Calina Lawrence

The Vocalist Addressing Indigenous Injustice Through Music

Calina Lawrence graduated from the University of San Francisco with a B.A. in performing arts and social justice in 2016. Since then, she’s put the social justice component of her degree to good use defending causes that are very close to home. As an enrolled member of the Suquamish Tribe, the self-described “art-ivist” has recently been traveling the country in advocacy for native treaty rights and the Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) movement led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. But Lawrence isn’t just an activist. She’s also a seriously talented musician. Her debut single, “Alcatraz,” was released in January 2017, and her first album, “Epicenter,” dropped just this past August.

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When did you realize what you wanted to do in your life?

“In 2010, an injustice occurred that propelled me to find any way that I could to tell the stories of native peoples that are often untold. I had learned growing up in my Coast Salish culture that our cultural values and history have always been passed on orally—through storytelling, singing, dialogue with our elders and more. Through our continued oppression and genocide at the command of the U.S. government, we have not always been the narrators of our own stories, which—in the bigger picture—has contributed to our erasure and misrepresentation in society.

“That year, my heart was incredibly broken as a teenager when an indigenous elder named John T. Williams was unjustly murdered by a Seattle police officer. When the news spread and his family called for support, I made several trips between Suquamish and Seattle with Sacred Water Canoe Family as we sang our ancestral songs at every march, rally, vigil and court happening, demanding justice for John T. and his family. I felt helpless in many ways, but if using my voice and sharing song was one way to contribute to the healing and the journey to justice, I knew that was what I could do.”

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Can’t believe it’s been one year since graduation... I have a Bachelors Degree in Performing Arts and Social Justice emphasizing in Music ! From the University of San Francisco - with honors . I definitely put my degree to use this past year; a year full of a lot of rest but also adventure and building community across the nation !! I spend a lot of time unpacking what role western academia actually plays in my life moving forward... Since graduating, I have experienced an intense amount of anxiety and depression trying to figure out where I’m most useful now ! There are many justifiable perspectives about Natives in Higher Education... a system not made for us .. a system that we do not “need” in order to be validated by our own traditional nations AND a system that does pose as a tool to learn how to code switch and communicate with our oppressors , our allies/accomplices , and all those who misunderstand us . Ultimately.. information is information and we choose what we do wit it ✨ I chose to take this information that I gained from an elite institution and somehow apply it to my daily pursuit of liberation.... I must remember that I’m a student every day of this life , in every space , learning from a spectrum of human beings ! With that being said... what I do know about me after being a scholar in an academy that is not natural to my dna.... is that my determination is unbreakable and my capacity to evolve is limitless✨ Thank you to everyone who did this wit me, this degree is ours - not just mine ! Photo by @kathyanguyen

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What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

“I have never done anything in my life alone. Any goal that I have ever set has only been thought of and achieved by the support and love of my family, friends and extended community. For me, acknowledging my accomplishments means acknowledging the centuries of resilience of the indigenous peoples of this land, specifically where I’m from in the Pacific Northwest.

“I truly feel that my biggest accomplishment is learning to introduce myself, my family and my birthplace in my ancestral language, the Lushootseed language. Up until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, our languages and songs were outlawed. At age 25, I can share my language in every new territory that I visit as a guest and respectfully inform folks about where and who I come from—which is a big deal, an honor and a privilege that I do not take for granted.”

Favorite podcast?

“It’s a tie between Breakdances with Wolves and Ear Hustle.”

What are you most grateful for?

“I am so incredibly grateful for art and the ability to express both reality and imagination through any art form available to us, including those forms which will inevitably be created. As an indigenous woman, like many of us, I spend most of my time trying to understand the world and the life that I was born into. Like many of us, my story is full of heartache, perseverance and everything in between, but without context I would not know how I fit into the world around me. The act and art of singing and writing has led me through this life to actively search for my context. It has given me an outlet that no one can control nor take away from me. It allows me to speak for myself and on behalf of others. It has cultivated my youthfulness and trusted in my wisdom. It has given me a microphone in times when I truly thought that no one could hear me.”

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