Dyani White Hawk is an artist based in Minneapolis. Drawing from her multicultural background and education, she creates paintings and mixed-media works that speak to her upbringing as a Lakota woman in an urban American landscape. Her works are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Minneapolis Institute of Art, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art, and Tweed Museum of Art, as well as other public and private collections. In October 2017, she moderated an online discussion for Walker Reader entitled, “How Can Contemporary Art Be More Inclusive of Native Voices?“
Montaño, a 28-year-old Diné woman who grew up on the Navajo reservation, just earned the inaugural UFC female flyweight belt. As Native people, we very rarely get to see ourselves represented on a national stage. So watching this fight, an achievement for women and Native people, was amazing! Her win was hard-earned, lasting the entire five rounds, and Montaño won by unanimous decision—on a broken foot! She was gracious in her post-fight interview, respectful of her opponent, and acknowledged all those that supported her journey. She made time to address her people in the Diné language. My husband is Diné, as are our two daughters. This Diné, Quechan, San Carlos Apache, Omaha, Lakota household felt like we all won that night. After our ecstatic cheering, I nudged my 15-year-old daughter and whispered to her, “Anything is possible!”
SCAFFOLD AND JIMMIE DURHAM
I can barely write about these events at this point. So, I’m not going attempt to summarize what unfolded (if you’re unfamiliar, a quick Google search will provide a wealth of articles). What I would like to emphasize is something that isn’t the focus of stories on these topics. The emotional, mental, time, energy, and resource drain that dealing with these two episodes has been on Native people and communities is immense. Any act of resistance is an act done of necessity—fueled by passion, love, commitment, and belief. But that work is unpaid, often under-appreciated, and always coupled with intense criticism, potential violence, and, in today’s world, online attacks emboldened by disconnect from a person’s humanity. Please take a moment to remember all the individuals who contributed their time, heart, passion, intelligence, expertise, and cultural knowledge without compensation. They provided important perspective and education that resulted in moments of growth in the field. Ideally, this heightened awareness will snowball and contribute to increased diversity and cultural respect for all people in the arts. Each person who protested, wrote, researched, attended meetings, made signs, organized did so because they know it is imperative to the health and well-being of Native people, our country, and our world, that indigenous people are equally and respectfully included, featured, and heard. Moral of the story: before you pass judgement—or before you academically think your way through a point of view counter to the people protesting—listen and believe that they are the experts on their own people, their own history, and the impact actions have on their communities.
On that note, below are links to just a few museums and galleries that support amazing work happening in the Native arts field today. This list is far from comprehensive. I encourage you to look over artist names (check out their websites), search past exhibitions, follow leads and dive in!
IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art
Portland Art Museum
The National Museum of the American Indian
Peabody Essex Museum
Denver Art Museum
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
National Gallery of Canada
Art Mûr Montreal
Blue Rain Gallery
OMG, JAY-Z. First off, thank you! I needed this. I grew up on ’90s hip-hop, most especially loving the melodic underground conscious hip-hop of the era. But like any other hip-hop junkie, I have a deep love for beats, regardless of how woke (or not) the lyrics may be. So, of course, I’ve been a JAY-Z fan for a long time. But now 41 years old, a mother of two daughters, and sober for 17 years, I’ve reached a place in my life where I can only tolerate lyrics that degrade women for the sake of an occasional beat-specific indulgence. But if I’m working in my studio and making pieces that I hope promote positivity, I often find myself skipping past tracks I once loved because my heart hurts too much to hear words that dehumanize women. So when I listened to 4:44, I listened in utter silence, holding back the lump in my throat, in awe and with a deep gratitude. So goddamn—thank you JAY-Z, for being brave enough to get real, be honest, talk about shortcomings, mistakes, vulnerability, self-revelations and growth. We need so much more of this—and, most especially, from men. Oh, and JAY-Z, art as investment? YES! Investment in your own Legacy, but also in ours. Collecting from artists whose values, life challenges, and goals are aligned with yours is one way we can collectively define our legacies while lifting one another up. In the same way that we collected musicians’ work throughout the years, it would be amazing to see a movement of economically successful POC and LGBTQ musicians seriously investing in visual artists. I want to see that news headline. I want to see how that could help redefine what is represented in major art institutions.
My daughters and I walked with friends, among thousands of people that on that day also felt like friends, towards the St. Paul capital. My teenager thanked me for taking her, inspired and moved by the energy and importance of what was happening.
We still have a long way to go before we reach governing bodies reflective of our populations. But there was definitely reason to celebrate the 2017 elections. We saw notable and important results that shed some light and hope on what has been a really, really tough year. Among quite a number of firsts for minority, female, and recent immigrant representation in elected positions throughout the country, we also gained some of our first openly LGBTQ city and state leaders. YAY, to steps forward!!
And here in Minnesota alone, we rejoiced in a number of those wins with four Native American members of the house, Reps. Susan Allen, Peggy Flanagan, Jamie Becker-Finn, and Mary Kunesh-Podein; our first African American mayor of St. Paul, Melvin Carter; and the first transgender African American woman, Andrea Jenkins, and transgender African American man, Philippe Cuningham, as Minneapolis City Council members.
