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What happens when a story is forgotten?

I started this film at 17, because I had a fear that part of my identity, my native Prairie Band Potawatomi heritage, would be inevitably lost in time. Through music, dance, and color, I’m inviting others to become immersed in the thoughts, histories, and emotions I grew up with.

During the creation of this personal film, I had the intention for this to simply be a time-capsule for myself and my baby brother to look back on in the future, as adults. Little did I know that upon it’s release, this film would take me on a journey for over a year. I got to meet indigenous communities from around the world – from the Sami of Scandinavia, Ainu of Japan, and many more – who were all dealing with the same struggle to preserve their language and culture. I felt so lucky to hear their stories and for the first time, experienced the power storytelling has to connect us to each other as human beings.

Watch Kayla’s Ted Talk at: 

Or learn more about Kayla’s lineage project by clicking the image below:

Spending an afternoon with a long time known, dear younger friend, drinking hot chocolate at one of Seattle’s best known Chocolatti’s, we got a conversation going. And this is what she had to say:

What does it feel like to be you in this world today?

I feel like now, you hafta fight for a place, especially in the university setting. Not so much in the Yukon but going somewhere else you have to make yourself individual… is what it kinda feels like to be youth. You kind of have to fight to prove yourself it feels like at this age. {Before} it felt like you had more of a guide to do that. You had steps to get to the places where you need to be and now it’s kind of an uphill battle to find out where you need to be.

What does it mean to you to be an adult?

Self sufficiency. That just comes from my, you know, being able to take care of yourself… I also have a whole need to do that. Having an idea of where you want to go, and being able to choose that. And making choices. Being able to make a choice that’s going to impact your life, without having to reply to your parents in such a way as you would have to at age 13. So self sufficiency, making choices, and having a direction you’re following.

When you will you know when you’re there?

I don’t know if I’ll ever know when I’ll get there.  Maybe when you’re married and you have a house- that goal you’ve had as a child.Like, oh that’s what being an adult is when you have a family. But I don’t know if that’s really true anymore, if that’s just that old [story.] I feel like I’m working through that right now, knowing  when I’ll become an adult, because I’m in a transitional stage, from being completely reliant on my parents. I think I’m in the middle of that. And I don’t know when I’ll get there. I’m not there yet. I think it’s little steps. Moving out. Learning to drive. Going on trips of your own. Those little steps lead you to adulthood.

What do you want or need?

I think you need somewhere to live, or at least the possibility to have a home. And I think you need to be planted in a community of some form. And I think you want other things, like a new cell phone… that kind of thing. Community, food and shelter.

How do you define wisdom? 

Accumulated knowledge that you can pass on to people. I don’t think you have to be very old to be wise. I have some friends, like Shylo, she’s a very old soul, and she’s got a lot of knowledge about Yukon environment and plants and birds. Ya, just knowledge you can give to people.

What are things you would like to see happen in your lifetime?

I’d like to see a shift towards renewable resources that’s actually not just people trying to make people feel like something’s happening, but really nothing’s happening. I’d like to see the Canadian electoral system get reformed. Because our Prime Minister promised that he would do it, and then he backed out. That’s the only reason people voted for him. He’s the best option compared to everyone else, but he backed out and now I’m pissed at him, and I don’t know that I’m going to vote for him again. I think he should’ve kept that promise. I want some follow through from my politicians.

How do you stay positive when faced with challenges?

I hang out with my friends. I find short term goals. I’m very goal oriented. I have long term goals and short term goals and I write them all down. And I have kinda like a vision board, but it’s like writing down my short term goals, then I write down my long term goals and then I write down how to get there. Even if I’m in a place that I don’t really like, I can see where that will take me to the next place I really want to be. I have a giant day planner. And I write down my goals for the next three days, and I have sticky notes that I write my daily goals on. And then I’ll stick them around the house sometimes.

What advice would you give to yourself as an adult?

Don’t stress out as much. That’s what I’m working on right now. Go out and do things that freak you out more. Make an effort in school and your own life cuz you’ll never get to do that again. Everyone is so blase, where they don’t care about school or care about life.

What is it like to be growing up in the United States for children of immigrant parents? How do those youth cope, especially when they have little contact with the culture their parents came from? What the following words reflect is one boy’s experience. This boy is my godson, my cousin. Jace Windu, his chosen pseudonym, is a 12 year old boy who loves freely and laughs often, but most often, his life is one of work and extreme pressure. Here is his perspective:

 What does it feel like to be you in the world today?

