“There are urban Natives who own houses, have a job, have a car but they don’t have a reservation to call home today,” said Kathy MacRae Foy, Native Quest board president and full-time volunteer. “We wanted to create a cultural center where all tribes could share in a talking circle, enjoy dinner together, laugh and sing and watch theater presentations.”
Native Quest is designed to meet the cultural needs of urban Native Americans, through the body, spirit, mind and heart. The Native Quest logo represents the philosophy that the collection of North American tribes is represented as Turtle Island, which is surrounded by a unifying circle of braided sinew, welcoming everyone. The traditional compass points offer directions: black meaning harmony and cooperation; white meaning tradition melding into culture, yellow meaning love that binds the community and red meaning the spirit that permeates every action, according to Nativequest.net.
The cultural center is equipped with an American Indian museum, gallery, gift shop, café, meeting rooms, performance stage, a reference library and the world’s largest American Indian bookstore with more than 80,000 books. The cultural center also offers talking and healing circles, as well as interactive workshops and classes for adults and children.
Foy said one of the most important factors they want to address is helping youth understand their heritage. “We want to take the youth’s tribal traditions and have them interact with elders and make crafts from their heritage that can be used today. For example, youth can take designs from their American Indian tribes and paint them on canvas shoes and wear them today.”
Foy said youth can also learn about their heritage by interviewing elders, videotaping them and save the interviews on CDs. They can also learn their native language in the reference library using programs like Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone offers the Navajo language. On iTunes the Cherokee Nation offers a Cherokee Language Suite and Cherokee Nation Radio show podcasts. The Cherokee Syllabary is also offered through Apple products.
“People are excited about the cultural center and they don’t want to leave,” said Foy. “The cultural center is like home and visitors can sit and talk, make new friends. And they leave their problems at the door.”
Deborah Lightfoot, Native Quest board secretary and member of the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma, is excited about the cultural center. “There are a lot of people in Washington who are lost about being Native. They don’t have cultural identity like I have and they tell you stories about how they are Native but can’t tell you what tribe they are.”
Lightfoot moved to Washington 25 years ago and says she was lucky enough to grow up having a strong cultural identity. Her grandfather was a medicine man and her grandmother was a medicine woman.
“I think it is really sad not knowing where you come from or who you are,” she said. “Knowing who you are makes you a stronger person.”
Lightfoot hopes by having the cultural center it will help urban American Indians feel accepted and give them a chance to learn more about their heritage and culture.
“I just enjoy being here, sharing my story and welcoming people,” Lightfoot said. “And if someone comes in needing helping or a shoulder to lean on that is what we are here for.”
Native Quest welcomes all tribes as well as non-American Indians to the cultural center.
Wilma Lees, a volunteer and member of the Wasco Indian tribe in Oregon sees the cultural center as a neutral and safe place for people to go. “Everyone is accepted and if someone wants to pray in Navajo they can and if someone else wants to pray in Cherokee they can.”
Native Quest is anticipating looking forward to working with the University of Washington Tacoma community by offering internships to students in the museum and research library. As well as having student volunteer at the cultural center.
Native Quest also hopes to partner with Tacoma Metro Parks, different museums in the Tacoma area, help Metro Parks Tacoma, a municipal corporation to manage park, establish history before 1855 and tell the American Indian side of history.
Lastly, Native Quest would like to offer paid jobs to American Indians in the café, museum and bookstore. However, they are still a volunteer based organization and are awaiting replies from 24 grants they have applied for.
“We have something different to offer and we are trying to meet the needs that no one else is meeting,” Foy said.