It’s hard to walk away from a conversation with Seish Norte and not be both impacted and inspired. At 16, the Palm Springs resident already has an impressive list of accomplishments, but it’s her commitment to her community that stands out.
Her community is the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (her clan is Kàwisiktem and her family line is Patencio), which she currently serves as Miss Agua Caliente. Her mother, Jessica, is on the Tribal Council. She’s also a first-generation lineal descendant of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians through her father.
“I promised myself I would be Miss Agua when I was little” Norte said recently. “I’m proud to represent my tribe and my culture, and to share that with children.”
Children who gathered around her at the recent Kewet Native American Learning Day and Market at Palm Springs High School appeared mesmerized by her presence. Wearing a loose, flowing blue dress and a crown that had just been beaded by Brighid Pulskamp-Lewis, Norte spoke to them about her duties and her culture, helping a new generation understand the role the original people play in our community today.
The people who make Palm Springs
like no place else
Norte’s impact is being felt far beyond the Coachella Valley’s borders, and it’s her art that’s making that possible. Her artwork was selected the first time for Tamit Enequa (Cahuilla learning day ) when she was 12, and a second time when she was 13. It was first featured in a publication when she was 14. After high school at Xavier Prep in Palm Desert she plans to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), focusing on fine arts.
She got a jumpstart on her career as an artist when she started her own company, The Fifth People, in 2019, and obtained a trademark the following year. Through the company she is able to sell her art, and it sells well. During the PSHS event she quickly sold out of several items, including many that featured her take on “The Son of Man” by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte.
In Norte’s piece, titled “Naxanish kihma” (Cahuilla for ‘The Man’s Son’), a bird singer replaces Magritte’s man. The apple in front of his face is replaced with a rattle carved from a gourd. The rattle is a depiction of one that belonged to Norte’s great-great-grandfather, John Joseph “Joe” Patencio, and has been in her family for generations.
That representation is what matters most to Norte.
“I want to see Cahuilla people in paintings,” Norte said. “I want the next generation of Cahuilla children to grow up seeing their culture and themselves in that picture on the wall. I want Cahuilla youth to feel seen and be proud of being Cahuilla when they see my art.”
You can see more of Norte’s art on her Instagram page here. Get to know her below.
NAME: Seish Priscilla Norte
OCCUPATION: Student, artist, tribal royalty
HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN THE DESERT? My whole life – 16 years
WHAT KEEPS YOU HERE? My parents
DO YOU HAVE FAMILY HERE? I have my mom, dad, brother, aunty godmother, aunts, uncles, grandpa, and cousins.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR IN THE DESERT? It’s not the summer. It’s too hot. I like the fall because the weather feels just perfect.
HOW DO YOU BEAT THE HEAT? I stay inside and work on my art and my AP drawing classes.
DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY BY WHICH YOU LIVE: Yes, it’s “Representation before expectation.” As Jessica Norte explains: “She wants real native imagery and real bodies in her art. Her women are often fuller figure. She feels it’s important for young natives to see their own representation rather than a stereotype of what others feel is what a native woman looks like.”
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT? My mom’s cousin’s restaurant in Banning — Consuelo’s. I love the burritos!
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST ISSUE FACING OUR COMMUNITY? It’s difficult to educate people about some of the stereotypes. I don’t like the amount of stereotyping our culture gets, and I want to make sure the Cahuilla people see themselves in a positive light.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING TO DO OR PLACE TO GO IN THE DESERT? I just enjoy spending time with my friends – drawing, playing video games, anything as long as it’s with my friends.
WHAT’S SOMETHING ABOUT PALM SPRINGS PEOPLE NOT KNOW? It’s a pretty open place and there’s not a lot of bad things that happen here. The only time it’s really hot is in the summer.
WHAT’S YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE? Baking, especially cookies. I have to eat them straight from the oven.
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