STANDING ROCK & BEYOND
Because Standing Rock wasn’t over in 2016. February 2017 is when they arrested 46 protectors and tore down and bulldozed the camps. Because another spill—of 5,000 barrels or 210,000 gallons from the Dakota Access pipeline—was reported in November 2017. You know, because pipelines leak. Because Red Fawn’s charges still haven’t been dropped. Because there are a number of water protectors whose lives will never be the same due to severe injuries at the hands of police and hired “security.” Because what we saw at Standing Rock isn’t a one-year issue. These issues continue in Standing Rock and beyond, such as with Line 3 in northern Minnesota: From Honor the Earth: “Enbridge’s Line 3 is proposed to transport tar sands oil over 1000 miles… right through the heart of Anishinaabe territory and some of the best lakes and wild rice beds in the world. The proposed route endangers three of the continent’s major watersheds including the Great Lakes, home to one fifth of the world’s fresh water. It would also pierce the heart of Ojibwe treaty lands.”
And in the most recent attack, 45 drastically reducing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by staggering amounts. Each of these monuments have cultural importance to five surrounding tribes as well as being important outdoor and athletic resources to all citizens as public lands. Not to mention the potential environmental damage if the commodification of these lands is allowed.
TAKING DOWN MONUMENTS THAT
MEMORIALIZE OUR NATION’S RACIST HISTORY
Removing monuments does not by any means erase, ignore, or cover up our history. That history isn’t going anywhere. We’re so far away from ridding ourselves of our negative, unhealthy, violent, racist past it’s quite sad. We’ve seen the persistence of this ugly plague on humanity publicly resurface drastically since 45 started campaigning. The removal of such monuments does, although, signal a conscious decision around who we choose to honor, what we see as so important that we cast it in bronze or carve it from stone and place it in front of some of our most important institutions and public spaces. And if we have grown beyond exalting men that were slave owners, ordered the hanging of 38 Dakota men, or fought in support of the confederacy, then, right on, sounds to me like we’re on a good path. By all means, as a people we should be critically thinking about what we memorialize.
ACCOUNTABILITY, #METOO, AND AWARENESS
For Native American women, the statistics on violence are staggering. Native women are being murdered at a rate 10 times the national average. Native women face rates of sexual violence and physical assault that are 2½ times higher than violence against any other group of women in the United States.
The image above was from a small performance piece I created when asked to speak at the ReSisterhood event presented by Global Rights for Women this year. I was grateful for the opportunity through my own work to help shed light on the epidemic of violence Native women face.
This is a human epidemic, and I am excited and hopeful to see such a surge of resistance this year. Thank you to every woman brave enough to step forward and tell her story. And to each journalist who worked hard and took risks to tell these stories. And to Tarana Burke and women like her who work to help people heal from this kind of trauma. Burke, an African-American activist began the “me too” work, which she notes is an important first step in a long journey of healing. Even though coming forward often means reliving some of the worst moments in a person’s life, thank you to everyone willing to tell their story and expose the sad truth that nearly every woman alive has a story. Like any other cycle of dysfunction it thrives in the dark. Keep shining the light, folks.
COLIN KAEPERNICK & NATE BOYER
The only way to fight our biggest demons is to bravely take a stance. But it also requires listening, compassion and a willingness to grow. I’m so proud of Kaepernick. And I am equally as proud of Nate Boyer. The reality is we all love this land base and our families and friends that live here, regardless of how or when we got here. (Because the reality is every citizen here who is not Native American comes from an immigrant background. #dreamActNow!) And yet, we can see from each of our perspectives that we are flawed. The absolute truth that inspired Colin Kaepernick to take a knee was the pain he felt watching black male after black male lose their lives at the hands of police, whose duty it is to protect and serve us all—and, subsequently, watching these officers routinely excused from any responsibility to the lives they took and the lives irrevocably changed in the wake of their actions. That’s real. It’s not a theory. And it is beyond wrong. It is a symptom of our history. And we cannot heal our wounds until we address them. Regardless of your stance on taking a knee, remember both sides come from love of their people—who are also our people, our neighbors, and our relatives. And when we are in trouble, we must call for help. It is not about taking for granted all that the flag represents. African Americans hold the highest numbers for active-duty minorities in the military. I understand this from within my own community as well. Statistics show that Native American people are shot by police at the highest rate in the country per capita. We, too, know this pain. Yet, we also have the highest rates of volunteer military service per capita. This isn’t about a lack of love or respect. But rather it’s about asking our country to truly demonstrate and live the values we are purportedly founded on, values the flag is supposed to symbolize and that we collectively fight for. Until then, in many of our hearts, the flag flies half-staff or upside-down to signal the distress our communities continue to suffer as direct results of generations of governmental policies.
I had an amazing trip to Atlanta this year. I love that city. My lifelong friend who now lives there took me on a tour of murals across the city. So many great works! Check out Living Walls, a nonprofit that “promotes the power of public art as a social and economic engine, providing an artistic workforce to create healthy, sustainable urban spaces for the city of Atlanta.”
We also visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights. It is an amazing space, so well designed and curated. A deeply emotional journey to take: as much as it is difficult, it is inspiring. One important takeaway for me was the vital role women and youth had in the Civil Rights movement. It made me think about parallels in the Native American rights movements. Standing Rock, for example, was started by youth, and the American Indian Movement was started at the direction of women.
And the High Museum. I’ve enjoyed every visit I’ve had there. It’s such a beautiful museum with a stunning collection. I so love their contemporary galleries. It was also refreshing to see a section in their contemporary galleries dedicated to diverse representation. One day we’ll get to a place where that special dedication won’t be necessary, it’ll be everywhere. But until then, I’m always grateful to institutions that make certain they are pushing back against historical homogeneity.
Two standout exhibitions I thoroughly enjoyed were Amy Elkins: Black is the Day, Black is the Night, “exploring the psychological effects of long-term solitary confinement,” and Paul Graham: The Whiteness of the Whale (past) examining “the state of race and social class in America while using the very nature of sight and the medium of photography as metaphors for inequality, invisibility, and the ways photographs inflect our perceptions of the world.”