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19 Matika Wilbur(Swinomish and

Tulalip).mp3
Sat, 03/23 04:18PM 29:02

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, native, students, mitchell, indigenous, language, western, community, academia,


photographer, university, journalism, photograph, warm springs, create, policies, ceremony,
belonging, torsten, indian country

SPEAKERS

Torsten Kjellstrand, Mitchell Lira, Damian Radcliffe, Matika Wilbur

D Damian Radcliffe 00:03


Hello and welcome to the second Demystifying Media podcast for the academic year
2018-19. I'm Damian Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism at the
University of Oregon, and I curate the Demystifying Media series, a program which brings
to the university inspiring thinkers from across academia and the creative industries.

D Damian Radcliffe 00:21


My guest today is Matika Wilbur, a visual storyteller belonging to the Swinomish and
Tulalip people's of coastal Washington. Matika has had solo exhibitions at the Seattle Art
Museum, the Royal British Columbia Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum, and has been
published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Oprah Magazine, and many other
places. Matika, welcome!

M Matika Wilbur 00:40


Thank you so much for having me.

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D Damian Radcliffe 00:42
It's great to see you. So for the last five years, you've been busy traveling and
photographing Indian Country across the United States in pursuit of one particular goal,
which we're going to be talking about and exploring and unpacking today: changing the
way that we see Native America. And I wanted to talk a little bit about Project 562--just a
quick bit of background on that. This is an initiative you launched in 2012, I believe, with
the goal of systematically photographing members of all federally recognized tribes. And
six years on, I'm told you visited almost 400 sovereign groups in all 50 states,
photographed nearly 4000 tribal members, and it has culminated in a fine art book,
national curricula and nearly 50 short docu-films.

M Matika Wilbur 01:25


It's exhausting just hearing about it.

D Damian Radcliffe 01:29


And amazing in equal measure, too! So to discuss this and many of the issues that you
have portrayed and explored through your work. I'm also joined by two special guests, my
colleague, the award winning photographer, Torsten Kjellstrand, and Mitchell Lira, a
student here at the School of Journalism and Communication. Welcome, Torsten.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 01:45


Thank you

D Damian Radcliffe 01:46


And welcome, Mitchell.

M Mitchell Lira 01:47


Cool. Glad to be here.

D Damian Radcliffe 01:50


So let's start off with this big kind of question that Matika had, which was changing the
way that we see Native America. Can you start off by just saying a little bit about how has
Native American life historically been portrayed? And why does that need to change?

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M Matika Wilbur 02:05
Hmm. Well, you actually hit it right on the head, it's that were portrayed historically. That
would be the first indicator to discuss, because we know now especially given the recent
research with reclaiming Native truth, we know that 87% of textbooks portray us pre-
1900, that the average undergraduate student, like I guess, 82% believe that Native
Americans are extinct. We know that of the some 4000 blockbuster-release films released
between 1990 and 2000, only 12 included American Indians. All of them portrayed Indians
as leathered and feathered, historical and inferior, the noble savage, creatures fit for
mascots, if you will. And that representation is deeply damaging to the psyche of Native
youth and plays out in policy and procedure and the daily lives of our people.

M Matika Wilbur 03:02


So when, for instance, a federal court judge or a Supreme Court judge has never had the
opportunity to interact with a Native person and doesn't know a Native person, then they
make decisions, like what was recently made with the Indian Child Welfare Act, to reverse
those Supreme Court decisions and take Indian children off of reservations. And we know
if our children don't grow up near our communities, and surrounded by their own people,
their sense of belonging is deeply devastated.

M Matika Wilbur 03:33


And so it's really important that our children have the opportunity to see themselves as
we are, so to speak. And it's really, I think, important that in order for us to change the
narrative, or to change the outcome for our children, we need our own people to
represent ourselves both in mass media, but also in in public places, right, we need to
represent ourselves in public office, we need to represent ourselves in every area where
decisions are being made for us. And my friend says when decisions are being made for
us, they are decisions being made to us. And so in order to change that, or to decolonize
that, we have to share power. And so I think that narrative and representation is all a part
of that. And that's what my project, Project 562, is dedicated to.

