Category Archives: Culture

“Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story”

“Using brief statements that begin ‘fry bread is,’ Kevin Noble Maillard, who is a member of the Mekusukey band of the Seminole Nation tribe, creates a powerful meditation on the food as ‘a cycle of heritage and fortune.’  The beautiful illustrations are by Juana Martinez-Neal.” Publishers Weekly

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

Excerpt: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

In each spread, descriptions of fry bread range from the experiential (flavor, sound) to the more conceptual (nation, place). Bolstering the bold statements, spare poems emphasize fry bread in terms of provenance (‘Fry bread is history/ The long walk, the stolen land’), culture (‘Fry bread is art/ Sculpture, landscape, portrait’), and community (‘Fry bread is time/ On weekdays and holidays/ Supper or dinner/ Powwows and festivals’).

In blues and browns with bright highlights, Martinez-Neal’s wispy art features a diverse group of six children carrying ingredients and learning about each statement.

A fry bread recipe concludes the book, and an author’s note offers vital, detailed context about this varied dish and its complex history (“The story of fry bread is the story of American Indians”). Ages 3–6. (Oct.)

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illus. by Juana Martinez-Neal. Roaring Brook, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-62672-746-5

Category: Culture, Social

“Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t.”

“Indigenous work is all the rage in the Canadian art world. But life in the North [for The Inuit] is as much a struggle as ever.” C. Porter, The New York Times

Ooloosie Saila, Landscape with Rainbow (2016)

Excerpt: Drawn From Poverty: Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t. By Catherine Porter, The New York Times Photographs by Sergey Ponomarev

Hours before flying off to her debut show in Toronto, Ooloosie Saila, a rising star in the Canadian art world, was hiding in her grandmother’s room on the frozen edge of the Arctic Ocean, cowering in fear.

Between her and the future stood the man in the next room, a relative who was drunk and raging — again. Then, she packed in a frenzy. She threw the hand-sewn outfit she had chosen for the opening into a plastic garbage bag, pulled her two young sons out of bed, grabbed her art supplies and fled into the frigid night.

Kananginak Pootoogook — Inuitgallery.com

Four days and 1,425 miles found Ms. Saila at the Feheley Fine Arts gallery in Toronto, where the crowd sipped wine and gushed over her ‘bold use’ of color and negative space…Except for grade school, she has never taken an art class. It is a golden moment for the Indigenous people of Canada. At least, in theory.

The country is going through a period of atonement for its history of racism. While much of the world has turned inward, becoming more xenophobic, Canada has been consumed with making amends.

Kananginak Pootoogook — Madrona Gallery

Public meetings across the country routinely start with an acknowledgment that they are standing on traditional Indigenous lands. In history classes, Canada’s young learn about their government’s systematic attempts to erase Indigenous cultures. Buildings have been renamed, street signs changed and in one city, a statue of the country’s first prime minister removed.

Canadians call this ‘reconciliation,’ and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who faces a tight re-election vote on Monday, has made it central to his government and image.

Painting- Shuvinai Ashoona

In Ooloosie Saila, many might see the embodiment of these aspirations: an accomplished artist being feted for her depictions of the Inuit landscape in brilliant pinks and oranges.

But the world she returned to after the opening, the hamlet of Cape Dorset, is plagued by poverty, alcoholism and domestic abuse… It’s made up of scattered homes — many boarded up — an aging ice rink and a busy jail, packed with binge drinkers. With no movie theater or downtown, a general store serves as the social hub. There is a brand-new high school, but only because the old one was burned down by fume-sniffing teenagers. The town is so small the streets are unnamed.

Almost 90 percent of its residents live in public housing that is crowded, run-down, and has a three-year waiting list. Suicide is rife: The stony graveyard is dotted with crosses marking young people. More than half the residents rely on public assistance.

Untitled (Winter Scene) – Inuit Gallery of Vancouver Ltd.

Artists like Ms. Saila may do a little better, but the vast majority eke out a living, often below the poverty line. Many support large extended families that depend on them for food — most of it flown in at exorbitant cost so that a single cucumber goes for $4.50.

On long winter nights, when the sun is a five-hour memory, the temperature in Cape Dorset can reach a lung-burning 40 below zero. Still, carvers sit outside their homes under lights, transforming chunks of stone into seals and polar bears, the air ringing with the high-pitched sound of their electric grinders.

The Inuit of Cape Dorset were once the epitome of self-reliance, members of a hunting culture where everyone had a role. They lived entirely off the frozen land, searching for food by dog sled.

Then government workers lured them into the town, built around a trading post in the 1950s, with promises of permanent housing and school. In some cases, they shot their dogs, stranding them.

Officials soon took note of the Inuits’ artistic skills, and thought that they might offer a bridge to a stationary existence, a way to make a living. Art has been a central feature of Cape Dorset life since then.

