerned about the civic health of our society. Let me just dilate a bit on, um, what Sam mentioned, the film that  Condoleezza Rice and I made and released on PBS now five years ago in 2018. We’re now making a sequel, and that’ll probably figure in today’s discussion. But I just wanted to say a further word about why we chose the title for that film and for this project of American Creed.

We took our inspiration actually from a book published in 1944 by the Swedish Economist, Gunnar Myrdal, and the title was An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, American Democracy. Negro was that, in that era thought to be a term of respect. We, uh, definitely attach a different valence to it today. I understand. But that was the title of the book. And Gunnar Myrdal in this study, positive that there was such a thing as an American creed and he was quite specific and concrete about what he meant by that. He described it, uh, first of all, “As a shared belief,” and I’m quoting him now; “in the essential dignity of the human being, of the fundamental equality of all men and a certain inalienable opportunity.”

And he went on to say the … another famous and often quoted passage. He said that; and I’m quoting him again now. “Even a poor and uneducated white person in some isolated backward rural region in the deep south who was violently prejudiced in the negro has also a whole compartment in his valuation, uh, sphere, housing the entire American creed of liberty, equality, justice and fair opportunity for everybody.” He described that creed as; again I’m quoting him; “A living system of expressed ideals for human cooperation which is unified, stable and clearly formulated.”

Another … There were all kinds of criticisms over the years of whether Myrdal was talking about anything actual. I believe he was and I think all the people involved in the American creed Project share that belief. I dare say it was that premise, that there was a- an accessible, shared sense of these commitment to these kinds of ideals that animated Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Martin Luther King’s essential message was to ask the country to live up to his professed ideals. Now I think those ideals are well-articulated as Myrdal said and in some level it’s not totally implausible to believe that they are deeply and widely shared [inaudible 00:12:42] uh, in our society.

So that- that’s our working premise in the American creed film project and all of its ancillary activities and I think Myrdal was really calling attention in that contentious premise about the existence of such a thing as the creed and he was calling attention to something that, uh, many observers have made about American society in its essential character. It’s a, a supportable generalization (laughs) I think that most nations are the ex- the political and institutional expression of a society’s sense of itself as a collective entity.

The United States, on the other hand, is e- essentially a s- a nation that is, has been trying for two centuries and more to shape a society and it will, in fact, understand its shared commitment to certain basic values. We are not a people united by race or ethnicity or religion. We are notoriously plural in our beliefs, sometimes controversially and even contentiously so. But I do think it’s, it’s certainly possible to argue and it’s certainly possible to embrace as a principle animating our action, that we do at our core share belief in certain fundamental propositions about, as the Declaration of Independence put it, fact that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. Among them, right to life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness.

So I … in my view as a lifelong student of American history I think one of the ways to describe the long historical project of this society, uh, is an effort to create and sustain a sense of shared nationhood around these values of liberty, equality, the dignity of the individual and so on.

Um, you might say that for many societies, their nationhood or their, their co- sense of cohesion is an assumption. People have shared the same language, religion, culture, history and so-on-and so forth. In the United States, by way of contract, um, our sense of nationhood is an ongoing project. Not something that can be taken for granted but something that has to be worked at, uh, along the way and continuously worked at. And here, I’m reminded I’d like to quote one other authority on this subject. Uh, Woodrow Wilson, uh, much maligned in many corners today but nonetheless person who, on occasion (laughs) I think, captures some very essential things about character of this society. Pardon me for hefting this big book, but I want to get the quote right.

So Woodrow Wilson said, “Democratic institutions are never done. They are like living tissue, always a-making. It is a strenuous thing, this living the life of a free people.” And I think that we should remind ourselves of the truth of that statement. That our civic identity, our ability to function as a society and our need to be reminded of our shared ideals, as so tellingly and eloquently captured in the Declaration of Independence and other documents, uh, is a continuous project.

And again, another of our founding documents of course is the Constitution and let me remind you of some of the language in the preamble of the Constitution where it says, among other things, “The goal of having a Constitution is to create a more perfect union.” So I think that’s a clue that the founders understood that they could not take for granted, uh, the, the shared sense of values and the unity of those people. That it was going to be an ongoing project to create a more perfect union and that project first articulated the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1978 is still a project wish which we must engage today.

So that’s our, uh, animating principles you might say at the American Creed Project, uh, based here in San Francisco Bay Area, um, and I do think that I should mention and I’d be derelict if I didn’t. (laughs) Uh, there’s an institution here on the Stanford campus called the Bill Lane Center for the American West. Uh, I was the founding director of it some 20 years ago. I’m still engaged with it. And one of our principal projects, ongoing projects is called the Rural West Initiative. So our area of action is, of course, the Western United States, 17, 19 states, actually, including Alaska and Hawaii.

And we have annual symposia in places like uh, Ogden, Utah, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Yakima, Washington, Missoula, Montana, Fort Collins, Colorado coming up, uh, this spring and other places around the west where we try to make clear that, um, e- even the, the famously snooty West Coast political culture (laughs) and institutional culture is deeply interested in the wellbeing of the rural west as our project here, that we’re talking about today, is interested in the health of rural institutions across the country.

So I’ll leave you with that and pass what Sam Ball has described as the, the virtual (laughs) Zoom baton, uh, to my friend, uh, and former, uh, colleague, um, uh, uh, uh, uh, Danielle Allen. Danielle, over to you.

Danielle Allen:

Thank you so much, David, and thank you for the invitation to participate today. It’s such an important conversation and it’s an honor to be with everyone. I’m Danielle Allen. I’m a professor at Harvard, a professor of Political Philosophy. But what I want to do today is take a few minutes to take about my own civic journey. I want to share some stories because I think they are stories that resonate with the work you’re doing of seeking to connect our heartland. To connect our heartlands is to connect all of us from our sense of community, whatever that might be, to a shared national story, to that American creed, as David said. So we have a lot of hard work to do right now, here in 2023 (laughs) and I think it is helpful to put the hard work in context, um, in part to remind ourselves that it’s achievable, the work we have in front of us to connect our heartlands.

