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College of Education

Breath of Our Ancestors

Breath of Our Ancestors, by subiyay

Breath of Our Ancestors


The Design

How we refer to human knowledge and how we preserve it have changed significantly since the development of written languages.

For the ancestors of the indigenous Americans, shared knowledge of cultural concepts was a tool for survival. The American Indian and Alaska Native people developed a belief in a common origin and history; a common moral and ethical (legal) system; a story symbology (educational system); and a spiritual belief system. It was believed, for example, that the plants and animals were placed on earth first. They were to experience all the tribulations necessary to survive in a new world. The animals’ life experiences would become the teachings on which humans would base their cultures.

The design entitled “The Story Tellers,” illustrates how knowledge was preserved and passed on to future generations by American Indians and Alaska Native people. Before the introduction of written language, all knowledge was distributed orally by the grandparents and storytellers. It was through their living breath that the ancient tales of the ancestors were passed on. The stories taught the young people how to learn from the environment and their life experiences. This learning style promoted the same analytical, cognitive, and retentive skills that are necessary to succeed in the contemporary educational system. As the skills associated with this oral tradition have eroded, however, the old stories have almost disappeared and along with them much of the people’s cultural resiliency.

We believe that the Clearinghouse on Native Teaching and Learning is an example of the old way of teaching and learning. It is yet another effort that adds a new chapter in the “ancient breath of knowledge” that have educated Native people since the dawn of time.

The Artist

The artist is subiyay (Gerald Bruce Miller) a Skokomish/Yakama Indian from Washington State. He is the traditional leader and practicing shaman while serving as cultural consultant to tribes throughout the Northwest and nation. He was awarded the Washington State Governor’s Art and Ethnic Heritage Award in 1993 and has received numerous grants, commissions, and awards from the Washington State Arts Commission and arts groups in Seattle, Tacoma, and King County, Washington. subiyay is also an author and playwright, and he is currently developing a dictionary of the tuwaduqsid (Twana language). He is a former Indian Educator of the Year for Washington and was recognized by WSU’s College of Education as one of three Outstanding Native Educators in the State.

Washington State University