By Geneva Mayall
In the fall of 2022, a group of fifteen artists and educators communed amongst the aspens at Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts & Agriculture (PMRCAA), a project of the Roundhouse Foundation, in Sisters, OR to support the recently selected Emerging Indigenous Artist/Educator at Confluence Project, Mersaedy Atkins (Colville/Yakama/Latina). The retreat set the precedent for what has become an inspiring and culturally rich program that is deeply rooted in community and intergenerational healing. Since October-the artist, cultural teacher and student- has been busy designing , educating, and creating amazing opportunities within her community in Toppenish, WA.
When Mersaedy met with a group of mentors at PMRCAA, she knew this project was going to be something bigger than herself. As a member of the Yakama tribal community, Mersaedy has pursued learning and teaching her culture for over ten years. She describes her constant ebb and flow between teaching and becoming a student again. Mersaedy has learned many cultural skills, knowledge and practices from the elders that she has worked with throughout her life. The Emerging Artist/Educator Program offered the perfect opportunity for the Indigenous artist, fashion designer, and cultural educator to pursue her passions while weaving it into community. Páwiič’aakt is the Sahaptin word for “confluence or gathering” and also the name of the artist’s project. Her dream is to have her community gather and use art as a form of intergenerational healing, “What is now called ‘Art’ today, was once an essential & necessary component of who we are as Indigenous People.” Her project’s mission is to ‘Grow, build & unite communities through Culture, language and love.
Through the partnership and support of The Roundhouse Foundation, Confluence Project, and Peacekeepers Society (a female, Indigenous-led non-profit organization located on the Yakama Indian Reservation), Mersaedy established the Páxaamit Design School (P ̣ owwow Design School). The program offers opportunities for community members to come learn how to design and make their own powwow regalia, with little to no cost, and with the support of community mentors. Participants will not only leave this program with regalia but will also get opportunities to learn about powwow culture and dance. The final goal is to have a powwow and fashion show at the end of the year to honor and showcase the designers.
As a tribal member who did not grow up with the opportunity to learn about her language and culture from family elders, Mersaedy sought to pursue her own cultural roots and heritage, which was truly a healing journey in itself. . This is not an unfamiliar narrative for Native Americans throughout the United States. A loss of culture due to colonization and generational trauma often leaves tribal members without a direction back to their ancestors. Mersaedy’s story of finding community to help lead her ‘Community Cultural Experience’ is one of inspiration and empowerment. Her hope is that her work can help others find reconnection and healing through art and culture. “When we do the inner healing work – We become healthier and are better able to flourish in our everyday lives – We become a stronger person for our families, communities and Nations – Art has the power to bring out the best in us.