Land Acknowledgement for Healthcare Justice Rally, Seattle 2022

Yuk’ei! Waa saa iyatee? Kelsey yoo xat duwasaakw. Ch’aak naax xat sitee, t’aakdeintaan yadi.

I’m Kelsey. I’m Tlingit, born here in Duwamish and Coast Salish territory, raised in Snohomish territory, and still very tied to my Alaska Native Tlingit culture. I’m also the data director of Whole Washington’s current ballot initiative campaign for universal healthcare.

This is a land acknowledgement — this land is Duwamish land, and I encourage you to take a moment, if you have a smart device, to go right now to realrentduwamish.com, and sign their petition for federal recognition, which will help them be treated as the nation that they are.

I’ll wait.

This is a land that has been inhabited since at least 8,000 BCE, or ten thousand years.

Settlers have been on this land for only a speck of time at the end of that timeline, and in that four generations or so of contact, they have enacted intentional genocide that has significantly reduced the population of Duwamish and other local nations, thereby also breaking thousands of years of stewardship indigenous people had with this land, especially egregious and still-contested destruction of the salmon population, which is sacred.

But because these nations are strong and resilient, they are still here.

I’m your volunteer data director, but my day job is also in data, as a civic science fellow. One of my areas of research is a topic called indigenous data sovereignty. This area contains a lot of valuable concepts. One of these concepts is that although data and information are often used to make data and science seem politically neutral, in truth data is always an imperfect measure of the the thing that it describes, and that it encodes the values and purposes of the person doing the measuring.

For example, I could look at you, and count the number of people who are here. Or for a different purpose, I could count you in distinct groups by the reasons that brought you here. These are politically distinct modes of measuring the same people, in the same place, at the same time.

When health insurance companies count you, they count you by your age, and your health. Their politically motivated style of counting is used to charge more money from people who are already experiencing, or are statistically likely to experience, suffering through poor health. This encodes their values system. As a country, as a state, and as a political body, by allowing this to be normal, we are endorsing this set of political values: that the value of a person’s health is tied to what they will pay.

We are doing a different kind of counting. Universal healthcare says that healthcare is not a privilege; it is a right deserved by all. And we are counting up: 48,000 signatures so far. Just in Seattle, almost 2% of the population has signed. Each signature is another person who is saying to this occupying nation: count us as people. Count us as strength.

Another concept from indigenous data sovereignty is that although our native nations are often measured by outsiders in terms of deficits and weaknesses, when we measure ourselves, we should measure our strengths.

Here are two Indigenous healthcare strengths:
• When the COVID vaccine came out last year, Alaska Natives and American Indians received their first dose at nearly twice the rate of any other measured demographic group. This was attributed to Tribal leadership and the use of culturally aware distribution strategies.
• Seattle is home to the Seattle Indian Health Board. You might not know this, but the largest concentration of Tlingits now live in the Seattle area. We’re called “urban Indians,” and we come to the cities for the same reasons other people do: jobs, education, health services. Seven in ten Alaska Natives and American Indians are Urban Natives, and the Seattle Indian Health Board is a leading source of healthcare research for this population, as well as a culturally appropriate healthcare provider. They have been open since 1970, and because one of the core values share across Pacific Northwest Indigenous Peoples is the sharing of wealth, you can go there too.

In Tlingit, we have a phrase, haa latseen, that means, our strength. It’s our strength through culture, our body strength, our spiritual strength. The strength comes from wooch yax, balance, care, rightness of being. We have haa latseen because we practice wooch yax with haa aani, our land. We take care of the land, and the waters, the things that grow, and the things that swim, because these are a part of our strength, our health, haa latseen.

Stewardship of land is a relationship, a duty that we are honored to fulfill. Nobody owns the land, we only care for it in thanks for the strength it gives us, and because it is right.

This is Duwamish territory because the Duwamish and other indigenous nations have cared for this land for more than ten thousand years, and care for it now, and are strong, in spite of everything. You understand how tired you can become, but how strong it makes you, to continue to fight for what is right. Please take a quiet moment to give thanks to the Duwamish people, who are still here.

Gunalcheesh.

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Kelsey Breseman

Kelsey Breseman

An adventurer, woodland creature, and engineer. Currently working on data ownership models, environmental accountability, and intentional community.