In 1959, artists created a co-op with an Inuit-led board that oversaw sales and plowed profits into the creation of a general store.

In the center of town is a symbol of the co-op’s success: a new, modern $9.8 million cultural center with spacious art studios and the hamlet’s first gallery space.

Artists stream into the cultural center, work in hand, looking to be paid.’They might sit in a drawer forever,’ said the studio manager at the time, Bill Ritchie. ‘We have drawings and drawings and drawings that will never sell.’By one government estimate, most artists across the territory make only about $2,080 a year. A handful of artists top $75,000 a year.

‘If you work hard like that, that’s what could happen,’ the assistant manager, Joemee Takpaungai, told one artist, Johnny Pootoogook, who was working in the studio on a drawing of five men drumming together. It was a memory from his recent stint in jail.

Painting- Kananginak Pootoogook

Mr. Pootoogook’s father, Kananginak, who helped found the co-op, became such a successful artist that his work headlined the Venice Biennale.

But Johnny, 48, has fallen prey to abuse, depression and alcohol. He says he tried to hang himself 20 years ago. For him, art has been the one constant, but he is still waiting for his first show.

In fact, some blame art for the town’s problems.

Caribou by Kananginak Pootoogook –

‘Sometimes, when they get quite a bit of money, they use it to have access to drugs and alcohol,’ said Timoon Toonoo, the hamlet’s mayor.

By any measure imaginable, life for Indigenous people across Canada is harsh…In winter, snow covers everything — the winding roads, the polar bear skins stretching outside on homemade racks, the shells of old snowmobiles heaped in the dump. The airport is often closed and when it is, everyone is stranded: There is no other way in, or out. A few supply ships come in during the summer, but like all 25 communities in Nunavut, Cape Dorset is completely isolated.

One January evening, Ms. Saila sank into her living room couch, watching the 1980s American sitcom ‘Three’s Company,’ flanked by her two young sons and her grandmother, Sita.

Her grandparents grew up nomadically, living in igloos and sod houses. They raised Ms. Saila, but by then they had settled in town.

One night at 11, Ms. Saila sat at the kitchen table, fished a green pencil from a plastic bag on the floor and set to coloring her latest landscape. Her children were finally asleep, so she could work.

It had been three months since her art opening. What had changed in her life?

‘Nothing.’

Her time in Toronto, it seemed, had amounted to little more than fond memories and snapshots affixed to her fridge. ‘It was fun,’ she said quietly.

The co-op manager said her rate had gone up ‘big time,’ but she hadn’t noticed. How much had she saved?

‘Nothing,’ she said again.

As Ms. Saila worked, the back door burst open time and again. First came her sister. Then her brother. Then her aunt, trailing three young children and a boyfriend. They made themselves coffee and opened the fridge, rummaging for food.”

Category: Alaskan Natives, Culture | Tags:

The Miccosukee Indians Still Wrestle Alligators!

“At the edge of the Florida Everglades, the Miccosukee Tribe has carved out a culturally rich life that centers on the natural environment. Each year they celebrate with a day-long festival that exhibits the best of what they have created in what some might label an inhospitable swamp. And part of that natural environment is gators, big chomping toothy-grinned gators.” S. Hale Schulman, ICT

Excerpt: Gator wrestling? Miccosukee American Indian Day showcases airboats and yes, alligators, by Sandra Hale Schulman

“In the expansive grounds in front of the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming on a steamy 93 degree September 28th there were airboat rides, craft exhibits, exotic swamp foods of gator tail and frog legs, and the main attraction, judging by the crowds, of an alligator show. According to members of the tribe, If it wasn’t for the Native Florida villages and also the help of other eco-friendly gator farms, the American Alligator would have been extinct 30 years ago.

In a large tent, families packed the bleachers around a fenced-in sandpit to watch the spectacle they put on hourly from 11 am to 5 pm.

Miccosukee American Indian

‘I’ve been doing this for ten years,’ says gator show host Jessie before a show, whose calloused bare feet and scarred arms show the hazards of the job. ‘I started as a volunteer at the Native Village down the road and pretty soon I was General Manager. We keep the gators there, about 20 of them, in a pond. I started training with the baby gators, then the bigger teenage gators. You have to work your way up. After about 7 months I felt ready to do a show with the full-grown ones. The first time I was terrified but I wasn’t narrating. Four months later it was time to take the show over.’

‘Gators are misunderstood and need to be respected…When I narrate I have to really slow down and focus. I talk about the fear factor and how if you get attacked it’s never the gators fault, always the person’s fault. You shouldn’t be in their environment and if you are you better know what to do.’

Jessie shows the result of one of his faulty encounters, a large swath of heavily scarred skin on his right arm that went directly into the mouth of a 12-foot gator ironically named Lunch.