D Damian Radcliffe 04:28


There's a huge amount that to unpack. Mitchell, I'd like to just turn to you to just get your
perspective on how you have seen the issues that Matika has just so eloquently outline
there. How have they manifested themselves in your experience as a student at the
University of Oregon and elsewhere, but also, growing up?

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M Mitchell Lira 04:45
I think it's one of those things that as a kid, you would see a lot of Indian people, especially
where I'm from wearing these mascots and wearing these things. And I was always
confused because I got older and then you kind of learn about what those ideas mean.
And probably you kind of get brainwashed in a way as a kid. You learn a lot about these
textbooks and learn about them in ways exactly what Matika's saying that's
misrepresenting and not telling--it's a certain narrative that's being fed, you know. And so
I think you get older and that for me, like I got older and learned about that. And I mean, I
was always aware of it, but I think I got older and I thought I could do something about it,
when I got the college and got older. Because as a kid saying those things, those teachers
don't want to hear that.

M Mitchell Lira 05:26


And it wasn't the kind of conversations they want to have--and getting into college like,
that's why I think I've come to academia is to kind of change that narrative. But even
within academia, that's hard, because it's Western education, that's kind of a mold that I
don't fit into, that my way of thinking doesn't fit into, that my people's way of thinking
doesn't fit into, like our language or culture, our way of life. It's not kind of validated, or
seen as equal. And so I think that's kind of the struggle, is to validate those things, and to
show non-Native peoples that these things are valid, and we've we've known these things
about where we come from, and who we are, for a long time, for thousands of years. And I
think our languages and our cultures show that.

M Mitchell Lira 06:03


So I think part of it at the UO is they have a hard time recognizing and kind of
acknowledging the land and the things that--like the University, that's, that's kind of a
touchy subject that we don't want to talk about is the history that happened here in the
northwest, especially in Oregon, the racial history, the really nasty and racial history we
have here in Oregon. And I think, especially this university, we have a pioneer statue here,
and a pioneer woman. Those things are things that the university's not really open to
talking about and having dialogue about what that means, and Native students have
come to this campus. And we're not talking about the history behind those statues and
what they mean.

M Mitchell Lira 06:39


And so I think it's hard. It's hard to be a Native person in these more modern times. And I

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mean, but my existence is important and it matters and other Native people's existence
on this campus matters. And I think that's, that us existing is resistance, and that's
important.

D Damian Radcliffe 06:56


So there are there are many different ways in which these issues need to be addressed.
But can we say a little bit about how media and photography can contribute to that
dialogue? I know, Torsten, you've worked a lot in this space, and obviously, Matika, you do,
as well. How can we advance this conversation?

T Torsten Kjellstrand 07:11


Well, so I want to, I would want to back up, one step beyond that. All of the issues that
Matika and Mitchell talked about are ones that before you can enter that space, as a non-
Native photographer--

D Damian Radcliffe 07:30


You need to understand them.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 07:31


Yeah, you need to understand but it's more than understand. You have to also accept that
there's things that you cannot be part of, that there's some things you just accept maybe
without understanding them. And Mitchell and I have talked about this as well. I think
photography is really a unique medium for the kind of mission that I hear Matika outlining,
because photography is a present-tense storytelling. You cannot photograph the past
and you cannot photograph the future, you can only photograph the present in front of
you.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 08:15


So when I look at her photographs, that's what I see, which is what makes them so
different from most of the representations we see of Native people, and I would broaden
that to indigenous people. You know, I'm from Sweden, and we have some of the similar
issues there with the Sami people, that it's, you know, not authentic unless they're wearing
certain clothing or doing certain things. But what I see in Matika's photographs is the
present-tense-ness of--Can I say that? present-tense-ness?

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M Matika Wilbur 08:53
Present-tense-ness. Yeah, definitely a word.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 08:55


I think I just invented a word, present-tense-ness, I want a T-shirt with that on it..

