Each year, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation come together to host the Young Native Writers Essay Contest, a writing competition for Native Americans of high school age. It is designed to encourage young Native Americans to think about the crucial issues impacting their tribal communities today. I spoke with one of the winners, Julian Brave Noisecat (Shuswap) from Oakland, California (second from left in the photograph.) His tribe, the Tsq’escen Band of Shuswap, are based in Canim Lake, British Columbia. His winning essay is available to read here. (PDF)
What was your reaction when you heard you were a winner of the Young Native Writers Essay Contest?
I was ecstatic. I mean it was obviously something I didn’t expect to happen. I worked really hard on my essay. When they called me I was actually at school. It was really exciting for me.
What inspired you to write about your tribe’s dependency on the timber industry?
I considered a number of different topics, including the loss of language and alcoholism, but I studied economics this year and half of last year so I thought that economics was something that most people would not have a grasp on or be able to write about. And I thought it was probably the heart of the issue on the reservation that all the other issues are stemming from.
In your essay, you describe a youth that is more concerned with popular culture than the culture of your tribe. How do you personally avoid that trap?
I honestly can’t say that I do avoid that trap very well. I try to participate in as many traditional things as possible, for example I do powwow dancing which is not really from our people, it’s more of a pan-Indian tradition. But I can’t really say that I do avoid the (popular) culture, it’s the reality for all cultures that all people are influenced by popular media.
What do you cherish the most about your tribe’s culture?
Our family values are very, very, very high. I’m totally treated like part of the family whenever we go back and visit. I’d say that’s one of the biggest things. I don’t think you really can say that you value a particular aspect of the culture most, though.
In your essay, you said that you want to go to college to study economics. Do you know which colleges you want to apply for?
I was going to look at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth and Brown.
What kind of project would you like to pursue with an economics degree, to help wean your tribe off of their dependency on timber?
My tribe is in Canada, first of all. But I actually had an internship with the Native American Contractors Association, and they work through the AA Program, which is federal contracting that’s preferential to Native tribes. Through that, I realized that there are very few tribes, out of the many tribes that are in the country, that are actually pursuing the business route towards economic independence and economic diversity. And I think that that’s really unfortunate because through the AA Program, even in the United States, there are a lot of opportunities for tribes. In Canada, I’m not as familiar with what opportunities they have. I don’t believe they have a similar program for first nations tribes. I honestly think that going beyond just natural resources, and timber obviously, and all these other different, almost, economic traps and economically diversifying and getting jobs and pursuing fields where a degree beyond a trades degree is really, really important. And I think that that opportunity that is given in the United States is actually very, very good for Native people.