It’s hard. It’s difficult to explain. In some ways challenging. But it’s ok. And sometimes really fun, like today. I guess that’s it.

What’s the challenging parts?

Being frustrated with school work, with my parents, with my home. With all the problems in general.

Do you feel like you have a lot of responsibility?

I feel like I do, because most people my age would not even come close to what i know or what I do or how I act. So ya, I think I have a lot of responsibility

Do you like that responsibility?

IN a sense, ya, I do because I know I’m growing as a person and as an adult. I’m becoming more of an adult because in this last year, I began to think more like an adult. LIke a kid would think about Sponge Bob and toys and Legos, and stuff like that. And now I just think more like how I end up in the future, and I need to study more, and I need to make the right choices.

How much fun do you get to have as a 12 year old?

Well, I’m certain that if I wasn’t as adultish as I am, I’m probably the only one who does all the things that I do, that I would get to have a lot more fun and get to hang out with friends a lot more. But sometimes, I do have fun. It’s not like my life is totally boring, sad and hard and totally bad. I enjoy playing my instrument. I enjoy wrestling even though it’s hard, it’s tiring and stuff. I enjoy that. It’s fun.

Do you think there’s a big cultural disparity between how your parents raise you and how other “American” parents raise their children?

Yes I do. My dad is more like a strict person than most other dads would be. I’m not saying that every dad’s not non-strict, but most people aren’t like my dad is. And my mom too. I think that’s the main thing.

So what does it mean to be an adult to you?

I think an adult is a person, not necessarily always mature, but most of the time mature and doing the right things. That knows how to act and be respectful of education and knowledge. And know how to balance life between work, fun, education and other stuff, and workouts and exercise and eating healthy and helping the planet and nature.

What are some experiences that have made you who you are?

Helping my dad is the main one because I get to grow a lot and know more stuff about working that 99.99 percent of other people do not know. Like, at least I know the basics of how to drive a car, and even stick shift. And it wouldn’t take me very long to realize how to actually drive correctly. And also, that my dad raised me with the intention of making me a healthy, good person that’s smart, and I think he’s done that successfully because I know a lot and even when I don’t study, I do good. (And most of the time I do not study!) Experiencing something and then going back and realizing if I could have done better, what I would’ve have done and what I’m going to do next time if I do something like that.

What do you need from the adults around you?

I think I need knowledge, advice and guidance. Like, in a sense, I need them to make me choose, but for me to experience it for myself. To guide me in a way, but not to totally force me.

“One challenge of being a young man today is to not fail. It’s a lot of pressure today especially for black men and the society I live in. Society expects me to fail they expect me to drop out of school, they expect me to not be something in the future. I don’t want to be nothing. I wanna make an impact on everyone’s lives, I wanna change the world.”

~By Deshun S, 16 years old from Oakland, California

“I think one of the challenges that a lot of us men face today is the idea of what it means to be a man and that idea coming from our society. We always have to fight one another as men, we always have to feel superior to one another, we always have to seem cooler, wear the best clothes, have the most girlfriend’s, the best cars. It’s just the idea that we always have to fight one another. I feel like that idea divides us a lot and instead we need to build a brotherhood. Together we stand stronger and the whole idea of what it means to be a man to me now is to speak how I feel and share my emotions. We are supposed to be tough and talk back to people. These ideas from society oppress us especially as young men and women. However young men and women face hard labels like men being the ones that have to work and that the women are the ones who are supposed to be home cleaning. We are being told and taught these things as we grow up so that we become what we’ve been taught.  This affects our future and we don’t see it until it happens to us.”

~By Luis B, 18 years old from Oakland, California

The Ever Forward Club

Gender roles are the stereotypes you first think of when you think of a man or a woman. It goes unnoticed in everyday life because it has become the “norm.” Everywhere we go, we see pink balloons for girls, blue balloons for boys. It’s weird for us to see a young man planting flowers while his wife mows the lawn. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we all need to work on accepting people are going to do what they want, no matter what gender they identify as. We are known as the generation of change, so I hope we can all work together to create the world where anyone can be, feel, and do anything they want.

~By Jasmine E from Seattle Washington

Youth In Focus

I want to show my past and how I have changed, to show me as “Be The Change.” These past few years, I’ve had challenges I wasn’t strong enough to face: going through depression, suffering from multiple personality disorder, trying to live up to standards in my family, and stressing about school. But as I get older, I’ve learned how to overcome these challenges, one by one, some taking longer than others. I have also learned that I am not alone. Others have the same problems, and they can and are willing to help. Be the change doesn’t have to be what you change physically, but can be what you change mentally and emotionally as well. And that can also have a big impact on others around you.