D Damian Radcliffe 09:02


It's contemporary.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 09:03


I feel like now I've completely entered academia because I'm making up words with many
syllables, and no one knows what they mean.

M Matika Wilbur 09:11


Absolutely. You have conversations that nobody understands. And then you'll be well-
suited for academia.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 09:16


I'll lapse into Swedish here any minute.

M Matika Wilbur 09:20


The audience will love that. Yeah.

D Damian Radcliffe 09:23


And was that always a driver for you Matika, to be very contemporary? And, and really,
with a goal to changing these kind of historic perceptions and portrayals and you know,
the statistics that you gave at the beginning? Frightening and alarming in equal measure.

M Matika Wilbur 09:40


Well, I wouldn't so much say that my goal was to right historical inaccuracies as much as
my goal was to create indigenous futurisms, if you will, ideas that allow our children to see

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themselves having a future and seeing themselves in a contemporary way. I joke about
creating indigenous Wakanda, if you will, where students have the opportunity to imagine
themselves differently. And Dr. Stephanie Fryberg discusses this better than I do.

M Matika Wilbur 10:14


She says, you know, what happens to my daughter who walks down the street and sees
what it's like to live on the rez and sees the disparity and the reality of contemporary
indigenous lifestyle, especially on a reservation, and then turns on the television and
doesn't see herself represented? And when she does see herself represented, she sees
herself represented as a person of the past, or as maybe a leathered and feathered, or as
you know, maybe an alcoholic or a drug addict, or certainly as a creature fit for a mascot,
right? And so we see ourselves in that way in mass media, but we don't see ourselves as
we are. And so what does that do to that child? What does it do to their sense of
belonging, or their ability to imagine something for themselves?

M Matika Wilbur 11:01


So I think that that's shifting, hopefully, ideally, that's shifting. I think I contribute a small
part to that. I think it's the work of many. I wouldn't say that my role is to fix what's been
done. I'm not able to do that. But what I can do is contribute to a future and hopefully, in
that way, I will be able to inspire and work with the next generation of photographers and
filmmakers and podcast makers, and thinkers, and intellectuals, to imagine an indigenous
knowledge system or a pedagogy that's valid, to create maybe spaces where young
indigenous thinkers can actually evolve beyond just the idea of righting historical
inaccuracies, and taking scholarship to an entirely new level. That would be what my goal
would be. I wouldn't have told you that six years ago. I wouldn't have had the framework
or the language to discuss what I really wanted to do.

M Matika Wilbur 12:23


All I knew was that I was asked to put together a curriculum for my students when I was
teaching in public school, a tribal school on my rez, and I couldn't draw enough material
to create the curricula. And I couldn't create it--I couldn't teach from Aaron Huey and
Edward Curtis. I had to pull from Native photographers and Native filmmakers. Because
when I showed my students works by Aaron Huey, the kids cried, and they were
devastated and it was damaging and then kids commit suicide. And I'm not saying there's
a direct correlation, I'm saying that three days after I showed that in my classroom, I had
another student commit suicide. And I remember that same child crying in my classroom
and me thinking I can not contribute to a damaging narrative anymore. I cannot show

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them any poverty porn, I cannot show them works that are going to make them feel bad
about themselves.

M Matika Wilbur 12:56


I have to give them heroes, I have to give them possibility. I have to show them
photographers and filmmakers and attorneys and entrepreneurs, and activists and civil
rights movement leaders and environmentalists. And I have to show them those
indigenous people. They have to know that they stand on the shoulders of giants and
have to know it deeply, intrinsically, in their gut, that they are a part of that legacy. And
that's my role. You know, other people will take a different role in journalism. But because
of my experience and my belonging to a sense of community, I knew that my job is to be
of service to my community. And in photography, that's how I can be of service and other
people will approach that differently.

D Damian Radcliffe 13:37


One of the things that was really striking in your TED Talk where you showed this
wonderful cadre of great people doing really interesting things, fantastic role models,
across all different walks of life, was also just talking about how the importance of showing
a contemporary vibrant, contemporary culture and shifting that conversation and I
thought that was very striking.