So I came by my own commitment to democracy in civic culture quite honestly just as a matter of family inheritance. My dad’s dad, my granddad, helped found one of the first NAACP chapters in northern Florida, so um, in the rural parts of the state, up there in the northern part of the state. Super, super dangerous work at that time, it has to be said. And on my mom’s side, my great-grandparents fought for women’s right to vote. So my great-grandmother ended up as president of the League of Women Voters in Michigan in the ’30s, having fought in the early part of the 20th century for that right.

In other words, I come from people who were not afraid of hard fights and doing things that people said were impossible, you know? The right to vote for women. People said that was impossible. Civil rights. People said that was impossible. We face a lot of challenges right now that people tell us are impossible and I think they’re not and we can bring that same spirit to them as my ancestors brought and I’m sure the ancestors of many others here, to other hard challenges and problems.

But so I grew up in a community of people who just took civic engagement as, you know, kind of air that we breathe, the water that we drink. Um, a given in essence. And I grew up in Southern California myself. My dad had 11 brothers and sisters. Half of them migrated from the Jim Crow south to California seeking true opportunity, true freedom. And in that community there, the expectation was just that you would participate.

That said, it’s important though to say too that the participation and the engagement took place across the whole political spectrum. There was one amazing year, um, in my youth when I was a teenager when my aunt was on the ballot for Congress in the Bay Area for the Peace and Freedom Party. Far-left side the spectrum. And in the very same year my dad was running for senate from Southern California as a Reagan Republican. So we had the most amazing family dinners and holiday debates. My aunt was this big woman, gay with this big dolly laugh and she and my dad … my dad was skinny always with a pipe in his mouth, reeked of smoke curling around his head. And they would go at it. Huge arguments.

And I as a kid would just sit there going back-and-forth. You know, “Which way is it?” My dad was there making the case for market liberties and civic virtues, my aunt was making the case for public sector investment across all segments of society and those were intense, intense arguments. But as I watched there were a few things that got to be very clear to me. They disagreed mightily on the how but they had an incredible shared purpose. They were both committed to empowerment for themselves, for their families, for their communities. They were committed to that project of self-government among free and equal citizens. And for all that they disagreed on and debated on the how, that North Star was shared between them.

And at the same time that they shared that North Star, that’s the American creed, in effect. It was also the case that it was always clear that they were there for each other. They would have each other’s back, come what may. It didn’t matter how intense their disagreement was about the how. That bond of love, that sacred commitment to the other human being in front of them, that would never break and it never did. That was my education in the American creed, in our Democracy and what civic engagement means. That shared purpose around self-government, the idea that it is our job to find that foundation for empowerment for each and every one of us, for our communities and for our country taken all together and that notion that we hold the human beings in front of us sacred. We respect their dignity, we hang tight to that tie, that sense of mutual respect.

Now, I said civic engagement was just the air and water that I breathed and drank growing up and so it was. So there’s always the question of when do these things become personal for any given person? For me, they became personal when I watched my own generation come up in the world. My parents’ generation came up and everybody kinda came up. They started out working class, lower middle class. The whole generation moved up. For my generation that’s not been the case. As we came of age, I watched what I call the great pulling apart.

So some of us, myself, my brother, we got rocketed up on elevators of opportunity. Here I sit as a tenured professor at Harvard. I believe that it’s literally the most privileged job in the universe. Like forget Jeff Bezos or any of those other gazillionaires. There is no greater privilege than having the combination of freedom and security that you get as a tenured professor at a university like this. So I know I have been given some of the greatest gifts that exist on this plant. And same for my brother who’s a successful executive in a corporate context.

But I also have dead cousins. And not dead in any way that you can feel at peace about. Homicide, substance use disorder, and I have cousins whose lives have been marred by mass incarceration and struggles with mental health for which there hasn’t been a reasonable response in the health system. That great pulling apart in our family that we’ve experienced, it coincides with the great pulling apart in the country. The 50 years of my lifetime, 51 at this point. I gotta be honest. Keep counting. I can’t just stop at 50. (laughs) They have coincided exactly with the incredible rise of income inequality in the country, with the incredible rise of mass incarceration, with the incredible rise of polarization. These are the 50 years too where we’ve seen the transition to being a country where the majority of people live in urban areas and we have seen the great pulling apart between urban and rural stories and experiences.

So here we sit. For me, it was losing my cousin Michael in 2009. That was my turning point moment. I … He was a, you know, he was called. He was, that was the homicide story. He had served a long period of incarceration as well. And it was a point at which I began to put all my energies into trying to figure out how to get out of this great pulling apart pull ours- back together again, change the world to bring opportunity back to young people, see if we could bring everybody up together.

I worked on justice reform. We had various things that were clear bipartisan solutions but we couldn’t get them through and that made me very frustrated with democracy as such and that led me to turn to work in what I call democracy renovation. Here we are with all kinds of strain in our institutions. What we need though is not to protect just what we’ve had. What we need is to renovate this house we share for the future, for the world that we have now in the 21st century.

And for me, the work of renovating our democracy, of achieving a house that has rooms for all, and shared power for all, that starts with that linking of arms again, that connecting of communities, connecting our heartlands. That work of connection, of linking, starts from recovering that sense of that sacred respect we have for each other as human beings.

So it’s a pleasure to be here with all of you for the work that you’re doing today. As you can tell it means a lot to me and I know since you’ve made time on a busy (laughs) day in the middle of the week it means a lot to you as well. That’s super special and I’m really eager to hear from the young people who are sharing stories today because I know it’s in their work, their words that we have the chance to claim those connections and honor that sacred respect we have for one another’s dignity.

Thanks so much. And now again, I’m going to pass the baton, the Zoom baton this time to Eric Liu, founder and president of Citizen University which is the leading organization in the country for securing the health of our civic bonds.

