Emily Washines Teaches Us How to Learn from History

Emily Washines Teaches Us How to Learn from History
Emily Washines, Photo Credit: Native Anthro

Emily Washines (she/her) is inspired by the past. As a history scholar, Washines uses creativity to make the past come alive—not only by telling historical stories through writing and film, but also by connecting the dots between the past and present. 

She’s an enrolled Yakama Nation tribal member with Cree and Skokomish lineage, as well as a speaker of Ichiskiin (a Yakama language) and other Native languages. 

Her blog, Native Friends, focuses on Indigenous history and culture, highlighting her research on the Yakama War, Native women, traditional knowledge, resource management, fishing rights, and food sovereignty.

She’s also an advocate—speaking out about missing and murdered Native women on the Yakama reservation, and putting the issue in historical context. 

In this interview, Emily shares her insight about the value of immersing yourself in learning new skills, and how history informs her creative work.

So often creatives are multidisciplinary like you work within a wide range of skills and interests, how did you decide which ones would translate into a successful business? 

With multiple interests, it can be hard to see the pathway when you are creating. In the beginning, I set some aggressive deadlines to accelerate my business. I also had a mentor. It was tough, but a good challenge. 

Was my messaging and website perfect? No. I remember going to the gym and bringing my notebook to capture ideas for content. I still fine-tune ideas after a workout. 

If you are energized by following a rabbit hole, keep following it. This may not be the actual deliverable or product, but this is a process to see what grows from the questions you have. 

Listen to feedback to help clarify messaging and bring a lot of energy when you talk. I read plenty about war with Native Americans, and I knew the perspective I would share would be different. Even my chiropractor was shocked that I was writing about war. I let the shock value of being one of the few Native women who writes and makes videos about war work in my favor. This process took years, but it is dynamic.

Your career has developed through trial by fire and you’ve said that you learned to speak to the press through jobs you were essentially thrown into. Is an immersive experience into doing new things an effective way to learn new skills? 

Some of my best experiences began when I had no idea what I was doing. 

I’ve learned that creating stretch goals with new things will make you more efficient. While you want to have a variety of paces, your business process will take longer if you keep your voice to yourself. 

For me, podcasting intrigued me so when I got the opportunity, I jumped in. Did this mean late nights researching and throwing some concealer on in the morning while Post-it notes were strewn about? Yes. The learning curve is steep, but you accelerate your skillset when you share in a presentation, writing, or a podcast. 

Remember to keep some learning examples in mind when you network. When people see success (and some struggle), they can be gracious with their knowledge and support. 

Emily Washines, Photo Credit: Native Anthro

What are some of the creative ways you share your culture, language and heritage with folks within your community, and outside of it?

As a result of violent assimilation regarding our language and culture that lasted through the 1970s, we keep much of our songs and culture close and do not usually share much. There are times when we people come together to honor the culture and it is heartwarming. 

One example is the 1909 songs that I repatriated back to a Yakama family. They were sung by Louis Mann and recorded by Edward S. Curtis on wax cylinders. It’s rare to have all of the songs playable and Indiana University was able to digitize them.  

The family graciously allowed us to share those songs in a community event at the Yakama Cultural Center. We had people travel from throughout the state to hear these ancient songs. In this instance, we came together as a community to welcome these songs home. 

Has your work as a film script consultant supported the work you do as a historical researcher and public speaker, and vice versa? 

History is complex and this helps build complex characters. Additionally, you gain more insight when you research historical people from a place of curiosity. The changes and shifts they make in their lives can be surprising. 

If I am too set on who they are, I will miss things. My writing and speaking are enriched when I take a more open approach and let myself be surprised. 

Much of the work you do involves advocacy for missing and murdered Native women on the Yakama Reservation, and support for your community’s elders. How do you fund important work like this? 

There are private funders in the community that support justice for missing and murdered at Yakama through a fund Native Women in Action, which is fiscally sponsored by the Yakima Valley Community Foundation

There are also community efforts where people volunteer their time to help. The federal, state, and tribal governments respectfully have some resources as well.

The Evergreen State College supported my short video that centers on a historical case of murdered women and children at Yakama.

In terms of my writing, different tribes in the Northwest helped support my case study publication, War Cry. Crosscut has paid me to write an op-ed about missing Native women in Washington State.

Where do you find inspiration in your community?

My children and elders teach me so much. In our Yakama language, the word for grandparent and grandchild is interchangeable, but only between each other. They bring us lessons. The past few days, there is a gentle hum in the background. My daughter is sewing clothes for her doll. Every so often she comes to show me her progress or lack thereof. She reminds me that creating and sometimes not getting things perfect are a part of the creative process. The excitement about who you share this with can drive you further. I’m proud to be that person for her. 

Your work had to pivot and shift during the pandemic. In what ways did you do this and why was it beneficial to the work you do? 

My blogging slowed down as I shifted to video podcasts or Facebook Live Events as a way to bring Native Voices to the forefront around issues and interests in the community. 

I’m a pretty optimistic person, but I have been grieving the family and friends we have lost in the pandemic. Still, people in my tribe asked to hear from people that survived the coronavirus. They want hope. So I found Native Americans from the  Yakama and Colville tribes to interview. Some of them had never used Zoom or been interviewed live.

The live events bring communities together for something we are all facing. In the last pandemic, there was little written from Native Americans or the Yakama tribe. We need a record of what is happening to us. I pivoted to have conversations in a collaborative and accessible way.

What tools do you use to promote your blog, Native Friends? How do you drive people to your site and content? 

Social media helps bring people to the website. When I speak at an event or podcast, they mention my website. Some teachers give assignments based on my videos and blogs. Living in a rural town in Washington, word of mouth helps. I was at a local gas station and someone said, “Hey you’re Native Friends!” At that moment it felt like a big billboard emerged for this one person who was so excited. The next time I went there a lady asked me how to pronounce a name in our Yakama language. I’m still surprised and honored that people know about my blog and that keeps me grounded.

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