M Matika Wilbur 14:00


Thank you.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 14:01


Can I ask--so one of the interesting things to me here is that you're sitting across from
Mitchell, who is at the very beginning of his education as a storyteller at our school. And
Mitchell and I talk a lot and I find myself frequently in the position where, as a non-Native
photographer, that there are limits to what I can kind of help Mitchell and other students
aspire to. You talked about bringing in to the world a new generation of storytellers, I
think, is what we're talking about. Right? And what do you say to Mitchell?

M Matika Wilbur 14:48


I think the question that we ask our young people like you, Mitchell, and all young up and
coming storytellers is: we ask ourselves how we can be of service to first the Creator, and

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we ask ourselves, you know, what our elders would have us do. And I think there's a unique
pedagogy in Indian country, that is that we have this responsibility to community. And like
you said, in a Western system, we find that this independent thinking, it doesn't work for
us, that we still are very interdependent communities and, in our communities, when we
raise our children, we raise them with a purpose. And usually that purpose is connected to
a land-based identity or definitely to a relationship-based identity.

M Matika Wilbur 15:31


And so I think that in your community, their specific needs, especially in Warm Springs, you
know, where you have these, like budding language programs, and you have those people
bringing back those river canoes, and, you know, there's a deep need I see in Warm
Springs for, like, a language-based immersion program in that community, because there
are still language speakers. Your longhouse people, right, like, there's all of this incredible
work to be done in that community. And I know that the elders, if you ask them, what they
needed, they would, they would tell you.

M Matika Wilbur 16:05


And so I think in that way, when we're training our next generation of photographers, we
don't train them to do what's best for them. Because that's the western model. We train
our students to do what's best for community, in the same way we train them how to be
warriors, you know, and so, the two go together. Then, I think, the answers will present
themselves. And when you use that as a guiding force, then there will be no room for
questioning, there'll never be enough days to get all the work done. And then, you know,
everything else follows, like the money and the prestige, or the sort of self sufficiency that
we all hope for as freelance artists in a time when it's very difficult to make a living as a
photographer, when everybody's a photographer, you know. I think when we start doing
the heart's work, then it'll present itself. And I would also encourage you to pray. And
that's also very different than what Western belief systems would tell you, you know.

M Matika Wilbur 17:12


For me, this project was started in ceremony. You know, I saw all of this chaos and trauma
around me, when I was trying to put together the curriculum, and Stephanie Fryberg said
"We need to create new curriculum, and we think that you should go visit all the tribes and
do this, you're a photographer." And I was like, I have a boyfriend, and I have an
apartment, and I just bought a Pottery Barn couch, I have a 401k, I have a studio, you
know, I've worked my whole life to get a studio. I can't. And then well, if that's the way it's
meant to be, then that's how it'd be.

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M Matika Wilbur 17:54
So I had a ceremony to ask permission, ask the ancestors to help me. And we put up that
teepee and the next morning when I was bringing in the water, those flickers flew in. And
they went around like this, 10 different times. And Roadman told me, if you have the
courage to walk the path, then the bricks are already laid for you, and the ancestors will
go with you. All you have to do is find the courage to go. And that's how it's been. People
have helped me along the way. And I think the same would happen for you or for any
young filmmaker, photographer, storyteller.

D Damian Radcliffe 18:35


What can we, as a university, as a journalism school--what can we do to help on that
route?

M Matika Wilbur 18:43


Do you guys have any native professors in the school?

T Torsten Kjellstrand 18:46


One who's retiring.

M Matika Wilbur 18:48


In the School of Journalism?

T Torsten Kjellstrand 18:49


Right, one who's retiring, but there is a job candidate today who is coming to dinner.

M Matika Wilbur 18:56


Well that's good!

T Torsten Kjellstrand 18:59


Yeah, so...

