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Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Storytelling for Indigenous Rights and Environmental Sustainability

University of Washington and Chief Leschi Schools students working on the digital story project. Photo credit/ Jessica Rose.

October 18, 2023

The below text is featured in the UWCHR 2022-2023 Annual Report.
Written by Jonathan Warren

It is exciting to report the tremendous accomplishments achieved this past year and the foundation we have created for future collaboration between Chief Leschi Schools and the University of Washington through the Indigenous Rights and Environmental Sustainability project.

Chief Leschi and UW students. Photo credit/ Jessica Rose.

In spring 2022, UW graduate and undergraduate students spent a great deal of time building relationships with administrators, teachers, and students at Chief Leschi Schools (CLS). This entailed visiting the school once a week and interacting with students beyond the classroom context—such as participating in CLS Culture Day, joining CLS excursions to environmental restoration sites and Tribal hatcheries, attending circle Friday mornings, and taking part in the canoe pull in the Salish Sea.

In the summer, UW students drew on these initial fieldwork experiences to reflect on what they had learned. The purpose of this reflection was twofold:  to generate a draft of an academic article speaking to the methods literature on intercultural research/collaboration with Tribal schools and Indigenous communities, and to help them prepare for the digital story production that they were charged with producing in collaboration with the CLS students in the coming academic year.

In the fall of 2022, after UW and CLS students had begun to co-create plans for telling student stories, Colorado-based photographer and project co-lead John Weller traveled to Washington and hosted a workshop on the UW campus to shoot footage for the digital stories. There, he worked directly with CLS and UW students in best practices for video collection and editing.

Students gather, planning digital stories. Photo credit/ Jessica Rose.

During January 2023, three workshop sessions helped provide space for CLS students directly involved in the story creation process to develop their ideas. Their stories covered a range of topics around the links between Indigenous culture and identities, including a focus on the school engagement in Canoe Journey in spring of 2022, powwow dancing, and Salish language acquisition at CLS. Utilizing footage shot from the previous year and a half, three digital stories by students and one video that documented the collaboration were created.

In addition to the collaborative work done by CLS and UW students, project members worked on a digital story centering Indigenous resistance to the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) Pipeline. Team members took two trips to Bellingham, the San Juan Islands, and British Columbia to interview Indigenous leaders, activists, and scientists on the front line of the resistance to this pipeline. Because this expansion will increase oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Juan de Fuca seven-fold, this pipeline will likely have negative, if not devastating, impacts for salmon and orca populations, as well as fishing communities.

These stories and videos were showcased at two viewing events: one on the CLS campus on the evening of February 24, 2023, and the other at the Burke Museum on April 25, 2023. In addition, the project’s collaborative methods and co-created digital stories were discussed and shown at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference and at an event hosted by a UW student organization.

Digital stories created in the past year of this project can be viewed on the Chief Leschi Schools website at:

Learn more about the Indigenous Rights and Environmental Sustainability project here.