~By Juvanni P from Seattle, Washington

Youth In Focus

Human connection is a huge part of existence. We are losing that connection because now, we are more engaged with our technology than the people around us. In this image, I chose to use string to represent the physical aspect of connection. I also photographed people connecting through their hands and placed those images on two cellphones to represent that we are losing human connection and replacing it with technological connections.

~By Ariana G from Seattle, Washington

Youth In Focus

Life, well more specifically, high school evokes a whirlwind of emotion. The hormones that come from this age only heighten these emotions. My life is a crazy journey right now where I am finding out who I am and want to be. Through the people I meet, the experiences I have, and the choices I make, my life is shaped even if it in the tiniest ways. I guess what I am trying to portray is the art of not projecting what appears. Throughout my life I have been judged, stereotyped and put in a box for my appearance. I want people to see the other side of me, the side that is more than meets the eye.

By Jana E from Seattle Washington

Youth In Focus


I was born and raised in Seattle. I’ve been back to Vietnam a few times, and most recently this past summer. I wanted to represent the expectations I feel from extended family about knowing Vietnamese. This isn’t a new feeling I have now about their expectations, but it was definitely amplified recently after staying in Vietnam for two months. I’ve felt this way my entire life, but I’ve snapped lately. It has all become so overwhelming. This expectation to be able to speak Vietnamese well, their assumptions that I don’t Vietnamese at all, the fact that I don’t speak Vietnamese in front of them very much, and the assumption that they think I don’t understand Vietnamese at all, calling me merely “American,” and taking away the “Vietnamese” part has all taken a toll on me. My single mother was working frequently when I was younger, and I speak English to my siblings. That’s all there is to it. I wish that they would be able to understand this without ridiculing me.

~By Jacqueline L from Seattle, Washington

Youth In Focus

When I think of empowerment, I think of my family, where I’m from. With my family, I feel confident that I can do anything. My parents give me hope and strength. I also think of my roots. I’m not ashamed of where I’m from. My people are very hard working and strong. I have the power to do whatever I set my mind to. Every time I put on traditional Mexican clothes, I feel like I was meant to do great things in life because I feel like it was who I was meant to be.

~By Amayrani S from  Seattle, Washington

Youth In Focus

As a high school student working at Artists for Humanity, I have learned to create art that expresses a message visually. I created this painting, Surroundings, based off a prompt assigned by my mentor. It was meant to embody what my ideal world would look like which I interpreted as a self-portrait. As I worked on the painting I kept the values of self-expression, enthusiasm, and community in my mind. The background uses many of the same colors as the foreground which shows how one’s surroundings shape them as people.

Creating a self-portrait is a very personal thing and as a young artist, I chose to express my style in a way that I felt was reflective of my personality. I channeled parts of my life that have made me who I am, for example, my camp, school, work, neighborhood, family, and friends. I used the inspiration from these people and places and put it on canvas to show how they’ve influenced my personality. I’ve been impacted in ways that have shaped my entire being or on a smaller scale. All the experiences I’ve had living in Boston and gaining my independence as I get older have turned me into the colorful, strong person I am today.

~By Maya Das O’Toole, 16 years old from Boston, Massachusetts

During the summer of 2017, I experienced some of the most meaningful moments of my entire life. My dad got married to a Finnish woman in France, I tried out for the JV soccer team where I was shunned by upperclassmen and brought into the Einstein High School culture, and most importantly, I went on a journey of a lifetime.

This journey was a three-week backpacking trip in Olympic National Park — a coming of age rite of passage on the other side of the United States when I would leave behind my childhood and enter young adulthood. On July 22nd, my mother, brother, stepdad and I departed from Dulles International Airport at 10 a.m. After a five-hour plane ride, we arrived in Washington State and crashed in our little log cabin thirty minutes away from the place I would be dropped off the next day. I was nervous, yet excited for the upcoming adventure because I knew there would be incredible moments awaiting me. The next day, I arrived at base camp just outside of Seattle. This is when we said goodbye to our parents and had a chance to meet the other boys. There was a release ceremony where I said goodbye to my mother for three weeks, there was no turning back. I spent this journey with eight other boys and three guides who would literally keep me alive during this trip. We each had a thirty to forty-pound bag with everything we needed for one and a half weeks until resupply. Each person carried a bear bin (a canister that protects food from being eaten by wild animals) with food for the group. When we were assigned our bear bins, the luckiest person would have the lightest bin.

