Children of the Setting Sun shares Indigenous stories with an eye to the future

by Isabella Breda at

As the students stood rapt, the horse’s eyes darted to a looming sound boom hanging overhead.

On the other end of the boom was Jordan Riber, productions director for Children of the Setting Sun, an Indigenous-led and -centered nonprofit based in Bellingham. The crew was there to capture the Nisqually’s relationship with the school district as part of a documentary tracing the history of Billy Frank Jr., the legendary Nisqually treaty rights and environmental advocate, through the design and creation of his statue — for eventual display in the nation’s Capitol.

More than 200 of the students had descended on Nisqually in early April to learn more about the people whose traditional territory their school occupies. They moved through pastures and beading and carving rooms, learning about the history of the Nisqually people and how they preserve their culture and govern their territory.

Frank left many who remember him with the instruction: “Tell your story.” It was this teaching that reinforced the work of Jerad Koepp, who is Wukchumni and a 2022 Washington state Teacher of the Year, to immerse students in Indigenous culture and policy rather than rely on textbooks.

And it’s why he invited the crew from Children of the Setting Sun. 

Sharing oral histories, gatherings and events through film, podcasts, live events — and soon a digital library — Children of the Setting Sun defies the traditional categories of a “media” group. The cadre of Coast Salish youth, Indigenous artists and creators from across the region and beyond are guided in the projects they pursue by a sounding board of local elders and others.

They’re documenting the return of salmon to people and rivers once impounded by dams built to serve settlers’ economies. They’re sitting and sharing stories from traditional ecological knowledge-keepers in a podcast that examines our relationship with plants. They’re offering lessons of reciprocity in a world yearning for solutions to a changing climate.

Their goal? To educate the greater community, empower the next generation of Indigenous storytellers and offer knowledge and expertise for today’s most-pressing problems.

Now, with the help of a $2 million donation from MacKenzie Scott secured this year, they’re hoping to share their stories more widely.