Pyramigo Profile: Howard Echo-Hawk
First off, what do you do at Pyramid?
I am a project associate at Pyramid. We have a practice group dedicated to Native issues, which is the focus of my work on a day-to-day basis. I do everything from marketing support and writing, to coordinating and working with clients.
What were you doing before you came to Pyramid?
I have been a student for a long time. I am currently a student at the University of Washington, where I will eventually be getting a Ph.D. in Linguistics. Before that, I went to Shoreline Community College, where I spent a lot of time working with the Native Club. I focused on social justice issues and earned a Certificate in Multicultural Studies. More specifically, I spent a lot of time thinking about how decolonization can be practiced, by getting involved with the Native community while I was there.
What do you love most about working here?
Indian Country! What I like about our practice group is that while we always do things effectively and turn out good work, there is always room for a good joke, teasing each other, and just having fun. I think when I first started here that sense of comradery helped me feel comfortable and confident in the organization.
What's the most important lesson you've learned so far?
There are a lot! We work with so many different clients and people, that at any given moment there are so many things to do and keep track of. Being organized and understanding how to prioritize tasks has been a very important lesson for me.
What do you do when you're not at Pyramid?
Outside of school and work, music is a big part of my everyday life. I got my first drum lesson when I was about 5 years old and I haven’t stopped hitting things with sticks since. Up until I was about 19 or 20, drums were the only instrument I played, but since then I started to pick up guitar, bass, and piano. I play a lot of jazz, blues, and reggae.
I try to stay active through mixed martial arts training. I view it as a form of meditation—especially sparring. I also spend a lot of time doing research, specifically on various topics in decolonization, race and equity, and linguistics. Also, karaoke. Lots and lots of karaoke.
When can we see your next reggae concert?
[Laughs] As soon as I become a big reggae star. You’re all invited—it’s not going to be free though!
Tell us a bit about where you and your family are from?
My dad is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Kitkehaki Band. My mom was born on Kodiak Island in Alaska. My parents met in Alaska in the late 1970s, and were spending a lot of time in the Taa'tl'aa Denae' (Headwater People) Athabaskan village of Mentasta, where my mom ended up being adopted by the great matriarchal Chief and Native rights activist, Katie John. Grandma Katie had many children, over 200 grandchildren—including me.
Can you tell us more about Mentasta?
The village has about 100 people on a good day, and is deep in the heart of Alaska. It’s not the original village of the Taa'tl'aa Denae', but it is part of the traditional lands. The original village of Mentasta was located in Batzulnetas along the Copper River, but the people were forced to leave that area when the government started incorporating everyone. Batzulnetas was a strategic location for them to live in because it was where they would catch salmon, hunt moose, and pick berries and roots. But once we were moved to Mentasta, they were no longer allowed to fish or hunt.
Katie John and the village had to fight for many years to get our hunting and fishing rights back. Grandma Katie took it to the Supreme Court, and eventually won. Now, the village goes to Batzulnetas every summer to fish, hunt, and practice our traditional ways.
Could you describe some of the topics surrounding decolonization that you have been thinking about recently?
I have been thinking a lot about the movement of resistance at Standing Rock and the positive implications it may have psychologically for Native people. I have been thinking and researching about how that movement grew and how even now, how that resistance has expanded. While Native resistance has been happening for a long time, what happened at Standing Rock was sort of a peak moment for Native people.
When I was at the camps at Standing Rock, Native cultures from all over permeated the air we were breathing in a way that I had not experienced before. Sharing our various cultures with each other is a radical act, and that was really the glue that kept the resistance on the front lines sustainable, and keeps it going in the continuing fights for Native rights and sovereignty going on still.
You always seem to have an indigenous quote or proverb that motivates your work, do you have a favorite?
It all depends on the scenario and what’s happening in the moment. I try and use them in a way that I think makes sense. Most recently, I have really liked this Cheyenne saying:
“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons." (Tsistsistas, Cheyenne)
Also, my Grandma Katie had a great quote about why she fought for so long and hard for our rights:
“I didn’t want to do it, but I was the only one who could.”