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Taking Back the Dinner: A Celebration of Native Cultures

Tuesday, November 21, 2023 was the annual Taking Back the Dinner – a celebration of Native cultures, an opportunity to raise awareness about issues affecting the Native community, and an event to honor rich Native customs and traditions. Organized by First Nations @UW, an undergraduate intertribal registered student organization, the event centered on a deep commitment to community education and cultural appreciation.

The evening opened with an inspiring performance and remarks by Elder Swilkanim Marshall (Lummi), a nationally renowned professional violinist. With a background of performing for the Seattle Symphony and serving on its board, Marshall set the tone for the evening as a beloved figure within the community.

Emcees Adia Bowen/tsi and Ethan Miedema welcomed guests and introduced First Nations @ UW and the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, providing insight into the history and personal significance of Taking Back the Dinner. Their emphasis on the warmth and support of the extended Native community was deeply felt, with Bowen/tsi sharing a touching personal experience of the Native community coming together like family to care for her grandmother.

Next, Magdalena Fonseca, director of the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center and Chenoa Henry, director of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House presented students with a care package, which was curated by both programs from the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity. Following the care packages, the attendees heard from Isaaksichaa Braine (Crow), a Ph.D. student at the UW iSchool and former director of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House. Braine shared his life journey as an American Indian studying at the UW, touching upon his experiences as a first-year college student, fundraising for the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House and his work encouraging fellow American Indian students, faculty and staff at the UW.
A food blessing led by sqʷalx̌ax̌alića Knott (Upper Skagit) preceded a delightful meal prepared by chefs Aislinn McManigal and Sebastian Quintana, blending their Chilean cuisine with culturally traditional food of the Muckleshoot tribe.

The entertainment continued throughout dinner with captivating performances by Nick Reyes and Erwin Scabbyrobe of the Black Lodge Singers, mesmerizing performances by Jay Bowen and Rosalie Fish, and also traditional Canoe family songs by the group “č́awayaltxʷ iišəd,” meaning “Shellhouse Family” in Lushootseed.
The event concluded with remarks by qəɫtəblu Hohn (Puyallup), a Lushootseed assistant teaching professor of American Indian Studies at the UW, who also played a pivotal role in facilitating the UW Canoe Family’s inaugural journey in 2023.

Taking Back the Dinner was a resounding success, strengthening community bonds, broadening cultural appreciation, and fostering a sense of unity among the attendees. It served as a powerful reminder of the richness and importance of Native cultures, and the significance of coming together to honor and celebrate them. The event was a testament to the dedication and passion of Fist Nations @ UW, and it the indelible sense of belonging that comes from dedicated space and an engaged community.

This story was written by and photos taken by Aster Li, a UW Graduate student studying for her Masters of Communications and Digital Media.