Eric Liu:

Thank you, Danielle. Um, thank you for sharing, uh, your journey, um, and drawing the ways in which that journey aligns with the quest that we are on as a people right now. And thank you, David, for setting us in that context of the creed itself. Uh, I was following along in chat to people’s sense of, um, connection or maybe disconnection from the creed, uh, and from the ideas that, uh, we profess to believe in as a country.

And I want to begin with that because, as Danielle said, in our work at Citizen University, we think about … well, we think about our job actually, um, as every day trying to close a gap. Uh, and it is the great gap between our American creed, our, our ideals on the one hand of freedom, equality, justice, government of, by and for the people. Uh, and on the other hand, our actual deeds. The actual conditions of our communities, the actual practices of our institutions, the actual history that we have both inherited and that we live and perpetuate. Uh, and that gap. Sometimes a chasm, sometimes just a, a gap wide enough to realize that you gotta make a leap of faith to cross it. That gap is actually the American condition.

It’s not simply having a creed and it’s not simply having broken promises. It is struggling all the time to close that distance. And in our work at Citizen University, we think about that closing that creed to deed gap every day and I want to just begin by naming, uh, the fact that, uh, you know, in our work, we’re an organization that is based in Seattle, Washington, but doing work all around the United States and doing work with many people in rural communities in all parts of the country. Uh, uh y- actually all along the coast, not just in the middle of the country.

I myself grew up, uh, a child of immigrants, uh, in upstate New York, uh, in Dutchess County in the suburb- suburban part of a very rural county. Uh, and so all around us in our work at Citizen University, we are working with people just like the folks gathered in this Zoom room today. And when we think about citizenship, when we think about the challenge and the charge that we have to actually, um, redeem our creed in the American heartland, however you want to define that, um, I want to share the way that we conceptualize citizenship because we think about that not in terms of documentation status.

It’s not a matter of formal, legal membership, um, passport holding or membership in a sovereign, uh, native nation. What I mean and what we mean in our work when we speak of citizenship is something broader and more capacious on an ethical level. And you can think of it as being a member of the body, a contributor to community, someone who’s a pro social part of that community. And in that conception of citizenship, we define it often in this very simple equation which is that power plus character equals citizenship. To live like a citizen fully requires both that we become fluent in power. And power is a language. That we learn the language of how to move other people, how to move ideas, how to move government, how to move social norms, how to move money, how to move all these different sources of power civic life to achieve the ends that we wish to see.

And to gain fluency in that language, to be able to read the map of power in our part of the country, in our part of the community and understand the ways in which we don’t show up on that map, but then also to understand and be determined to change that and to write ourselves into the map and into the story and the practice of power. That’s one half of what it means to look like a citizen.

And the other half is about character. And I don’t mean the way that we talk about character so much in American life these days which is like so much in American culture about the individual, about personal virtue, right? So much of the character conversation is about grit and about perseverance and individual diligence. And look, that’s great. There’s not a person in this room and in this gathering who doesn’t have that kind of grit, uh, when we’re talking about rural communities and resilience and the, uh, a- ability to rebound from challenges. Grit is real and grit matters.

Grit is not what we’re talking about when we speak of civic character. We mean character in the collective. What are the values and the norms that are necessary in order to hold a self-governing community together? Norms like service before self, reciprocity and mutuality rather than just one time, one transaction, take what you can get. Norms of contribution before consumption. Norms of stewardship rather than peer consumption.

Those kinds of norms don’t just fall from the sky. They are formed. We are formed in them just as we are formed or not formed into fluency and power. And so that combination of power plus character is so central to how we think about citizenship and our work and I wanted to give that framework to you because the young adults we’re going to hear from today and the stories that we are going to, uh, get a taste of and the broader set of stories and lives that this entire endeavor, the work of Rural Assembly, the, the project that Citizen Film and others have undertaken, the, the, the, the kind of reflections, personal and otherwise, that the National Writing Project is catalyzing. These stories are about bringing to life the practice of power and the cultivation of character.

In our work at Citizen University, we teach that that work can be done in a very simple way. To practice power means to be able and willing to change the game of power, to change the story of power and to change the equation. And there’s a … I’ve literally written a book on that and I’m not going to get into that but what I want to do is to put those ideas on the table because the people we’re about to hear from are all in different ways changing the game, changing the story and changing the equation of power where they live. And they’re doing so not necessarily as people with formal authority and titles.

This is the other thing that I want to share with you in thinking about citizenship and giving ourselves a frame for what it means to live out the American Creed. In our work we don’t speak about leadership and leaders so much because the people who are making change in our country, the people we’re going hear from in a moment, may or may not have a formal title that’s capital L leader, capital L officer of this club or organization. But the language we use instead is catalyst. Not everybody is a leader in a formal sense but everybody is and can be a catalyst. Everybody, wherever you sit, whatever power you may think you have, has the capacity to catalyze change, to set in motion a cascade of new attitudes, new behaviors, new norms, new understanding of what we can do and what we can do.

And I’m delighted now to introduce you to three of these civic catalysts, uh, who are co-creators of this ongoing American creed, citizen power, uh, documentary initiative, uh, and their work as part of this initiative has been incredibly inspiring to us. And as part of that work, these young community leaders from all around the United States have been photographing for The Daily Yonder media platform which is … hopefully you all know is a- uh affiliated with the Rural Assembly. Uh, one of the country’s leading sources of … well, leading examples of changing the narrative and changing the story as a way to build power.

And they’ve been photographing their own approaches as practitioners of power and character. Their own approaches to building power from the bottom up. And so I’m going to tell you about all three of them briefly year, um, and then toss it back over, uh, to, uh, Whitney to introduce them here, uh, and to, or to begin, uh, their presentations.

