Tim Lehman (Northern Arapaho) aims to give the community a voice in the design of the 20 acres of land around the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.

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Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center has been a feature in Tim Lehman’s life since he was 9 years old, when his family moved to the Seattle area.

“I’m Northern Arapaho. My tribe, my people, my reservation is in Wyoming, yet I reside in Seattle. So where do I go for that cultural connection?” He found that connection at Daybreak Star through the powwows and other community events he’s attended there.

That’s why Lehman, a landscape architect and urban planner, jumped at the opportunity when the Na’ah Illahee Fund asked him to help troubleshoot the poorly draining pond on the Daybreak Star property and create a master plan for the 20 acres of land around the cultural center. 

He drew on his own experiences, but focused on the input of many community members. 

For Lehman, it is important to give marginalized communities a voice in the design process to create designs that are culturally relevant to the people who will be using the space — something he says didn’t happen for a long time. It’s a voice he attributes in a lot of ways to the American Indian Movement and those who claimed these spaces and stood up against oppression through protests and sit-ins during the 1960s and ’70s.  

“We have maps, we have things that the community can speak to, to show us what areas are important, what areas are lacking — those kind of important nodes within that community that really need to have an area of focus or don’t,” he said.

At Daybreak Star that has meant creating an outdoor classroom for preschoolers, a burning space, and the sweat lodge that is now equipped with a few more amenities. The property is still overrun in many areas by invasive and undesirable species like Himalayan blackberry and creeping buttercup — just like the rest of Discovery Park — but some areas have been cleared, especially around the pond. Much of the work has been done through partnerships with United Indians of All Tribes, Na’ah Illahee Fund and Green Seattle Partnership.

“We still need to pull invasives. We still need to replant, reestablish a lot of these indigenous relevant plants,” he says. 

Work is being done to convert areas of the property into a foraging forest for community members to access, a project that will be slow and ongoing, and will require engaging with community groups who can continue to care for the land in the future.

“Once you’ve harvested something or maintained it, what do you do with it? What was the cultural practice?” he said.  

This work involves a type of cultural reclamation that goes hand-in-hand with land reclamation, he said. 

In many ways, Lehman sees his work as a continuation of the legacy of activists who established the community center and secured this property for the community by occupying Fort Lawton in protest in 1970.  

“They gave us this voice. They showed us that we have a voice. And that’s what I’m trying to carry on for future generations.”

This is what he hopes to achieve in his work with Daybreak Star and the surrounding land — a bringing together of the past and the future. 

“Being able to have these spaces where Native folks can come and be together and celebrate their own backgrounds and their own histories and learn has become even more important,” he said. “[If] you did a good job during the actual design process, that community will take ownership of it and will help maintain it, steward that space and pass that down to the next generations to be able to do that.”