‘I wasn’t paying attention and he grabbed me straight on,’ he says grinning at the memory. ‘I was in the water with him and he was flipping me around like a rag doll. He rolled me a few times and as I pulled my arm out he peeled the skin clean off. In the ambulance I was in shock, they needed to do a skin graft from my leg. A few weeks later I was right back to it…’ They now have a booming tourism business with fishing licenses, National Parks and airboat rides that take visitors deep into the sawgrass swamp to see the flocks of birds and gator nesting grounds.”

How The Tembe Tribe Survives in the Amazon

“Tembe warriors in Brazil wear colourful headdresses of macaw and other feathers, and wield bow and arrows to hunt and protect their homeland, which is constantly under threat in the globally vital Amazon region. Like their ancestors, the Tembe plant trees to teach their children the value of preserving the world’s largest rainforest, which is a critical bulwark against global warming.” R. Rodrigo, The Guardian

Tembe warriors -Photos- Rodrigo Abd:AP

 

Excerpt: Daily Life of Amazonian Tembe tribes, Rodrigo, NPR

“Lorival Tembe, the eldest chieftain and a founder of Tekohaw, poses for a portrait during the meeting in the Tekohaw village. ‘The Amazon is ending and that’s why we’re here — so that it doesn’t end,’ he said.’

Lorival Tembe–Photos- Rodrigo Abd:AP

 

Women and children congregate around a broken public  telephone after a gathering of Tembe tribe members in the Tekohaw village, in Para state, Brazil.

Tembe tribe members

 

Tawa Chirando, 17, poses for a portrait. Tembe hunt with bows and arrows, fish for piranhas and gather wild plants,  while some watch soap operas on television or check the  internet on phones inside thatch-roof huts.

Tawa Chirando

 

Sandra Tembe, 46, poses for a portrait. She is the director of  the school at Tekohaw village, where the walls are adorned  with paintings of indigenous maracas and Amazonian animals such as piranhas and snakes. ‘The body paintings are a symbol of our link to nature,’ she said.

Sandra Tembe-Photos- Rodrigo Abd:AP

 

Siblings and cousins gather in the village of Ka ‘a kyr around a mobile phone on a purple hammock to watch a children’s  cartoon on YouTube at the home of Gleison Tembe.

Siblings and cousins gather to watch cartoons on a mobile phone. — Photos- Rodrigo Abd:AP

 

Cajueiro chieftain Sergio Muxi Tembe waits for the tank of his  motorcycle to be filled in Para state. ‘We know Bolsonaro  doesn’t like Indians. He’s anti-Indian,’ said the chief,  wearing a headdress of macaw and other feathers and a traditional bone bracelet on his wrist next to a Casio digital  watch. ‘We have a different culture and that culture must be respected.’

Cajueiro chieftain Sergio Muxi Tembe Photos- Rodrigo Abd:AP

 

Villagers watch a soap opera on television in their home in the village Tekohaw. Daily life in the remote Tembe indigenous villages in the Amazon jungle of Brazil mixes tradition and modernity.”

Villagers watch a soap opera…Photograph- Rodrigo Abd:AP

Category: Culture | Tags:

Diné Flmmaker and Actors Worked Together on a ‘Spec Commercial’

“A spec is a ‘made-up’ commercial that filmmakers use to showcase their talent and potential. That is exactly what Diné filmmaker Christopher Nataanii Cegielski did when he created his New Balance spec called ‘For Any Run.’ A. Chavez, ICT

Colleen Biakeddy, who played the grandma, Cegielski and Micah Chee who portrays the grandson.

Excerpt: Behind the scenes: ‘Grandma! Sheep is running away’ Allyah Chavez, ICT

“The video is a product of the Commercial Directors Diversity Program, an organization that provides guidance, exposure and tools for minority directors who hope to work in the industry. Cegielski, 28, was selected out of more than 300 applicants to participate as a fellow of the program, the first Indigenous filmmaker. So over the course of six months, he attended workshops, shadowed industry employees and created mentorships. His final project: ‘For Any Run.’

For Cegielski, the story began with an idea of a Diné grandmother who chased her sheep and did flips. He worked for three months researching brands, writing scripts, putting together pitch decks, choosing a cast and even budgeting. In total, his one-minute commercial cost approximately $16,000.

In the initial phases the commercial advertised an ASICS shoe instead of New Balance. After further research, Cegielski observed that the tone of the ASICS brand was geared towards ‘serious’ athletes. He saw that New Balance had a more “playful” tone — and that it fit in line with his light-hearted and fun vision.

‘I had to think about everything the right way,’ Cegielski said. With this in mind, he says his goal was to create something that Indian Country could watch.

The commercial was shot in mid-August in Pinion, Arizona, where a large crew made up of actors, producers, directors and cameramen worked together. Photo by A. Banks.