Uh, so the first one that we’re going to hear from today is Sam Schimmel and Sam is going to show us how the Kenaitze Tribe adapts its subsistence hunting and fishing traditions to new environmental and economic realities. Sam is somebody who I’ve gotten a chance, just today, to connect with and is able to kind of connect these stories and the prac- and these practices, uh, that feel ancient but are also incredibly relevant today and to speak those different kinds of languages and vernaculars of time and place and being.

After Sam, we’re going to hear from Jonathan Blair who looks at how family histories in a deeply rooted Appalachian, Appalachian coal mining economy informs his community’s efforts to provide higher education and to forge a sustainable future for young people who want stay in the region.

And then finally we’re going hear, uh, from Jace Charger who, along with other Lakota youth, uh, founded the very first protest camp at Standing Rock, uh, in, in South Dakota, and Jace has been on an incredible journey and they will talk about the way that the work they’re doing now to heal their community, to build solidarity, uh, comes partly from intention and partly from planning but also partly from accidents of fate and circumstance that throw you into a situation where you have to decide, “Am I going to just fold up and be crushed by these times or am I actually going to take this moment and inhabit my capacity to make change around me?” Not alone, but with others and not in isolation but connected to a creed and to a story about all the ways in which we can live out liberty, equality and justice for all.

Each of these three civic catalysts are going to take us through stories of care and resilience that they’re documenting with help of a camera and a teaching artist provided to them by the photography organization, Working Assumptions, which is working in deep collaboration, uh, with Citizen Film.

And so with that, I am just so pleased now to introduce first, Sam, who’s going to discuss his viewfinder project first and then he’ll go on to Jonathan and to Jace.

Sam Schimmel:

[Foreign language 00:36:43]. Hi everybody. I’m Sam Schimmel. I’m happy, happy it’s Thursday. You know, when embarking on this project, Sam first came to me, we, we got in this conversation of how do we see the future of America? How can we make sure that our young people are prepared to lead, are able to engage and able to overcome adversity? Especially within this, uh, ultra-divided political climate that we sit in today. And I looked back within my own community to see how we were doing it. Um, I run a number of things including Operation Fish Drop which is directly in line with, um, the goals of this project which is essentially to make sure that our communities can get past politics and access something that goes beyond it.

When it comes to our indigenous community especially in Alaska, our subsistence transcends politics, it transcends time and it transcends place. Uh, it’s something that we have done forever and it’s something that we do, do together. And so this story here, this Viewfinder Project follows, uh, kind of the subsistence journey of our net fishery, uh, on the Kenai. And so, um, here’s some photos so let’s let’s move on to the next one.

So, you know, everything starts with an opportunity, whether it be civic engagement or, uh, catching fish. Uh, for us, we set out our nets with the hope of catching something to eat and we also embark on journeys of change in order to try and change things, to bring about policy, to bring about, uh, new politic questions. And so what we see here is me checking one of our subsistence nets right just south of the Kenai River. I saw that there’s a few Alaskans on the, uh, the call. I’m sure many of you guys have been down here. But, um, that’s what this is.

Uh, here you see the beginning of the process. Uh, after you’ve set out your nets, uh, you have to come together to begin picking your fish. When I was a little kid we would, uh, always carry our fish back by hand but now we got a, uh, a 4X4 and it makes it a little bit easier. And, you know, it’s, it’s a responsibility that you’re, uh, put in by fishing. Uh, you’re given the opportunity to fish with the understanding that, that … I’m sorry. I was looking at the chat. With the understanding that you’ll be taking care of the fish, that you’ll be feeding yourself, that you’ll be feeding others.

And so let’s go to the, the next slide. You see here there’s another very important part of our fishing traditions. You know, uh, there was a Alaskan native leader who was really influential in the passage of the Alaskan Native Claims Act and, uh, his name was Roger Lang and he helped found something called the, the, uh, the AFN. And essentially what it is, is it’s our congress for Alaskan Natives. It’s the group that sits for the policy goals for all of us. It’s the group that, uh, tries to ensure that our voices are heard.

And one of the biggest things that he always talked about was speaking with one voice. Having unity, having, uh, cohesion and being able to set aside things that we disagree about, to practice things that we do. To come from a common understanding to attack larger issues that affect all of us. And that common understanding for our native communities is built right here. It’s built in the intergenerational mileage of subsistence. Just like our ancestors caught and cooked fish and ate fish, we do the same. We might change a little bit and we use a aluminum table and a steel knife rather than, uh, an ulu or some grass but it remains, the teaching remains the same. Uh, a teaching of responsibility and a teaching of, uh, a commonality. You know, we’re always told that our future lies in our traditions. Uh, if we look back into the past, we will be able to overcome anything.

Um, let’s go to the next, uh, the next slide here. As you can see here, this, this is one of my, uh, one of my cousins, Julianne. Um, another large part of this fisheries process is you catch your fish, you cut up your fish and then you smoke your fish. Uh, this allows salmon to be stored f- for, uh, up to two years without being refrigerated. You can just hang it in a cold, dry room and it’ll stay good and right.

Here, you see her picking up, um, cottonwood and I think this is the … this is a story of, you know, you can’t ignore what might seem like something small. Uh, when you go out onto our beaches, they’re littered with cottonwood, uh, bark and it doesn’t seem like it could be really used for anything. Small and salty and it’s too hard to really carve or anything and it’s too brittle to make anything with, right, other than maybe some little face figurines. But it is what smokes our fish. It is what preserves our food. And so in something that seems insignificant is really one of the core, uh, portions of what allows us to continue our traditions.

Um, next slide. Um, the same photo here. Uh, what you’re looking at also is an old … uh, it’s called Agrium. Was the largest, um, fertilizer producer in the world for a long time. Uh, and these are their docks. Uh, they utilized natural gas and other resources from the area to be able to, uh, create fertilizer. Um, and that’s, that’s since gone away, so a lot of jobs that were associated with Agrium, uh, are, are no longer in our, our community.

