ECA Students Perform “Reclaiming Our Voices”

ECA Students Perform “Reclaiming Our Voices”

IMG_0637Early College Academy (ECA) students stood proudly in front of 550 guests at the NAYA Gala to perform their group performance of Reclaiming Our Voices.

Students were chosen for the performance through their involvement with NAYA’s youth advocacy program. Relationships with  students and their advocates helped develop conversations around identity, voice, and poetry. At first, there was some resistance from the students to create such a large piece of work that would require hours and weeks of their own time.

They also felt no one wanted to listen. Energy shifted when Youth Advocates posed the questions; “What if each of you finally had a chance to share your truth? What if you could stand in a room of five hundred plus people holding a microphone, what would you want to tell people?” It was that spark that allowed the students to really engage and become excited about the opportunity. The poem began pouring out of the students and collectively they wrote Reclaiming Our Voices.

ECA student Paulina, Inupiaq, was focused on education, she asked, “How do you teach someone who is invisible to you?” Many lines of the poem developed from this question. J’Laina, Kickapoo/Winnebago, wanted focus on the things that plague her community, such as mental health and substance abuse. She wanted to voice frustration to her generation, as if they don’t know what’s worth fighting for.

The stanzas that begin with “If I am seven generations” and “I have the right to determine” was the group piecing together the beautiful, ugly, messy, complicated, historically buried parts of who they are. Tamika, Apache/Cherokee, added “I have a story to tell, we all do,” and Manny, Klamath/Modoc, stated, “Yeah, I want my voice to be heard, truly, without being seen as angry even though we all are, how could we not be?” Aaron, Navajo, contributed by saying, “I want my identity to be spoken about and seen. I want people to know our generation has to piece back together buried identities. We have to ask for things instead of inheriting them.”

As a group, students talked about what they all had in common, what they continue to share, and what has changed. What have they lost? What do they need? How can they get it? How do they start to create change for  Native people? It wasn’t just a performance; it was the realization that the students were already doing this hard work. The students realized they are already this every time they tell their stories. They are keeping oral tradition alive, and speaking truths. They are holding space in history so people will hear and see the students speak about change for Native people.

As the students walked off the stage, they stood tall. Smiles were contagious from one student to another as they later talked about their performance. They shared a sense of pride and accomplishment. It was clear to everyone in the audience that the change has already occurred in the hearts of these Native students. “One day, we will be the ancestors that people speak about and what they will remember is; we kept busy, we continued the fight and we made real change happen!”

Watch the video here.

Student Performers:

Tamika Perez, Apache/Cherokee
Manny Jackson, Klamath/Modoc
A-a-ron Lilly, Navajo
J’Laina Grimm, Kickapoo/Winnebago
Paulina Gutierrez, Inupiaq


Written by Clay River, Passamaquoddy, NAYA Youth Advocate