‘For far too long there has been non-Native people making Native material,’ Cegielski said. “It’s always about oppression… I just wanted to change that.’

The commercial led him to meeting Diné actors Colleen Biakeddy, who played the grandma, and Micah Chee who portrays the grandson. In true Diné fashion, the trio discovered they all belong to the Ta’chii’nii, or Red Running Into Waterclan, after they met in person. The commercial was shot in mid-August over two days.

This was Biakeddy’s first acting role. But the fifty-year-old is not new to sheep herding. Her day starts with checking on her cattle near Big Mountain in Arizona, some 53 miles south of Kayenta…The role for her was important because of how it represents Diné grandmothers. She appreciated the attention to detail, noting that grandmothers in her community ‘really do’ cover their feet using tennis shoes, or whatever it takes to get work done…In case you wondered, Biakeddy did not do her own stunts (though she notes she had to do a somersault in her casting audition).

Her stunt double was Conrad Weitzel, a parkour athlete from Phoenix…The spec has now been seen throughout Indian Country, largely motivated by social media. The video on Instagram alone has been viewed more than 10,000 times since last Friday.”

Category: Culture, Films, Navajo

Chief Standing Bear (Ponca Tribe) Finally Gets Recognition in the U.S. Capitol

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), participate in the dedication ceremony for the statue of Ponca Chief Standing Bear of Nebraska

Excerpt: The civil rights leader ‘almost nobody knows about’ gets a statue in the U.S. Capitol, Gillian Brockell, The Washington Post

“That act of grief and love set in motion a chain of events that would make Standing Bear a civil rights hero. On Wednesday, he was honored with a statue representing the state of Nebraska in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Standing Bear was born sometime between 1829 and 1834 in the Ponca tribe’s native lands in northern Nebraska. A natural leader, he became a chief at a young age, according to the Nebraska History Museum.

By 1858, the Poncas were forced to cede most of their land except for a small area by the Niobrara River, where they became farmers rather than buffalo hunters. But they did well, growing corn and trading with white settlers often. Ten years later, as described by Dee Alexander Brown in the classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the remaining Ponca land was mistakenly included in a treaty between the United States and the Sioux tribes.

Although the Poncas protested over and over again to Washington, officials took no action… The U.S. government finally took action in 1876 but not in the way the Poncas had hoped. Congress declared that the Poncas would be moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in exchange for $25,000…when the Poncas declined the inferior land they were offered in Oklahoma, they were forced to leave anyway.

By the time they arrived in Oklahoma in 1878, it was too late in the season to plant; they also didn’t get any of the farming equipment the government had promised them. More than a third of the Poncas died of starvation and disease — including Standing Bear’s sister and his beloved son. Standing Bear and his burial party evaded capture while they traveled home but were caught and detained after visiting relatives at the Omaha reservation.

The man who caught them, Brig. Gen. George Crook, had been fighting Native Americans for decades, Brown wrote, but he was moved by Standing Bear’s reasons for leaving the Indian Territory and promised to help him.

Crook went to the media, which spread the story of the plight of Standing Bear and his fellow prisoners nationwide. Then two lawyers offered to take up their case pro bono, and asked a judge to free the Poncas immediately.

Though Crook was sympathetic to Standing Bear, since he was the official carrying out the federal government’s orders to detain them, the civil rights case that resulted was called Standing Bear v. Crook.

The U.S. attorney argued that Standing Bear was neither a citizen nor a person, and as such did not have standing to sue the government.

On the second day, Chief Standing Bear was called to testify, becoming the first Native American to do so.

Chief Standing Bear in his formal attire in 1877. (National Anthropological Archives:Smithsonian Institution

He raised his right hand and, through an interpreter, said: “My hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. The same god made us both. I am a man.

The judge agreed, ruling for the first time in U.S. history that the Indian is a ‘person’  and has all the rights and freedoms promised in the Constitution. The judge also ordered Crook to free Standing Bear and his people immediately. Standing Bear returned to the land by the Niobrara River and buried his son alongside his ancestors. When he died there in 1908, he was buried alongside them, too.

A few decades later, in 1937, the state of Nebraska sent two statues to the U.S. Capitol. Each state is allowed to pick two historical figures to represent them in National Statuary Hall, and Nebraska chose politician William Jennings Bryan and Arbor Day founder Julius Sterling Morton…In recent years, Nebraska lawmakers voted to replace both statues. Bryan was replaced by Chief Standing Bear; soon, Morton will be replaced by a statue of [American] author Willa Cather.

At the dedication ceremony Wednesday, which included Ponca tribal leaders and members of the House and Senate, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said it was an honor to recognize ‘one of the most important civil rights leaders in our country that almost nobody knows about.”

 

Category: Culture