So you see here the, the, uh … Actually, let’s just go to the next one after this. Perfect. Um, what you see here is, again, that intergenerational transferred knowledge. Uh, this is the smoking of fish. You know, when we smoke our fish, we cut it into thin strips, hang it to dry and then smoke it for about two weeks until it becomes translucent and the moisture is, is [inaudible 00:43:36] until the, um, until the moisture has gone out of it. And this is something that has been done forever. Uh, this is something that has been done, uh, by our grandparents, their grandparents and the people that came before them. It is a, a tradition that is known throughout most of our communities, uh, especially our Alaska native communities and it’s something that doesn’t change.

You know, in a, in a a world where things are always and constantly changing, this doesn’t change. You cut your fish the same way, you hang them the same way. You see here my aunt, Mary-Anne, who’s on our, um, tribal council and really fought hard for our, uh, subsistence rights, uh, you see her checking to make sure that the tail end of the fish; this is the part that is in the, in the cotton [inaudible 00:44:26] there. If you do it the other way it’ll fall off, uh, and you’ll lose your fish.

But it … This is something that doesn’t change. You do it the same way generation, between generation, after generation. It’s something that when you’re doing it, you’re, you’re beyond, uh … you’re, you’re beyond time, uh, in the practice of that tradition. Well, let’s go to the next one. This is, uh, one of my uncle’s, Bill, uh, Mary-Anne’s husband, uh, cutting up some twine to be used. Um, let’s go to the next one.

You can see here also one of the, the really important pieces that I’m, I’m really trying to articulate here is that salmon is what our community comes together or uh, our traditions are based in it, our idea of reciprocity is based in it, our seasons are based upon [inaudible 00:45:25]

Whitney Kimble Coe:

Oh no. It looks like we’ve, we’ve got a frozen screen. We’re, we’re checking on it. Apologies. Sam, are you still with us?

Sam Schimmel:

Hello, yup. Sorry about that [inaudible 00:46:36].

Whitney Kimble Coe:

Yeah. Yeah.

Sam Ball:

Hey, Sam. Yup, you’re back. Yeah. Sorry about that.

Sam Schimmel:


Whitney Kimble Coe:


Sam Schimmel:


Whitney Kimble Coe:

I think we’re just having some broadband issues on Sam, from Sam’s-

Sam Schimmel:

[inaudible 00:46:49].

Whitney Kimble Coe:

… location. Can you hear us?

Sam Ball:

Sam, do you want to try turning your video off and see if that helps?

Sam Schimmel:

Uh, I can. I guess you can take the kid outta the rural community, but you can’t take the internet with him.

Sam Ball:


Whitney Kimble Coe:


Sam Schimmel:

Um, but, uh … Where was I? So yeah, so e- everything’s built on this idea of, you know, community. You can’t have community of just your peers. Uh, you can’t have a community that has no history. You can’t have a community that doesn’t, um, that doesn’t understand where it comes from. And so one of the really, really important parts of this whole fishery and this whole idea of subsistence is that there’s learning involved. You know, your traditions are held by your elders and passed down to our generation and there’s an expectation that we’ll pass them down to our kids, but there’s also an expectation that we use those traditions to provide for our old people.

And so in this way, generations are linked together through subsistence. You don’t have, uh, bifurcated, trifurcated, uh, uh, you don’t have divided age groups and so everybody is still able to come together. People are able to learn from those [inaudible 00:48:10] people and learn from the, the mistakes that are made in the past. That way we don’t make them in the future.

So here you see, um, more of salmon drying. You seeing really mentorship happening here. Uh, on the, on the right’s my aunt Ronette and on the left is Mary-Anne and, uh, they both sit on our tribal council. Uh, they both are part of the, uh, seven person body that makes our policy, decides our priorities, spends our money and tries to generate revenue for our tribe. They deal with political issues every day that are more entrenched than anybody can ever imagine. If you think Washington DC is rough, try tribal politics where the interests are just as strong but everybody’s related um (laughs) and you’ve grown up with everybody.

And so what this is, is a way for them to get past any type of divide that exists. You know, when we are cutting fish we’re all the same. There is no divide that is able to get into, to this space. So let’s go to the, the next slide. Here you see the smoking of the fish. The changing of it from something that is volatile and, uh, can go bad into something that’s stable. Uh, that doesn’t change. Just like traditions, it, it doesn’t change once it’s turned into a belief like this.

And so I think this really is the story of how we get past our political differences, how we ensure that our young people are able to, um, get the educations that they need and have the opportunities to change things in the way that we do. I know this is something that, uh, I have always brought to the forefront is the idea that, you know, you eat with people when you want to make change. You teach them things, you bring them out and you fish together, you hunt together. Uh, it’s allowed things to happen that would not otherwise be able to take place.

And so these are really the way that my community deals with divide, deals with change and deals with kind of the larger issues that are facing our nation today, uh, is by coming back to what we’ve always known and that is our subsistence, our culture and our traditions. Here you see kind of the, uh, the circle of the, of our, our process. You know, you start with setting out a net and you end with mending a net. Uh, everything always comes around.

Uh, I think in that Viewfinder I talk about one of my uncles telling me, uh, you know, there’s always more. Uh, and this is something that is, um, ever-present in our native community. The idea that there’s always more. And it’s something that keeps young people out of trouble. Uh, you go hunt, you go fish, you clean your fish, you smoke your fish, you get ready to go to bed. But no, there’s always more. Uh, there’s always more that can be done. And I think that encapsulates one of our traditional expectations of excellence which is this strivance for constant improvement and this aim at always trying harder and doing better.

And so this is really the story of our community and how we come together and how we make change and it’s through setting aside issues that we disagree about and we’re recognizing each other as people.

Whitney Kimble Coe:

That’s wonderful, Sam. Thank you so much. Um, folks will have an opportunity to talk to you a bit more, uh, in, when we get to breakout sessions. I think, Jonathan, you’re on deck.

