Student takes on government to prove she’s alive
Kalena Yiaueki is alive as far as anyone can tell.
She eats, sleeps and breathes like any other 17-year-old. Yet, the United States government considers her Native American tribe, the Susquehanna, extinct. In fact, according to the federal government, Yiaueki’s tribe has been extinct since 1763 when the last 20 Susquehanna were killed by a mob of white settlers.
“I thought, ‘How could this be if I am very much alive?’ It was very shocking,” said the high school senior.
She was so startled by the news that she has decided to take on the government to challenge the “extinct” status of her tribe and make a movie about it.
Yiaueki first discovered the Susquehanna were not a registered tribe while filling out college financial aid applications.
“The forms asked for a tribal number and mine wasn’t accepted. Then I found out that I was considered extinct,” she said.
So, as an aspiring filmmaker, Yiaueki set out to create a documentary about her quest to gain recognition for her tribe as her senior project at Prosser Creek Charter School.
First, she called her father, Keowa Yiaueki, a Susquehannan living on a reservation in Montana. He told her he tried, unsuccessfully, to get recognition for the tribe 20 years. In fact, Yiaueki found out most of her tribe doesn’t desire recognition.
“It’s really controversial. You get benefits, but you’re restricted to this reservation and it’s very sheltered. I’ve found that they want their land, but they’re poor. They don’t care about attending college,” she said.
At that point, Yiaueki altered the focus of her documentary. Now her aim is to get herself rights and benefits for college. Also, and perhaps more importantly, she wants to find her roots.
“I want to match the internal with the physical,” she said. “I was raised white. My mother is white, but I am obviously not white. It’s very intense for me to have to know this other half.”
For her documentary, Yiaueki said she plans on visiting her father’s birthplace, a Native American land allocation in Keewaydin, Penn. There she wants to interview other Susquehanna, and she’s showing up completely unannounced.
“I want the real raw emotion from them – be it positive or negative,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Yiaueki will also interview her father in Montana and stop by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., to officially petition tribal recognition.
Currently, Yiaueki is the pre-production stage of her documentary and trying to generate funding for her project. She has developed a budget that requires nearly $5,000 to cover travel, accommodations and materials. Her mother, a filmmaker, will donate the cinematography and editing. Also, Yiaueki has secured the month of March off of school to complete the project. With her graduation nearing, Yiaueki said the next few months will be hectic.
“It’s frustrating because there’s this stereotype that there’s been so much given to Native Americans, we don’t have to work hard to get money for school,” she said. “Applying for schools, I’ve had people tell me, ‘But you’re Native American, you’ll get money.’ But I’m 50 percent, and I can’t even get recognition, and I’ve worked very hard.”
Anyone interested in helping Yiaueki with her senior project may contact her at 546-7732.