Chief Kitsap Academy students raise awareness of ocean acidification during summit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Both sides of Tyleeander Purser’s family have fishing backgrounds. The Chief Kitsap Academy student said his Tribe has lived off the water forever. He doesn’t want to see that go away.

“If there’s no water, there’s no us,” Purser said.

Four students from Suquamish’s Chief Kitsap Academy had the opportunity to raise awareness of ocean acidification March 11-14 at the fourth annual Student Summit on the Ocean and Coasts, hosted by the Coastal America Partnership.

The summit is being held in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History Baird Auditorium, where students representing various coastal areas around the U.S., Canada and Mexico are sharing their research and understanding of coastal problems.

Julie Paddock, Chief Kitsap Academy’s technical education instructor, has traveled with other student delegations in the past. This year’s group, she said, showed how much they cared.

“What really struck me and the panel was that they spoke from their heart,” Paddock said March 12.

Academy students at the summit are Crystal Boure, Vincent Chargualaf, Purser and Shaylene Sky Jefferson.

The event is hosted by the Coastal America Partnership. The purpose is to raise awareness of coastal issues and promote stewardship of oceans. Students presented their research using a poster and three-minute video to a panel of federal experts.

The academy students produced “We Are Aware/Are You?” The film is a follow up to “Our Home,” a documentary film that exposes the impact of ocean acidification in their community, made by a different set of Suquamish youth in 2010.

“We Are Aware/Are You?” highlights how these students are creating community awareness of coastal problems and how to promote stewardship of ocean resources.

The academy students partnered with the Seattle Aquarium, Suquamish Fisheries Department and Longhouse Media.

The film is “showcasing and highlighting Suquamish youth at forefront of these stories,” said Tracy Rector, co-founder and executive director of Longhouse Media. “It’s positive. These students are doing really good work and making change happen.”

On March 14, the academy students were scheduled to present their film to Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, participating in a Q&A with Suquamish elders.

The presentation during the student summit went well, Paddock said. The panel of experts were impressed the academy students were “speaking from the heart,” and knew the science behind their topic, she said.

The students did all the work themselves, including making their poster with Adobe Suite software. The film was done on their own time. The summit was broadcast live over the summit’s website, which gave other academy students and staff the chance to see the presentation.

Fabian Castilleja, the academy’s principal, said it was “very neat to see them talking about ocean acidification” at the summit over the live feed.

“It was a very interesting presentation,” he said.

The academy students’ film interviews several local leaders: the Suquamish Tribal Council, Gov. Jay Inslee, Suquamish elder Georgia George, Suquamish diver Heather Purser, and leaders of the Idle No More movement in Seattle’s Gasworks Park. The students also share their own thoughts on negative environmental impacts on the sea their Tribe depends on culturally and economically.

Longhouse Media, a nonprofit indigenous media arts organization based in Seattle, has worked with Suquamish youth on many projects over the past eight years.

“I believe the strongest stories come from the community, so we worked with the students initially, how do you tell your story through film,” Rector said. During workshops, the students watched other documentary films, learned how to develop an idea into a story and how to arc the story, and trained with basic video and audio equipment.

Rector said she was approached by the Seattle Aquarium and the Suquamish Tribe Fisheries Department, who were participating in the Coastal America Partnership program. Coastal America is a collaborative organization of state and federal departments, which hosts the national Student Summit, designed to develop future ocean scientists and leaders, according to its website.

“As a media company, I recognize the power of media. As a Native nonprofit I recognize there’s a gap to be filled,” Rector said. “That means creating media makers and teaching students how to be empowered and confident using a camera and telling their stories this way.

“They’re our future generation of storytellers. At Longhouse Media, we believe digital literacy is important in this day and age. It’s important to work with our Native youth to record their experiences and knowledge in digital media, interfacing with work and being part of today’s reality.”

Rector said they plan to expand this story at this summer’s Canoe Journey, “going deeper and making small webisodes.” She said she also hopes this project becomes “sustainable” and she can hire some students to work this summer.

The increase in acidification in the Puget Sound is real. The Sound has some of the lowest pH levels in the world, Suquamish Tribe shellfish biologist Paul Williams said. The changes in the water correlate to increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“What is most alarming is the speed at which this is happening,” said Williams, who joined the student delegation in D.C. this week. He said ocean changes are a concern for everyone, including the Tribe, which relies on being able to fish and harvest shellfish for economic and cultural reasons.

To continue their work to raise awareness about ocean acidification, the academy students will be working with youth centers in other Tribes to setup information booths along the 2013 Canoe Journey to Quinault.

Purser said it’s a plan of action to get youth involved and become aware of the health of the ocean, in the hope to come up with a solution.

“We Are Aware, Are You?”: Welcoming Students From the Suquamish Tribe from the National Museum of the American Indian blog.

Kipp Robertson & Megan Stephenson, North Kitsap Herald, 15 March 2013. Article.

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