Jonathan Blair:

Uh, hello everyone. I am calling in from Pippa Passes Kentucky and I would just like to say, uh, thank you to a lot of people for giving me this opportunity and for allowing for this story to be shared. And I think it is one certainly worth sharing. And, uh, most of the people I’d like to thank are here so I guess I’ll, uh, jump right into it.

When you hear folks talk about the Appalachian region from the outside it is not uncommon to hear tales of how backwards and cynical the Appalachian people can be. You often hear stories of unwelcoming and unmotivated people preferring to keep themselves and not give in to the ways of a world that never seems to stop changing. It can definitely be said that we’re a little different but the countless harsh stereotypes labeling us as uneducated hillbillies cannot be further from the truth.

Appalachia is a region of proud people. Proud of those who come before us, that went to church on Sunday, mined coal and never knew a stranger. The Appalachians I know, the one I was born in, raised in and proudly call my home today is definitely unlike any other place on earth, but not for the reasons outsiders love to name time and time again. The one-of-a-kind culture and unwaveringly generous and proud people of the region tell the story. Everything else is merely speculation from those who had never experience richness for themselves.

The most beautiful and special things in life often come at a great price and Appalachia is no different. The toughness of our people and the richness of our culture were forged by means of survival no matter the cost for generations. The same stance of resiliency is very much alive and thriving today. Just last summer, Eastern Kentucky was absolutely devastated by a great flood, some even calling it the flood of a 1,000 years. This catastrophic event took the region by surprise on a warm July night. No one expected it but before the waters even cleared that morning, the region had banded together to care for our own just as we always do.

The people here are no strangers to adversity and never fail to come together as family each time we face it, emerging stronger at the end of every storm we face. The coal business especially the underground, tends to get a very bad reputation from those who have never been directly connected to it. As for me, my colleagues and the vast majority of Appalachians, the very foundations of our family were built upon coal and we are proud of that. Both of my grandfathers have a history of coal, and their fathers before them. To this day, my dad works on a railroad that transports coal. For better or for worse, the industry sustained the people of this region through many generations.

As I said a few moments ago, the best things in life often come at a great price. The man missing a limb, you saw a picture moments ago, is my colleague Jacob’s grandfather who lost his arm working in the underground. For a lot of people, this literal sacrifice for the industry would be absolutely devastating. However, he says that given the chance, he would go back in a heartbeat. As a man of faith, this tragedy only strengthens his testimony. God had plans for him to continue his life and his passion for the industry never faltered.

Through the good and the bad, the Appalachian people have always relied not only on the coal industry but also on our families and most importantly, our faith in a higher power. The one true God that will never forsake us. Take a drive through any Apa- any Appalachian town on a Sunday morning and you will find churches packed to the brim left and right. A true testament to the mindset of our people. Our faith is unwaveringly strong.

While it is true that the coal business is a cornerstone of Appalachian culture, at the end of the day it was the only way the region survived. To put it quite simply, coal put food on the table and paid the bills. The men of Appalachia did what they could do to ensure their family’s survival and make ends meet while the women quite literally held the families together and raised their children. That was the way of the world back then. A lot has changed since then. This gender gap is dead. However, the traditional family did what had to be done in order to give their children a better upbringing than they had. Generational improvement is the utmost moral story here.

A great deal of distrust of outsiders arose in the region, especially in the past century for a couple of reasons. First of all, businessmen from New England or elsewhere largely controlled the ties of the coal business within the region and it was about [inaudible 00:56:57]. Either on or off. Every single family involved with the business was left to the mercy of big business. Secondly, the young men of our region, like my grandfather in some of the military pictures you’ll see, were drafted by the federal government to engage in conflicts in countries most of them could have never even pointed to on a map.

The distrust rose through explo- through exploitation and for very good reason. Most like our love for coal, our love for military service was brought about by the huge number of veterans in the region. Military service is treated with the utmost respect in these mountains. It takes guts to serve your country, to defend your way of life and your fellow man. A great sense of patriotism runs deep within these people. Almost every house flies an American flag and truth be told, we would never have it any other way.

Our blue collar roots run deep. As deep as the mine shafts our ancestors crawled through so that we might one day be able to give our children a more comfortable life than they were able to give theirs. Generational improvement is a major goal within these mountains today and the ultimate key to ensuring a sustainable future here. Thankfully, our blue collar roots have provided us with an exceptionally stable foundation to stand upon in order to motivate us in our pursuit of higher education. We want it so badly ’cause we do not just want to survive anymore. We want to thrive.

For generations the rich culture in these mountains has been a masterpiece in the making. Families have come and gone, some coming back again. But for the ones who stuck it out, this is and always will be home. This is something our ancestors felt was not only worth preserving but improving and we most definitely carry on this belief, looking to our past for inspiration and motivation. But I always look into the future for what is to come, how we can leave our mark.

No matter how far apart our families end up because of work, school and other realities we must live with, there’s always something special about those days when everyone gets to be together. There’s something special about making the drive to your grandparents’ house every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas; memories we treasure. Over the years, the joy of being together and the love felt only grows. Even as empty seats fill the holiday tables all across the country, our roots run deep and our family is everything.

There’s an old saying that some- that goes something along the lines of there’s blood that isn’t family and there’s family that isn’t blood. With that being said, I’m an only child, which has been a little awkward growing up. I did not enjoy many of the experiences I would have had if I had siblings. However, the bonds forged in blood, sweat and tears through many long days in the sun, some of my colleagues you’ve saw a picture here have become my brothers and sisters, my siblings. They give me constant hope that the future is in good hands. There will always be something special about the family we choose. It is a love unlike any other.

