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Guest Blog: Mary Big-Bull Lewis

October 11, 2021 8 min read

Guest Blog: Mary Big-Bull Lewis

t’il’xest iŠĆqwǝnč t


Hello, my name is Mary Big Bull-Lewis. I am a character in the Brave Space Media film, Expedition Reclamation.

I am grateful to be a part of the Brave Space film project and to have the opportunity to share what it means to be a BIWOC in the outdoors. I am a Native American woman who enjoys hiking, backpacking, nature photography and spending time on the homelands of my ancestors. I am a member of the Colville Confederated Tribe; Wenatchi, Entiat and Moses bands & a descendant of the Blackfoot Tribe. I cannot express the appreciation I have for Brave Space Film allocating part of the crowdfunding proceeds to our Wenatchi Land Back project and the amazing sponosors who have contributed to the project.

I am an Indigenous entrepreneur and co-own Wenatchi Wear & R Digital DesignI have had the opportunity to speak at several events since launching Wenatchi Wear in April 2019. I have never enjoyed public speaking and even writing about how anxious I get, my throat is getting dry and my heart rate increases. Those anxiety driven triggers can quickly take over my whole body, mind and thought process. I worry that I am not enough, who am I to speak to a crowd and most importantly will my words stumble as they come out of my mouth. Those are all self doubt, wall building mechanisms that I put up in self defense. Because if I simply do not participate, I don’t have to go through those emotions and feelings. I don’t have take those barriers down and become vulnerable.


I missed out on opportunities when I grew up because I was afraid of being my authentic self. Growing up in a primarily white community with my family the only Native Americans in the valley, I found myself blending in rather than embracing my culture. Generational trauma continues to rear its head when I least expect and working through to understand the “why’s” is not an easy process. I always felt there was something missing in my life and a greater connection that I was unable to find. My grandma was a huge part of my life growing up. She lived up the street from us and we could go to her house whenever we wanted to. Greeted with ice cream and vegetarian meals and scriptures, she was always there for me when I needed her. She was not my biological grandma, as she adopted my mom when she was a baby. My grandma treated us little brown kids just as her own and there is not a day that goes by that I do not miss her or appreciate her. She passed away in the middle of my senior year of high school, and it has taken me a long time to process everything she did for me and understand.

Fast forward 18 years, a few jobs, house, marriage, a child, dogs, going back to college at the age 30, and I was still searching for the missing connection in my life. By beginning the healing process for myself, recognize & analyze my 35 years on earth, this allowed me to begin to understand questions I’ve had my entire life.

It was one of the hardest things I have done in my life.

Allowing my past emotions to have space, to feel, cry, become angry, to realize that avoiding this process only continues generational trauma. My only goal in life is to create the best life for my son in anyway that I can. I wanted to connect in a way I have not had the opportunity to do so in this community and sought out these what seemed like unatainable relationships. I was introduced to a Indigenous woman who was a behavioral counselor on the reservation. She welcomed me with open arms and taught me more than she will ever know. I would travel 4 hours round trip to participate in a ceremonial practice, sweat lodge. She taught me how to chop the wood, stack the rocks in the fire and transport into the sweat lodge as well as the medicines we use.

After my first sweat, I was reborn. This was the first time in my life I understood who I am and what my purpose is. The spiritual connection I felt was & still is indescribable. Attending church every weekend throughout my childhood, never created this renewed sensation. It is a feeling that had been kindling in my soul & the fuel set forth a blaze in my heart.

Over the next few years, my husband & I discussed launching a clothing line. We are entrepreneurs and branched out on our own in 2013 with our graphic design business, R Digital Design.

We have always had a strong appreciation & connection with the outdoors. We met when we were 20 years old and he introduced me to longer hikes, as he has enjoyed mountaineering. Growing up, my family enjoyed taking weekend drives to new places, picnicking and exploring the land. Those were the best days when there was no agenda and we connected with nature in whatever gear/flip flops we had on. We would enjoy a bologna sandwich, on wheat bread with mustard, mayo and of course for the crunch & flavor - BBQ chips on the sandwich. After a good lunch we would play a game of kickball, baseball, hike, or race each other to see who is the fastest, then lay in a shady spot and smell the sweet smell of freshly cut grass, flowers, dirt and everything around us. Sitting under a large tree & feeling the breeze blow against my skin with all the smells of nature, still makes me pause in time and the play button is pushed with the flood of memories reeling in my head. We would go to pow wows & watch the rodeos. The dust kicked up from the dancers moccasins at the pow wows and their bright & beautiful regalia always mesmerizes me. Listening to the beat of the drum is like being inside mother earths heart. Walking around to see the Native booths and smell our way to the fry bread stand to enjoy a warm piece of bread was always one of my favorite stops.