Matika Wilbur 19:00

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M Matika Wilbur 19:00
Yeah, I think it starts there. I think it's incredibly important for students, especially
Indigenous students, especially when you're on a campus that has such a brutal history
with indigenous stewardship, I think that it starts by hiring brown folks, sharing power,
creating policy for indigenous belief systems. One way that we always talk about that is in
time. So in a Western construct, we have very strict time policies. And we don't have
policies for birth and death and Western constructs in Indian country. And one of the
largest indicators for failure for indigenous students is that they take time off to go home
for funerals or for ceremony. And our ceremonial schedule doesn't align with a Western
calendar--you know, we are on a very biblical calendar. And it doesn't coincide with our
long house schedules or the winter ceremonies or going on canoe journey, or, you know,
whatever our ceremonial obligations are. And so many times, our students will take time
off to go home for those said ceremonies, to be who they are, to learn from their own
knowledge systems, but they have to choose culturally, you know, am I going to be
involved in western academia? Or am I going to enrich my cultural experience?

M Matika Wilbur 20:22


Asking our children to choose between cultural education and Western education is
always going to set them up for failure. And so we have to, in policy, in academic systems,
create policies for Indigenous students to have the right to have religious freedom, and to
have policies for birth and death. And it's just not built into the system right now. And I
think that's a major indicator to shift. And if you don't have that policy, right now, it needs
to change. I also think creating language programs of stewardship of languages--many of
our indigenous languages are dying across the country. Dying is a word I hate to use, I'd
rather say going to sleep because we know that language can go to sleep and wake back
up. But many of our languages are sleeping. And so we need scholarship to invest in
creating partnerships and programs in teaching those languages and bringing them back
to life, which means people are speaking them daily, and the language is evolving and
changing. And we need that in our communities.

M Matika Wilbur 21:28


And I also think that we need money, you know? Money! We can have all these
conversations, but in many of our indigenous communities, you know, like there's a
misconception that Native people don't pay taxes. There's a misconception that Native
people are wealthy, there's a misconception that Native people all have gambling,
gaming, and money to go to university. And that is just not the case. Of the 572 federally
recognized tribes in the United States, only about half are invested in gaming, and only
about 10% of those are profitable. So very few of our communities have the resources to

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be able to send their kids to a four-year university, especially when their kids are, many of
them are first gen students going into academia. And that's related to historical
oppression and the marginalization of our access to academia in the first place.

M Matika Wilbur 22:16


So without the resources, it doesn't make any sense to recruit Native students to come
here. And so places say that, you know, they hire a recruiter, maybe they send them out to
reservations, but then they get here, and there's nobody representing them when they get
here, or they get here and there's no policies in place to keep them here, or they get here
and they can't afford it. And so there has to be scholarship for indigenous students that is
dedicated solely to Native students, because that sort of activism has happened in other
communities of color, but hasn't happened yet for Native communities. So I mean, I could
go on and on. But I'm going to stop there.

D Damian Radcliffe 22:53


That's okay! Mitchell, is there anything you would like to add to that?

M Mitchell Lira 23:00


I agree with that. Because I think I see a lot of my peers and for me, I'm a first generation
college student, grew up on the reservation my entire life. And I grew up in my culture, I
speak two different dialects of my language, I speak the Yakima and Warm Springs
dialects of Ichishkiin. My grandmother is a language teacher. And so I grew up like that.
And so coming here, to the University of Oregon, like my first couple terms, I failed, I failed
really badly, because I just didn't, wasn't supported. And I kind of, I think, in not having a
lot of resources around me, I felt that I wasn't good as, like, I wasn't good as my nonwhite
peers. And that was something and part of it is we do have--the university has Native
American advisors and recruitment.

M Mitchell Lira 23:44


But I think, exactly what Matika's saying, there's not structural resources here, things in
place to make sure to maintain and to ensure success, I think, on a whole other level with
indigenous and Native students. Because a lot of the faculty that we have, they're spread
thin. There's a limited number of Native and indigenous faculty here. And they have
families, they teach, and they do a lot of things on this campus. And so they, they wear
many different hats. And that's not fair to them. And they can't always adequately serve
Native students to their full potential because they're wearing multiple hats.