The Appalachian story, specifically the pursuit of higher education cannot be told without a place I know proudly call my home, Alice Lloyd College. Nestled deep within the hills of Pippa Passes, Kentucky, Alice Lloyd College provides Appalachian students an equal opportunity for a higher quality education, regardless of ability to pay, largely supported by our student work program. One of my colleagues you saw in the pictures before, born in the Philippines, Carlos [inaudible 01:00:21] is now a proud American and Appalachian and is pursuing a degree in nursing, has excelled in their work program, serving as one of my assistant supervisors on the grounds crew.

Another colleague of mine, the one you saw after Carlos, Jordan Jones, has Proverbs 14:23 tattooed across his arm which reads, “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to pro- to poverty.” When you come from people who know a thing or two about the rawest form of survival, living paycheck to paycheck just to keep food on the table, you tend to have some drive. The strong blue collar roots possessed by most Appalachians translates very nicely to the world of academia. Our ancestors spent their lives underground, extracting black diamond so their generation would be able to go to school and join easier way of life not only for ourselves but for our family and the generations to come.

The last of my colleagues you saw on the pictures before. Michaela Shore is an aspiring business leader willing to invest in the region and care for her community. Stimulation of local economies and the implementation of more local business is crucial to the sustainability of Appalachia. Through hard work and dedication alongside perseverance through adversity, people like Michaela have the potential to leave their mark on the region in a very powerful way.

The Appalachian story is one that cannot be told without emphas- without an emphasis on our deeply rooted history within the coal industry and the sheer will and determination of our people to survive. However, we are done surviving. Day after day the world continues to put a timestamp on how much time they believe the coal business has left, but this time we will be ready. Our generation is not only willing but desires to do whatever it takes to ensure our home has a bright future. One worth sticking around for. After all, this is home and nothing will ever change that.

These mountains have always been my home and they always will be. Like many others, I plan to do my part to contribute to the sustainability of the region and for me this means an investment in higher education. Upon completion of graduate school, I plan to join the educational field in the area to some capacity, eventually as a professor or administrator at collegial level. The people here are absolutely brilliant and have the heart and toughness it takes to succeed and build something here. They simply need options that work for them.

If my time in the work stay program has taught me anything it is that tough roots produce incredible leaders and scholars. Our generation is committed to this region. The future will be as bright as we make it. Thank you and God bless you all.

Whitney Kimble Coe:

Mm. Thank you so much, Jonathan. That was really powerful. So, um, Jace, we, we look forward to hearing you, hear from you next. Thank you. Jace is also experiencing some … you know, some of the best rural broadband, um, [inaudible 01:03:47] to offer so … Can you hear us, Jace?

Jace Charger:

Yeah, I can hear you guys.

Whitney Kimble Coe:


Jace Charger:

Can you guys hear me?

Whitney Kimble Coe:


Jace Charger:

Awesome. Hello, um, it’s good to meet you all. Um, in the beginning of this project I had originally scheduled a, a group of real youth from my community out in the rural lands of Takhini um, to do like a, a gathering of medicine project. But when this instance, you know, when couple days like before this event was supposed to happen we had a tragedy in our community. Um, was … It was the result of gun violence that I helped plan a concert that this happened at. And I just … out of respect and out of consideration for my fellow youth and my community I chose to give them space and place of healing because so many instances do people come to our communities and like shoot, you know, scenes of poverty and grief and that’s not the kind of story I want to tell of my community, ’cause there’s so many instances that the, the constant media construct is that, you know, Native Americans are poor or they’re in, you know, lacking in culture or they’re … you know, just tons of sad stuff.

But there’s a story I wanted to tell and like getting a photo into our culture is a rarity because out of respect in the conservati- conservization of our culture, we don’t allow vi- any videotaping or any, like, you know, photography at all because of, you know, [inaudible 01:05:29] protect our culture at all costs because it is like our, uh, our heritage passed down that we need to keep in, in [inaudible 01:05:37] namesake.

Um, so, uh, through this project I wanted to, you know, tell a story about healing and perseverance and resiliency that is, you know, lives in our DNA as Indigenous people. Um, not only because of our striving perseverance to get through all the struggles that our, generations ago that our ancestors struggled through. Multiple, you know, multiple fights, not only on a civic level, not only on a humanities level but on, you know, an environmental level, because as Indigenous people as a, you know, the first, you know, Americans of this land, the term American creed is kind of like our day-to-day life. How we live with the land, how we interact with it and how, you know, our, our experiences and our movements and everything we do on a day-to-day life affects, you know, the environment around us.

And I wanted to tell a story about healing and perseverance and, you know, show the beauty not only like of the land itself but the creatures and the environment that we live in and how that infects like our day-to-day life and our stories. ‘Cause we use the land and medicines, you know, on a day-to-day basis as Indigenous people and having access to that and having access to like healing properties like a horse society and using that to treat PTSD, to help, you know, youth through depression or use them, you know, to travel. They were existence of our survival, you know, way back in the day. You know, traveling to persevere from, um, travel from our homelands is being, being put on reservations.

So we developed these horse societies, these relationships with the animals that we have to coexist, that we were thrusted into this environment because of, you know, what America has become today. And trying to navigate through that as an Indigenous person and as a young person is definitely difficult but it’s not without its challenges and it’s not without its rewards. Because as we go through, you know, our difficulties, whether it be generational trauma or dealing with generational PTSD ’cause of the boarding schools, of being displaced, or the Indian Relocation Act, you know, we’re sending Native American families into, you know, bigger cities disconnected from their culture.

By telling the story from a rural Native American story like of, of a young person growing up, you know, in this environment that was meant to put us down, to trap us, to imprison us, to contain us and separate us from our, you know, our families and our relatives and to show how we can live in existence and cultivate our land.

And I really wanted to focus on Sage because it’s a, it’s a necessity on, in our day-to-day life. We take it for granted sometimes because there are other places, you know, in California and Sacramento where it’s actually illegal to harvest sage, to deny communities access to a sense of healing and stories of renewance of not only your cultural experience but your mental health and like, you know, your just overall wellbeing.

