The Spirit of Sovereignty Woven into the Fabric of Tribal Communities: Culture Bearers As Agents of Change
For centuries, cultural assets have been inextricably linked with the wellbeing of Native peoples. Native arts and culture are fundamental to the societal fabric of tribal communities, and cultural expression is a means to ensure cultural continuity and the very survival of Indigenous peoples and sovereign nations. This paper describes how asset-based organizing in Native communities and nations focuses on cultural renewal as essential for creating systemic change. It provides context for a recent rebirth within Indian country regarding the role ancient traditions and teachings play in rebuilding tribal nations. It portrays individual culture bearers from Native Alaskan and Indian Nations who, not only preserve, teach, and pass on ancient traditions, but also, in the spirit of their ancestors, have become agents of change. The stories of a new generation of culture bearers demonstrate how they commit to learn the ways of their elders and exercise leadership to make change in their communities from a collectivist approach where everyone is valued as part of the whole. These stories illuminate how art and culture are essential elements in changing attitudes, behaviors, institutions, and policies that limit equity and justice in Native Americans’ lives.