After arriving at our first campsite the day before we started hiking, we set up camp and prepared food. Setting up camp meant not only putting up the tarp to keep us dry during the night, but getting firewood, preparing dinner, and hanging a clothesline. This first campsite was really special for me because it was the debut of the long journey ahead. As a reward for completing a long car ride from base camp to this campsite, we went swimming in the Puget Sound where we saw a baby seal, two bald eagles, and the tall, snow-capped mountain, Mt. Rainier. On this beautiful, clear night, spaghetti accompanied by oysters (collected from the sound) and the jam I made nourished our hard-working bodies.

I woke up the next morning at the crack of dawn to the soothing sound of birds chirping and waves crashing as they washed upon the shore. We set off for the trailhead early in the morning. Peter, one of the counselors, asked me a question before hiking, “Are you ready for the wilderness to change you?” Yes, I answered. We hiked six and a half miles to our first on-the-trail campsite. This was the most difficult hike of them all. We trekked with full backpacks, all of us amateurs. After ten minutes of hiking (not even five percent of the way there), we stopped off at the river we would be following for one and a half weeks. I knelt down by the riverbed, and using my filtering water bottle, scooped up some water. The glacial water was cold and refreshing with a mineral essence.

When we knew we were close, one of the guides and I ran all the way to the campsite. My thirty-pound backpack rubbed against my hips as I ran. I didn’t care. I was so determined to get to our site. As excited as I was to stop hiking, I had another challenge to face: washing in the frigid river water. It wasn’t terrible after all. My friends and I played a game to see who could do the most push-ups, completely submerged in the fast-flowing river. Afterwards, our mushy, camp-style dinner filled us up and we settled down for the night. I laid down under the stars on that clear night. As I was falling asleep, a shooting star raced across the sky and that special moment concluded the day but began the next fifty miles ahead of me.

The first leg passed with multiple obstacles, both mental and physical. I missed my family, good food, my cats and dog. Physically, my back hurt every day, there were blisters on several of my toes, and my neck was constantly hurting because of the pressure of my pack on my upper back. The eight other boys with me were mostly kind and gentle, but some came from hard places. Two of the kids were constantly fighting. During the first leg, they started fighting on the edge of a cliff. During the second leg, they fought on the beach. This was scary because we were all stuck with each other in the backcountry for many more days to come. This was a coming of age journey, and we needed to work through our differences. I had to play my part; I became aware of my influence within the group.

Day six of the first leg involved a long hike, a five and a half mile stretch that consisted of jagged landslides, waterfalls, and a beautiful view of the mountains all around us, protecting us from the nonsense of the outside world. Three-quarters of the way through our hike, we stopped for a break after fording a river. One of our counselors, Peter, started frolicking in a field until he reached the top of the hill. I followed him because I wanted to run around for a bit. Peter disappeared into the bushes and came back when I arrived at the top of the hill. “Come look at this,” he said excitedly. “Look at what?,” I responded. Peter stayed silent. We ducked under the bushes, and through the leaves, there was a crystal-clear waterhole filled by a majestic waterfall. After a day of hiking and sweating, I needed refreshment. I took off my shirt, socks, and boots, and dove into the water. We called up the entire group. Playing in the falls was the most fun I had the entire trip.

The second leg of the journey began after a day to resupply and rest. We spent three days walking along the beach. There were many memorable moments: we encountered a dead, beached whale and watched otters run along the beach with the red sunset in the background. We continued to bond as a group of boys.

The whole trip lead up to one final moment, a twenty-four-hour solo vigil in the wilderness where we couldn’t eat, sleep, or leave a 20-foot radius. All I had with me was the tarp I had set up the day before, firewood, matches, a water bottle, a sleeping pad (though I wasn’t allowed to sleep!), and some warm clothing. One of our guides would come by every four to six hours to refill our water bottles. When they passed by, they wouldn’t talk to or look at us.

The morning of the solo, the guides, Peter, Jared, and Ryan, woke us up around six in the morning. They took my watch so I didn’t know the exact time. I walked to my spot on the beach, where we were all spread out apart from one another. I set up my stuff and sat there. ¨What should I do now?¨ I asked myself. I was the only person I could talk to for the next day. I started carving a piece of beech wood that was as smooth as velvet. I wanted to make a spoon for my grandma. This activity kept me occupied for the next couple of hours. I had just woken up from a twenty-minute nap. The temptation to sleep was inevitable. When I sat up, I couldn’t see thirty feet in front of me due to the mist. I looked up at a nearby rock formation, and there was a bald eagle perched on the highest point on the peak. It felt as though the eagle was sitting out the solo with me. I was inspired to sit like that bird; calm, confident, and silent.