And so, you know, using these pictures, using the, you know, the knowledge that has been handed down from our elders to, you know, the younger people how to sustainably harvest sage, how to not harm the environment around you, about how to live with it and tell that story from a Na- a Native lens, like a Native American’s perspective and then a young person’s perspective. ‘Cause as the generations go and as our civic duty evolves, you know, into this ever-growing, you know, environment of fighting for change and fighting for our rights.

And tho- that story, that picture changes every generation but telling the story from a, a different lens, to not like producing like poverty porn or anything but telling a story of hope and resilience, of a culture that is still alive after hundreds of years of attempts of annihilation and the beauty and the culture that we … has sur- that has survived along with us and using these tools, you know, these Indigenous tools and these relationships that have been passed down and taught to us as skills and copings skills and as, you know, moments of creating our characters. And, you know, giving our youth, you know, the tools and, you know, the things they need to survive and have their voice and to feel like that they matter.

And to show the beauty of not only our reservations and our rural areas that we so strongly try to protect, but also to show the beauty within ourselves because there’s so many like stereotypes of what Indigenous, you know, people are but rarely do people get to see the actual real like nature of our resilience and then our culture. Because it’s, it’s so hard to get a picture of our culture because we protect it so fiercely.

But I wanted to share this story because it’s, it’s a story about my day-to-day life and other day-to-day lives of my fellow Native Americans who are in the trenches working in our communities to build it up and not only from the land but like, you know, within our tribal government. Because in self-governance as a tribal entity, it is definitely like a … it’s a smaller pool based on a project that became America.

Um, but to navigate and to move through that and to remind ourselves that the w- intersectionality between Indigenous, Indigenous justice, environmental justice and social justice are all interconnected through, you know, through us as Indigenous people because you cannot talk about one without talking about the other. And to show the beauty and the resilience of, of our, of our native youth and their, their capability to understand so much if we’re given the right tools and right platforms to discuss [inaudible 01:11:50] needs and that, that [inaudible 01:11:52].

And to give them the, the, the power, to give them that mic is something that I have, personally have been working on not only throughout like civil, s- my civic duties and feeding the people, um, giving youth opportunities to s- to get outside their comfort zones and to, you know, tell their own story. Because rarely, very rarely do young people get the chance to tell their own story, you know, by themselves. It’s always been told by someone else.

And honestly, ’cause it is our duty to build the generational gaps between the elders and me and like people like me and young people because that knowledge or a- as Indigenous people we are oral historians talking about and conversating, giving the tools to our elders to tell their stories that they never got to tell and to let them write their own, their own journey down while they’re still here and to share those on with the next generations. Like, you know, in this, this picture right here we are, um, she’s cutting twine to help me and to describe the process of the drying process and the preservation of sage ’cause we share, like with our elders, we give it as gifts.

We don’t only use it as a human properties but we also use it to honor and protect our spaces and this is like my aunty helping me with that. And like this is another picture about the drying process. We, you know, we save the seeds, we, we preserve it, we hang it up and we dry it and then we share it with our friends and our families. Because protecting the access to our cultural needs is depending of, you know, my [inaudible 01:13:37] my tribe. And to give that, that torch, that microphone to my elders and to have them, as [inaudible 01:13:44] and keepers share their stories is like my, my personal journey. And like those stories will become mine.

And to pass those on, um, through photos like these and to share like, you know, their memories while they’re still here is an amazing opportunity. So I really want to thank for everybody for giving me this opportunity and giving my community this opportunity to shed a different light on a ongoing Native American crisis and to give hope that we can change and we are our own stories in our eyes.

So yeah. Thank you, guys.

Whitney Kimble Coe:

No, thank you so much, Jace. We were all live right now. You know, we, we applaud for all three of you, um, and, and for our civil scholars. So now we have an opportunity to get into smaller groups and just reflect a little bit back to one another about, you know, what, what did we hear? What are the images and stories that, uh, has stayed with us and sparked ideas for us? So you are about to be invited, um, into one of three breakout rooms and these three breakout rooms will have one of our scholars and one of our, um, young adult presenters today.

So as soon as you see it pop up on your screen, just consent to, to be sent away and we will bring you back, um, by the six o’clock hour. I promise.

Daily Yonder Photo Essays

Blair, Charger, and Schimmel’s photos essays also were published in the Daily Yonder. View them below.

Connecting our Heartlands is co-presented by the Center for Rural Strategies’ Rural Assembly; their media platform, The Daily Yonder; the documentary organization Citizen Film; the National Writing Project, the nation’s largest network of teacher leaders focused on the teaching of writing; and Working Assumptions, a program that supports high school and college students to photograph and write about work and family in their lives.

This event has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this event do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Everywhere Workshops

Extend your Everywhere experience by registering for one or more of three workshops hosted with partners Aug. 6- 8th, the week following our mainstage programming on Aug. 1. 

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Rural Food Traditions: German breads

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. In this episode, On this episode talk with Lois Keller about German breads.

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Rural Food Traditions: Biscuits

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. In this episode, On this episode we are learning all about the art of making biscuits! Appalachian leader Margo Miller speaks about how a middle school competition led to a lifelong passion for biscuits and how she is returning to her roots through crafting and baking.

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Tina in blue shirt holding cornbread

Rural Food Traditions: Cornbread

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. Tina Mozelle Braziel is a poet and author living in rural Alabama. In this episode she shares her secrets to cornbread, what life is like in the glass cabin she built with her husband, and some of her poetry.

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white bread load partially sliced on green cutting board

Rural Food Traditions: White Bread

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. On this episode, host Teresa Collins talks about white bread with Minnesota home baker Cheryl Whitesitt.

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Rural Food Traditions: Sourdough

Welcome to Rural Food Traditions, a podcast series of Rural Remix. We’re starting where many meals across diverse food traditions begin: with bread. Food is a uniter; and across culinary traditions, bread is a common thread. On this episode, host Teresa Collins talks with Eliza Blue about sourdough bread.

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