SEATTLE — It is considered the biggest Native-American-owned business in Seattle and it is making artistic dreams come true. Now this business, with humble beginnings, is making a big splash in the art world.
In early July, Eighth Generation moved from its location inside the Pike Place Market to a First Avenue storefront. But that small move was a giant leap toward selling authentic Native American art to the masses.
And one Seattle artist started it all.
“Here in Seattle, we are right in the middle of the coast salish cultural region,” said Louie Gong. “We have this distinct art that is beautiful but it’s been suppressed.”
He calls himself a self-taught “cultural artist.”
But it is Gong’s entrepreneurial spirit that brought to vibrant life this store selling the work of Native American artists.
He named it “Eighth Generation.”
“‘Eighth Generation’ got its name from my desire to honor both sides of my family,” said Gong. “I’m Native and there’s this intertribal value of seven generations. So, by naming the business ‘Eighth Generation,’ I was paying respect to the previous seven generations that put me in a position to excel. And also ‘eight,’ when you say it in Cantonese, sounds like the word ‘prosperity.’ So, it was a very auspicious number to have in your business name.”
As it happens, Gong is part Chinese. “Yeah, I’m Native and Chinese and white and all parts of my heritage are important to me.”
Gong grew up on the Nooksak Reservation near Bellingham. So, central to his mission is elevating the art of the Coast Salish tribes, their work supplanted by Alaska natives, even in Seattle, named for the most famous of their chiefs.
“This is all changing,” said Gong. “From Vancouver almost down to Portland, there are amazing contemporary Coast Salish artists doing things in their communities that are transforming this idea of what kind of art represents the communities that we are embedded in. It’s a Coast Salish resurgence.”
Part of that resurgence is in the form of artwork, like these prized blankets manufactured and labeled in Georgetown.
“So, this is an incredible design by Kira Murillo who is an incredible tattoo artist,” said CEO Colleen Echohawk, showing off some of Eighth Generation’s wares.
Echohawk, an enrolled member of the Pawnee Tribe, says the artwork is not limited to the Pacific Northwest.
“There’s well over 560 tribes,” Echohawk said. “So, artists are from all over the country. We’re intentional about that, about making sure we have geographical representation.”
This milestone in the life of the Eighth Gen is just a few weeks old. But already Louie Gong has much grander visions for this company born of necessity some sixteen years ago.
“What I would love to see is Eighth Generation, this Native-owned business that I started in my living room, then sold to the Snoqualmie Tribe who’s working in collaboration with an amazing superstar like Colleen Echohawk, that it becomes a global brand,” said Gong. “That Eighth Generation is on the tip of people’s tongues in Holland, in Germany, in Japan, and all around the world. The sky is the limit.”
A limitless sky for a vision without limits, too.
Eighth Generation already sells its authentic Native American artwork around the world through its website. Here’s a link to their website.
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