Q & A With Dawn Pichón Barron: Native Educator & Writer
Thank you to Kristen Young, who generously introduced us to Dawn and her work! The more we learned about her, the more we felt like her insights and experience needed to be shared.
Name: Dawn Pichón Barron
Where did you grow up?: Born in Santa Monica, CA and lived around LA area until moving to Spokane, WA. I grew up near the Spokane River, in the Valley.
Where do you live now?: Olympia, WA
What do you consider “home”?: I have never considered a physical place “home,” and am more inclined to feel at “home” when with loved ones. I am not place-bound, yet am sentimental about certain landscapes — high desert, river banks, sagebrush covered hills.
Where can others find you/your work online?: barrelhousemag.com/blog called ALPHA, Oregon Quarterly, Yellow Medicine Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, in the anthology Of A Monstrous Child (Lost Horse Press), pontoonpoetry.com, in the WA 129 poetry anthology (Sage Press), The Olympian, @pigeongirlsgot, Facebook, and sometimes at www.dawnpichonbarron.com
Favorite thing about the PNW?: the social justice activism and rich indigenous/native history
Favorite season in the PNW?: end of summer, beginning of fall
How do you take your coffee?: black with milk in a ceramic, thin-lipped cup
When you’re out, how do you protect yourself from the rain?: a hat and extra roomy, lightweight puffer jacket
Tell us about your career path: After putting myself through undergrad with jobs as a janitor and waitress, I joined AmeriCorps, working as a teacher and also doing community service projects. I then worked for over a decade in the non-profit world of mental health services as a youth counselor for pregnant & parenting teens and gang-youth, as an adventure-based counselor for “troubled” teens, and I also managed the Children’s Hospital Diversion Program which provided intervention for suicidal teens. I left the world of counseling to try something completely different — real estate for a few years, as I completed graduate school. Then, for the past ten years, I have been teaching college courses in English Composition, Literature, Creative Writing and Cultural Sovereignty. Teaching led me to the Northwest Indian College (the only tribal college on the West Coast) and to becoming the Manager of the NWIC-Nisqually campus. The experience of developing and implementing indigenous curriculum and programs in higher education wove my professional and personal interests together. I am now the Native Pathways Program Director at the Evergreen State College, which includes two-year degree bridge programs with community college partners as well as upper division bachelor degree programs at various sites around Western Washington, with thematic focus on indigenous studies. I am also a working writer (sans genre) and have a chapbook, ESCAPE GIRL BLUES, forthcoming in 2018.
What other passions do you have?: Reading, researching, writing, beading and jewelry-making, gardening, traveling, and social justice activism
What is a “normal” day like for you (if such a thing exists!): Make myself get out of bed, drink lots of coffee, feed dogs, check emails and calendar (paper, old-school), take kiddos to school, go to work (always something different), go to a community event (cultural, a reading, aerial performance, etc.), help kids with homework, debrief with husband, laundry, emails, calendar (again), have a whiskey (straight up), play a dumb word game to make my brain stop, kiss kids and dogs goodnight, climb into bed and make fun of husband with earphones and/or guitar in bed, read, read, read…wish for more hours in the day, fall asleep.
How did you decide to pursue a career in native education and advocacy? What do you like about it, and how do you stay motivated through challenges?: As a mixed indigenous/white woman who grew up with no access to culture (Mexican or Native American) and as the only “brown” kid in my family, I have always felt a loss of identity, as well as an insatiable curiosity about history and culture (my own and others). As I began to understand my own heritage, I naturally gravitated toward including indigenous material and cultural components into the courses I was teaching and into my writing (although looking back, my writing has always been about exploring themes/issues of identity and belonging, classism, racism, and social justice). Truth about the land I live upon and the people I come from is where I draw my advocacy and energy from; reviving or reclaiming the stories that have been covered up and revised to fit the dominant narrative and how these truths can empower and promote change in the world to make it a more equitable and acceptable place for under-represented, marginalized people is what gives me the power to fight and never consider being complacent, even though the challenges of racism, discrimination, lack of access, lack of resources, and just plain lack of an openness to listening threaten to disarm and quiet me (us). In advocating for Native/Indigenous education, I am advocating for fairness and justice, humility, and humanity.
What would you like PNW community members to know about the students you serve?: The students and communities I work with are no different than any other in terms of how they want to be successful and valued; they want to realize their dreams same as anyone. They want to be who they are, without consequences of tokenism or erasure. They want a safe learning environment that challenges and rewards them. They want to explore many different academic studies, and figure out their life’s purpose.
How do you manage the personal/professional aspects of the roles you have had, especially when so much of educating and advocacy includes connecting with others?: One of the cornerstones of indigenous pedagogy is Relationality — relationship building, protecting, sustaining. I have the personality, and thankfully the energy, to authentically engage with most people. I would say that I am 75% extrovert, meaning that I get energy from people and interactions three-fourths of the time, and need 25% of my time to be introverted, to process and ground myself. I am also an empathic who understands personal and professional boundaries. I do not need to be needed, but I have been given this amazing opportunity to use my knowledge and skills to facilitate students in successfully completing their path in higher education, so I want to do this work but don’t need to do it (if that makes sense).
How has the PNW and the culture here influenced you and your career path?: I truly think that the weather, the grayness and what I call claustrophobic sky during the winter and spring in the PNW, allows me to focus and get my work done. I am a straight-shooter, “cards on the table” type of person and am often asked if I am from the east coast; therefore, the long-winded “processing” that so often occurs in this part of the world has given me the drive to be at the helm, if you will, of my profession so that I can make decisions and act. By the same token, what seems to my rather impatient self, as endless conversing and dissecting is beneficial to my career because I get to hear and really understand where people are coming from and what their concerns are, which helps when I am making program decisions. I also believe the PNW has a wonderful number of socially engaged people who want to affect change for a better world and this is awesome for community building!
What do you love talking about at parties?: The 3 that polite people say one should never talk about — sex, politics, and religion! Any time!
What are people surprised to learn about you?: That I was shy as a kid. I always sat in the back and never, ever raised my hand or wanted to engage in class discussions.
What’s the best decision you’ve ever made?: To leave home and a bad boyfriend and go to college. To have children — nothing compares to the fierce love I have for them.
How did you get to where you are in life? Personally, professionally?: Having confidence in who I am and who I am not; when I don’t know something, learning about it; marrying my college love and best friend who supports me even though I can be (or so I have heard) an unpredictable person who is passionate about all things — good and bad. Hard work and integrity, along with acknowledging mistakes and wrongdoings. My practice is to deal with conflict head on, and always having solutions to problems. Patience and empathy for people and the place they are at in their story. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses. Being a team player. Giving credit where credit is due. A shit-ton of humor! A true belief that knowledge is power. Power doesn’t mean you always “win,” and as my grandmother (who had an 8th grade education) always said, “Nobody can take your education away from you.”