+ SPOTLIGHT | Paul Wilson
What are your tribe(s): Klamath & Modoc
What’s your age: 22
Ndn Name: Hiswaqs Gena (Traveling Man)
Name: Paul Robert Wolf Wilson
What are the first 3 words that come to mind when you hear the word healing?
Reclamation, resilience, growth
Bio/ backstory, tell us what you DO and a bit about how you came to do it.
I’m a visual storyteller. I’ve used the venues of photography and cinematography to start telling the stories that I’ve grown up hearing. Stories that I didn’t realize were rare. Stories of our first foods, our lands and waters, our peoples. As I continue my works in the nonprofit space to develop programming for first foods, visual sovereignty, traditional ecological knowledge, and elderly care, documentation of those involved in the enactment of our works has been of utmost importance. Telling the stories of our present work to preserve our pasts and establish our futures is the basis of my storytelling.
Throughout my youth, I realized that stories of contemporary indigenous peoples were not common. There were some novels and films and works that told of indigenous peoples through very nuanced scopes. But to hear stories of people like myself, told in qualified manners by people from communities like mine, those were—and are still—uncommon. So reclamation of our narratives and imagery has been my focus. Learning to tell stories of my peoples with care and confidence, and taking the methods I use to help tell stories of other indigenous nations has led to where I am in my path.
How do you heal?
Reclamation and creation of spaces. Working to teach the first foods practices my family carries has been an effort to help heal the communities of my rivershed. Relearning Maqlaqsyalanks, my indigenous language, and helping to teach it amongst our tribal youth and elders has been a process of healing our wounded spirits. The creation of recreational spaces in my ancestral lands and waters, and access for my communities has been an enactment of self-determination for my peoples.
What is your calling rn?
I am currently working between two nonprofits, The Ancestral Guard, and Rios to Rivers, to prepare for the removal of 4 major dams on the Klamath River. Environmental and cultural education for our tribal communities as well as the communities that surround us in our territories have been very pressing initiatives. A lot of the work we do on the river has been action based, as there is great urgency in the currently delicate political space, and the danger that many of our traditional practices exist in. Networking in nation-to-nation capacities has also been a huge part of my recent works. I have been sharing stories of my peoples and our fight for our river on international scales, and have had the opportunity to learn of similar stories while traveling with indigenous peoples around the world.
Do your ancestors affect what you do, how you live? If so, how?
My philosophies are predicated on the instructions left throughout my tribes’ oral traditions. I have been working to reinform my diet on the tradional foods of my ancestors. I have also worked to frame my familial relationships on how they were carried precontact. My telling of stories and traveling are informed by methods my ancestors used throughout their times. Traditions also evolve throughout time, so interpreting how my ancestors would live in today’s spaces has also been influential in how I live.
Who are your Mentors/ role models?
My biggest role model has been my younger sister, Ashia Wilson. At age 16, she has done so much groundwork in my tribal community that many adults have not achieved. Being a young indigenous woman, she chooses not to allow lack of resources or access to waver her initiatives. Her fearlessness and determination gives me hope for the future of my peoples.
I look to Dr. Tom Ball as a source of mentorship as he was instrumental in my early learnings of my treaty & the importance of sovereignty & self-determination in my nation. My friend and role model Dr. Douglas Worley has dedicated his time to teaching the importance of intergenerational leadership and knowledge to indigenous youth. And my tribe’s linguist, Joseph Dupris has brought an energy to language revitalization curriculum that gives me so much hope for our continuance.
What inspires/ drives you to keep going?
Stewardship. We are people of trade, and seeing the beauty of my lands, waters, and peoples, it makes me feel indebted to my ancestors. Knowing their legacy of stewardship for me, and the future generations has been the reason for the state of what I’ve inherited, has meant the inheritance of the work associated with living in my lands and waters. My nephews and nieces have furthered the dedication I have to the responsibilities of stewardship.
If you could relay a mantra, message, wisdom, ism, food for thought to Indigenous 20 somethings from the US and abroad what would you say?
The time for change is now. Many of our communities have been stuck in the narratives of victimhood for too long. Too much time has been spent on theorizing and waiting for the right times for decolonial works. It is time that we realize the needs of our tribes and enact the work necessary to secure our futures.