Conceptualized by the students in the Native Education and painting programs at Auburn High School in May 2023, the “We Are Alive and Strong” mural is about the experience of being a contemporary Native American student in a multicultural school and how we maintain our connection to nature.
Students submitted about 80 symbols that represent their connection to heritage and nature. In addition to tribal representations for Muckleshoot, Navajo, Blackfoot, Nisqually, Siletz and others, the mural shows other cultural connections from Mexico, India, Afghanistan, the Marshall Islands, and Korea.
In Lushootseed, “We Are Alive and Strong” and the medicine wheel represent the importance of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical connection to culture. The scene is at night time on the right for the owl (which represents one student’s Blackfoot affiliation) to be present at night in order to mitigate the association of owls as a heavy omen for many indigenous groups. Dogwood, snowberry, nettle, sage, balsam root, red cedar, huckleberry, sword fern, salmon, hummingbird, bald eagle, racoon, owl, monarchs and red spotted purple butterflies are some of the native plants and animals chosen for student’s connections to them and to nature.
Leading the project was Auburn HS art teacher Elisabeth Ronley, who applied for and received a Mastery Based Learning grant through the State Board of Education.
“This mural includes many elements of Native American culture and history – all determined by current Native American students. It’s incredible! The process that the teacher employs is so inclusive,” said Native American Education Coordinator Robin Pratt in an announcement from the school district. “We have students from more than 20 different tribes, so not only is it great to see what different Native students have contributed, it’s also great to see what Mrs. Ronley’s Painting Class students have contributed. She incorporates most of the ideas.”
The district and organizers send a thank you to Stephanie Schliecher, Jennifer Bennet, and Emma Marmor for adding their artistic talents. Special thanks to Robin Pratt, Leslie Mizuki Lo, and the Mastery Grant Contributors for funding this project and for their cultural guidance. Another special thanks to the cultural practitioners who were consulted along the way for accuracy of the canoe, botanicals, language, and border design.