Hours and hours passed by. I wrote in my journal, carved my beach wood, and talked to myself. One of the guides, Ryan, walked by and dropped off something. I got up and ran to my mailbox, a stick in the ground where water was delivered to me throughout the day. I was so desperate for something to do. I bent down to check what I received. It was an envelope with a matchbox. I was excited that I could start my fire as it was getting to be dark. I ran back to my tarp and opened the envelope and read what was inside. It was a letter from my mom that she wrote days before my trip. I got really emotional, but this letter gave me courage and a reason to get through the night. I started my fire and lay down next to the bright flame that warmed up my tarp and my heart. I watched the fire dance and fell asleep after I drew in my journal and wrote down what felt to be hourly updates.

I opened my eyes to a bright, grey sky. As I rubbed my face, I felt a slight mist. My tarp was wet and low to the ground due to the winds and rain. My fire was out, nothing but smoke rising from the ashes. I guess it gave up on me because I wasn’t tending to it. It was the morning and I knew we would be called back to camp shortly. I began to pack up my things, take down my tarp, and urinate on the fire to put it out completely. The mist had ceased, and through the fog, I saw a bright orange light glowing in the distance. This was the “big fire”. The counselors told us to come back to base camp when we saw it. A rush of joy ran through my veins almost as fast as I ran back to camp. I had just finished an entire day alone with nobody to talk to, no food to eat, and no entertainment other than my own mind. We ate miso soup, saltine crackers, and oranges to replenish ourselves. The eight other boys and I shared our stories from the solos, the stories that we would tell for the rest of our lives, the story that I am telling now.

The wilderness did indeed change me. Something that my counselor, Ryan, told me and I became aware of myself, was that I can serve as a leader from behind the scenes, working to maintain the foundation of the group and to preserve our integrity. I learned how to navigate the wilderness for three weeks. I also learned how to navigate group dynamics and personalities. Most importantly, I learned how to navigate my mind.

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Of the Birds

She was flying, simply soaring through the beautiful clouds, gazing at the scenery. Hundreds of times as fast as any other bird, so while she excelled they were mere blurs. At the speed she was going everything seemed only a minuscule dot on the map of her life. Pausing for only a fraction, but a fraction still, of a second to do a loop-de-loop, the clouds formed into graceful, leaping and amazing dancing figures. The crystal clear ocean started to look a little bluer as she lowered towards it. Now there was nothing in sight, but the presently emerald-like majestic sea. Quickly approaching an extensive boardwalk, the playful chittering of birds filled her ears.

The vast, open world stretched before her. On the boardwalk countless people of all kinds were busying themselves with a variety of activities. And all were unaware that she was watching. Waves rose up from what seemed like nothing and soared until they threw themselves upon the beach relentlessly. Seagulls flapped their wings in the sweet, soft breeze.

As she slowed to a spiraling descent its true meaning was a little bit clearer. Flipping like a flower petal on a thundering, stormy night, she entered the sea with a purposeful splash and was swallowed into its depths. Under the immense wall of water, she survived as easily on one side as on the other. All sounds but that of rushing water were completely and utterly drowned out. Silently darting by sea creatures of all kinds were seen by her eyes, though she was unseen by but one of theirs.

Resurfacing, a mass of kelp strung around her neck, and she emerged with pride as if to prove something to someone. Warm and powerfully bright burning sun dried her long black glistening feathers. They whipped around in the now strong wind. Her wings caught the beautiful evening light, a blinding light rising high up into the sky. The city sounds now registered within her senses. Bridges seemed like tape on a broken picture. Everything below her, and everything above might stretch on forever, or be one of thousands of illusions.

Somehow, it all seemed ancient.  Tall, dark trees rose high above the ground but appeared as big as pebbles too like a patchwork quilt pictures of the scene below her fit together in a beautiful blend. Many thoughts rushed like a river through her head and out again. She felt like a stitch on the quilt below her.

As dusk set in as slowly as the mountains grew layer upon layer, the sun turned a blazing red. Fading to starry brightness she could still see, even better than in the daylight. Her surroundings faded to a starry brightness that engulfed the world around her in a spell of sleep. The ever so bright, beautiful white moon was nowhere to be seen. Twirling and gliding in her swift return to the beach, the world seemed at peace.

~By Marina Oquendo, 14 years old from San Luis Obispo County, California