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M Mitchell Lira 24:21
And so I think that's the problem I've seen, I've seen other peers, people I've known that
had a lot of potential, have a lot of potential not feel confident or not have the resources
they need, or people that don't have the money, but they have so much skill and talent.
Then they have to go home or not finish school, or some of them come here, and then
they don't feel at home--this transition is hard, especially when you come from the
reservation to an environment that's predominantly white. Like, most of the school is, I
don't know the number, but it's like 80% of the school was white.

M Mitchell Lira 24:55


And so, like going from an environment where you're immersed in your culture and your
language to come to an environment like that. I don't know, for me it was like going to
another planet or something. It was just really like, Whoa. I go to class and I'm one of the
few brown people in the room, but usually always one of the few if not only native people
in the room. And so people I learn from aren't people that look like me or think like me,
and that's the hard part, too, is I have to take classes. And I think that's one of the things
that we don't talk about is the energy I have to exert the validate the way in which I want
to think and the work I want to do to professors. I have to go and do that labor for them
to see the value in why I want to do something.

M Mitchell Lira 25:38


So I think one of the things I'd like--in journalism, I don't want to do work that...because I
think with journalism, and I said this to Torsten and I think to Damian. Journalism can be
thought in the same way as science or anthropology; it's gone to Native communities,
extracted knowledge, and left. And it hasn't always humanized Native people and hasn't
done it honestly and genuinely. And I don't want to do that kind of work. And so
sometimes that collides with Western thinking, and especially Western thinking with
journalism, because it's so much of getting in and getting out and just telling a story, and
leaving. And so that's not the work I want to do.

M Mitchell Lira 26:16


And so sometimes I have to do that labor to explain why I want to do differently, and why
doing that definitely is important, and why that matters, and why my people's way of
thinking matters. And so I think that's what's hard with not having representation as
needed within journalism. But also I can imagine what that means for other disciplines in
the school, for my peers that don't do journalism.

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D Damian Radcliffe 26:38
We should say that Mitchell has been instrumental in making this visit possible. He's an
inspirational student, not just to his peers, but also to faculty, like Torsten and I. I'd love to
get both of your takes on what you would like to get out of these next sort of 36 hours or
so that you're with us, Matika. What do you hope people will leave with at the end of your
time here?

M Matika Wilbur 27:01


I don't know. I have a really hard time with that. I'm a really avid believer in 'it belongs to
the people, once you put it out there,' you know, so it's really hard for me to say, I really
hope that you walk away with this message, you know. I can really only offer the audience
that which was shared with me in the best way that I know how, and hope that there's
intersection and an opportunity for relationship-building and hope that I did my best to
be respectful and honorable to the people whose message I carry. And hopefully, you
know, I think the best thing that can come out of any interaction is the next interaction.
And so hopefully, this can be a part of that longer relationship. You know, it's the first of
many.

D Damian Radcliffe 27:43


I hope we can lay some more bricks after these next 36 hours or so.

T Torsten Kjellstrand 27:48


And I do want to say--what you said, something about that if you pursue...I'm going to
bungle this, because I'm not as articulate, but that if you lead with your heart, then there
won't be enough hours in the day. And that's Mitchell, right. Mitchell doesn't have enough
hours in the day. And I think if I didn't turn my phone off at night, he'd call me at three in
the morning to say "Hey, I got an idea!" So there is hope, I think, here, that that kind of
thing is happening.

D Damian Radcliffe 28:23


And we don't have enough hours in the day, unfortunately, to continue this conversation,
although I know that we could and we could easily talk about this until the small hours of
the morning. But I hope you enjoyed this discussion. A reminder to keep an eye out for
Matika's studio interview and other materials related to her involvement in this space on
our website, demystifying.uoregon.edu. In the meantime, remains me to just thank my

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guests, Matika Wilbur, Torsten Kjellstrand, and Mitchell Lira. Thanks so much for listening.
See you next time.

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