My husband’s family enjoyed camping, mountain biking and then he began summiting mountains at the age of 16 with his mom & step dad. When I was very pregnant with our son, he went on a mountaineering trip and I was so afraid of him getting hurt and me becoming a young mother on my own. My own fears of heights, ledges and inexperience in mountaineering left me uneasy. Just because I cannot hike along narrow ledge paths, doesn’t mean everyone else has the same fear of rolling down a steep slope. He has continued to be my hype-person and encourages me on & off trails. He has continued to lead our family on many backpacking trips.

We all experience the outdoors in our own ways. There is not a wrong way to connect with nature as long as it is done respectfully. I learned that although my husband & I have experienced the outdoors in many different ways, our connection to the land is what bonds us.

We talked about how rad it would be to express our love for nature through wearable art. We knew we wanted it to be more than just a t-shirt or a sticker. Design with purpose. It is also important to understand that art is a process, I do not know anyone that sits down in an afternoon and creates a masterpiece on the first try. We bounced around ideas, and let those sit for a while. I was frustrated that there was not a place here locally for Indigenous Peoples, the original stewards of the land, and began to dive deep into the truth about the p’squosa(Wenatchi) treaties. I knew it would be painful & sometimes confusing to understand. Native Americans, Indians, Indigenous Peoples, First Nations (these are all names that are in reference to our race, and we all have our own preferences for what we would like to be called) and my preference is Indigenous, Native American and First Nations (this primarily references Canadian tribes). There are many of our people who still reside in the Wenatchee Valley, and many are constantly reaching out to each other seeking local groups to connect with in order to continue to teach our traditions and culture to our children. Unfortunately there is not a safe space dedicated to Indigenous Peoples. By safe place (many may not understand what that means), I speak about a place to gather with like-minded people without having to adapt to a colonizer community, a place to speak our languages, practice traditions, dance, cook and more. Many of our families have faced continued genocide, systemic racism and unjust actions because we resided here first. Residential schools have continued to plague our families, by our culture being shamed for existing and the children that were forced into the schools were forced to cut their hair, stop speaking our languages or practicing our traditions.

In order to heal we must recognize the wrongdoings to stop history repeating itself.

I recognized a lack of Native American history taught, being born and raised on p’squosa homelands, and wanted to design art that creates awareness & empowers Indigenous Peoples.

Wenatchi Wear was born.

I wasn’t sure how our valley would respond to this new concept, but I knew that this is what I am here to do. Continue to use my voice and be present in a town that is named after my ancestors, but the name changed to the settlers pronunciation for their comfort. I am here to create awareness and continue to work towards land back. Our ancestors have fought for the honor of treaties for hundreds of years which many are still not rectified. In 2018, we began hosting an annual clothing drive for the Colville Children & Family Services. We received amazing support from our local community with the ski team donating warm winter jackets, churches purchasing & wrapping new toys for the children, and many other donations that are welcomed.

This community support prompted me to create a gathering place for the families who were affected by the wildfires along the Colville Reservation in late summer 2020. Our community rallied together to bring new unused items, food, water, clothes, blankets, tents, stoves, cash and much more.

All while these collection sites are happening, I feel I am not doing enough and there has to be a better way. There has to be a way to have a community center that is for Indigenous Peoples to know they have resources and a place to go to when in need or for support. A place for healing.

I sought a way to amplify Indigenous voices. Our culture is about helping & giving. We give our medicines to each other, as medicine that is sold is not holding our true culture. Medicines are sweetgrass, sage, lavender, roots, birch, pine and more.

I launched the Wenatchi Land Back fundraiser in August 2020. This is focusing on gathering donations to purchase stolen land back on the homelands of the p’squosa. Then to focus on building a community center for Indigenous Peoples and a trading post that sells only authentic Native American art. We have a Donate page on our website with more information about this project & our GoFund Me link, Venmo account.

Creating space is healing. Speaking our languages is healing.

This project is not meant to be one person, and I do not speak for an entire culture or tribe. It is a project that is bigger than me & I am grateful for the people who have come together to form an Indigenous lead non-profit to take over this project and further our help. We have a board of twelve, members of tribes in Washington State & Canada. We are excited for the future and what it holds for our community. We will be updating our progress as we move forward with the Indigenous Roots & Reparation Foundation.

Getting comfortable with speaking in front of groups has gotten easier. I still get sweaty palms and experience self doubt, but through focusing on how to heal myself rather than putting a temporary bandaid over my fears, doubts and insecurities I am able to speak my truths with confidence. I find comfort in knowing that my ancestors continue to watch over me, patiently, while I continue along my path that they have paved the way.

We are the land and the land is us.

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