Whether it’s to promote an organization’s mission, market a new product or celebrate a family milestone, planners are adept at telling compelling stories through experiential events. For Rose High Bear, however, the story is the event.
In 1990, High Bear co-founded Wisdom of the Elders, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, that celebrates and supports Native American cultural sustainability, multimedia education and race reconciliation. Today, she is director of the organization and also produces numerous other projects, including a radio show and local documentary series.
High Bear is originally from Alaska and is a member of the Deg Hit’an Dine (Alaskan Athabascan) tribe. The Yukon River village of her ancestors in Anvik, Alaska, is more than 14,500 years old. As a child, she moved to Oregon and away from her culture, but as she grew older, she recognized how critical it is to preserve her tribal history and traditions, which have eroded over the centuries.
“When our new neighbors came into America, we were encouraged not to live our culture,” she explains. “But we’re really not ‘us’ without it.”
High Bear has produced Discovering Our Story, an hour-long, monthly television program in Portland about the traditions and culture of Native Americans. She also produces Wisdom of the Elders Radio—which is featuring its fourth series on tribal sustainability responses to climate change—and will host a climate film festival in 2017 with a climate change and cultural arts focus. In 2015, the organization was honored with an award of distinction by Global Film Awards for its documentary, The Cutting Edge: Climate and The People of the Whale.
In addition to the annual fundraiser and silent auction, “An Evening with Wisdom of the Elders,” she organizes between 10 and 11 annual storytelling festivals in Portland and Seattle, showcasing Native American guest speakers and storytellers. High Bear says the goal of these events is to “train Native Americans in their own traditions and stories because the culture is endangered in today’s world.”
That’s a story everyone could gain from listening to.