When USF alumna Calina Lawrence received a text from her good friend, Shailene Woodley, asking, “Are you free Jan. 7?”, her immediate reply was, “Yup, what we doing?”
They were going to the Golden Globe Awards, where Shailene Woodley was nominated for Best Supporting actress for her role in the TV mini-series “Big Little Lies.” Woodley invited Lawrence as her “guest to ensure that Native womxn were represented in the movement to end sexual violence,” as Lawrence explained. On the morning of the Globes, Woodley posted a video of the two speaking in support of the TimesUp movement.
Lawrence described her experience at the Golden Globes ceremony as being “powerful.” She felt included by those in attendance, whether they were actresses or activists. She and Shailene, like many attendees, used the conversations on the red carpet as a platform for their cause.
“The epidemic of violated, missing and murdered, indigenous womxn is almost never spoken about on a mainstream level, and to be able to address it on this large of a platform was not just an honor but necessary,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence first connected with actress Shailene Woodley while organizing events with Native students for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the California primary election. They also worked together on the social media campaign for Standing Rock and even later at the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
“Shai and I felt that we could really benefit each other’s lives as sisters and young people pursuing a better future for generations to come,” Lawrence said of their friendship.
Lawrence’s passion for advocacy is rooted in her childhood, having grown up on and off a reservation in Washington state during the 1990s. Listening to her Suquamish elders describe being stripped of their indigenous culture and experiencing her own hardships in and out of foster care, she found empowerment in singing her people’s traditional songs.
As she grew up, Lawrence continued to sing and participate in marches and rallies for Native rights. When some friends suggested she move to the Bay Area, however, she did some research and found USF’s PASJ program. “I had always been interested in fusion. So when I came across Performing Arts & Social Justice at USF, I automatically knew that it was the best option.” USF was the only school to which Lawrence applied.
“I decided that the definition/act of social justice needed to also include Native voices and hoped USF could make space for my unique version of attaining social justice,” Lawrence said.
When she arrived, Lawrence was only one of 14 students at USF who identified as Native. She relied on her ability to adapt to navigate culture shock and find her place in a bustling, metropolitan city and school. She turned to the Inter-Cultural and Gender and Sexuality Centers and found community, acceptance and support with her peers.
Lawrence quickly realized the lack of Native voices at USF. “I found myself constantly having to organize events and speak up in classes that neglected to include any Indigenous perspective,” Lawrence said. “It was difficult and frustrating, but rewarding in the fact that once peers and staff were able to have information provided to them by some of the work I did, they made it a priority to lend themselves to different Native issues.”
One of Lawrence’s biggest focuses at USF was environmental justice. She spoke about the Ohlone Indigenous tribes, who are native to the Bay Area, but lost land to those searching for economic prosperity during the California Gold Rush.
“I believed that [people’s] environmental work should compel them to standing in solidarity all Native people who are exploited by the fossil fuel industry and big oil all over the country,” Lawrence said. After graduation, Lawrence traveled across the country, speaking and singing in Chicago, Washington D.C., South Dakota, New Mexico, and more. She ultimately put out three singles, along with music videos. She will also release an album later this year.
Featured Photo: USF alum Calina Lawrence attended the Golden Globes as actress Shailene Woodley’s date. COURTESY OF CALINA LAWRENCE