Editor’s Notebook: Giving thanks for Native arts in Seattle

Plus, lanterns at the zoo and literary luminaries.

"Walking Bear," by Maynard Johnny Jr., part of Pioneer Square's "Art Outside the Box" project featuring Coast Salish artwork on signal boxes. (Daniel Spils)

As Thanksgiving waddles toward us like an oversized flightless bird, I’m thinking about my elementary school, Alfarata, home of the “Alfarata Indians.” That’s likely where the legend of Thanksgiving was lodged in my brain — reinforced with a construction-paper headdress. But as a schoolmate noted on Facebook last week, we were never taught what Alfarata referred to (beyond the caricature mascot), much less about the Native Americans who inhabited the Pennsylvania region where we lived.

So this week, some 40 years after I last set foot in the school, I looked it up. And discovered Alfarata was named after the fictional “Indian girl” in a hugely popular 1840s song, “The Blue Juniata” (covered in the 1930s by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers). In the lyric, “bright Alfarata” walks along the Juniata River, which did in fact run through our town, singing an ode to an unnamed warrior.

It strikes me as odd to name a school after a character in a hit song (though attending Jolene High School would be pretty rad), but my point is that I had never thought to question the name until now. Commemorative occasions like Native American Heritage Month are a necessary reminder that we still have so much to learn. This week, Crosscut’s Manola Secaira has a story about how some Washington schools are teaching Native American history. The article includes a quiz — can you pass it?

The Northwest is steeped in Coast Salish culture, so the Crosscut arts and culture team has gathered a collection of ways to immerse yourself in Indigenous arts during the holiday season. While museums are temporarily closed again by the COVID-19 spike, contemporary Native art galleries Stonington and Steinbrueck are open and flush with new works.

Events such as the 2020 Indigenous Peoples Festival (Nov. 20-21) are bringing drag, hoop dance and Suquamish Tribe Song online, while radio play Changer and the Star People tells regional origin stories. There is plenty of outdoor art to be had, too, including a fun new series of art on signal boxes in Pioneer Square, featuring current Coast Salish takes on Dungeness crab, salmon, eagles and a “Walking Bear.” And for those in holiday shopping mode, we have ways to check off your list and support Native artists.

The all new WildLanterns festival at Woodland Park Zoo features larger than life animals lit from within. (Woodland Park Zoo)

In addition to the coronavirus surge and the unshakable election hangover, in Seattle we are entering the darkest, rainiest time of the year. People in my neighborhood have had Christmas lights up for weeks because, why not?

Thankfully, those of us seeking the healing lift of lights have lots of options. (That doesn’t include the newly rechristened “Lumen Field” — the stadium formerly known as Qwest, then CenturyLink — as it likely won’t be hosting crowds of Seahawks or Sounders fans for some time.)

WildLanterns (now through Jan. 21) is a brand-new outdoor installation at Woodland Park Zoo that goes well beyond string lights strung up in vaguely zoological shapes. This walk-through festival features large-scale animal lanterns — apes, snow leopards and jellyfish, oh my! — glowing from within and organized by geographical regions.

For the first time, the LUSIO Lights festival is coming to Pioneer Square (Dec. 1-Jan. 15), featuring an array of arty light installations incorporated into the historic architecture and cultural spaces. If you’ve been to this fest in Volunteer Park, you know it is part Burning Man, part state fair and pretty enjoyable.

And at Westlake Center, the Downtown Seattle Association promises a full-on bulb bonanza (starting Nov. 27), with some 80,000 lights arranged in festive shapes. This new expansion of the Christmas tree lighting sounds like a Vegas-level blitz of glitz and color. But who knows, it might be the illumination injection we really need.

Seattle authors Donna Miscolta, left, and Cecilia Aragon will talk about their new books and growing up Latina in 1960s America. (Town Hall)

Perhaps you prefer to hibernate in winter, curled up with a good book — or a laptop streaming an author reading? Several local literary luminaries are making online appearances in upcoming days.

Town Hall hosts a livestream conversation with Donna Miscolta (read our profile of the author) and Cecilia Aragon, writer/engineering professor/aerobatic pilot (what!). The topic, “On Growing Up Latina in 1960s America,” applies to both of the writers’ recent books: Living Color, Miscolta’s collection of linked stories about an awkward Mexican American girl finding her voice, and Flying Free, Aragon’s memoir of growing up bullied in a Midwestern town, and overcoming a fear of heights to become the first Latina on the U.S. Aerobatic Team (Nov. 23, 7:30 p.m. Free-$15).

At Elliott Bay Bookstore (Nov. 20, 6 p.m. Free), beloved Seattle poets Sierra Nelson and Priscilla Long talk of multihued mysteries and Holy Magic, which is the title of Long’s lovely new collection. In the book, she groups her striking poems by the colors evoked therein: “Old Jade,” “Bluebirds,” “Archeology of Orange.” Reds hum through the poem “Art & Life,” in which Long nods to coral reefs, farmed salmon and wild horses while lamenting the endangerment of species. Yet she finds solace — as we all might right now — in the persistent miracles of nature:

But look. The peregrines 
are back, startling starlings 
into masterpiece murmurations.

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