The Art of Resistance


the art of resistance 1-web.jpgArt is powerful. For Indigenous

communities, art is medicine with incredible healing properties. It

is a way to create beauty in the messy process of decolonization. It

is also a means to educate, inspire and enliven Indigenous activist


Minneapolis is no stranger to

Indigenous activism, so the “Art of Resistance” exhibition

opening on the American Indian Cultural Corridor’s All My Relations

Gallery complemented the rich activist history in the Twin Cities.

The traveling exhibit reflect over 30 years of environmental justice

work of Honor the Earth, a national Native-led organization based in

White Earth, Minn. Featuring 20 Indigenous local and national

artists, the exhibit is only one aspect to a broader partnership and

collaborative effort to engage Native activists in the Twin Cities.

The Native American Community

Development Institute hosted a first of its kind “Community Art

Night” inspired by the “Art of Resistance” on Feb. 9. Graci

Horne, (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) Associate Curator for All My

Relations Gallery, was inspired by similar events during her time as

a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New


Over 50 community members came

together to share space, food and to create art together on small

canvases to express their own activist work. NACDI Community

Organizer Ashley Fairbanks (White Earth Ojibwe) shared insight about

the event, “It’s important for our community to see this gallery

as their space, as belonging to them.” Finished art pieces

completed by community members will be featured on the “Mni Art

Wall” appearing in Pow Wow Grounds Coffee Shop located next to the


One of the mainstays of Indigenous

teachings is that at some point in Native lives, community members

have a chance to be leaders and bring forth their own gifts and

talents to benefit the community. Fairbanks believes the event is one

way to help bring out our people’s strengths, “This is an

opportunity for our community members who may not see themselves as

artists a chance to see themselves in that lens and to see their work


In the spirit of

activism, the exhibit’s youth work is designed to develop leadership

roles, using art to reconnect the Native community with the sacred

relationship to traditional tobacco. A partnership to that end is the

development of Native youth leadership project through the arts.

Lannesse Baker (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), Native Youth Alliance of

Minnesota Executive Director, developed a partnership with Honor the

Earth Organizer and 2014 Bush Fellow Charlie Thayer (Lac Courte

Oreilles Ojibwe) and ClearWay Minnesota Senior Community Development

Manager CoCo Villaluz (Hidatsa) to co-facilitate a youth lead


As 2012 Creative Community Leadership

Institute participants with Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, Thayer

and Villaluz began discussing an arts project to share with the

American Indian community in the Twin Cities to promote well being.

The genesis of this project was born from their conversations. Thayer

understands the potential creativity has to make change in our

community, “There is power in activism through art. Visual art

plays an important role as it has the ability to stimulate and

encourage a unifying perspective. When channeled as a vehicle, it

carries issues of consciousness where it can be a catalyst for

meaningful change.”

Upcoming Mural Projectthe art of resistance 2-web.jpg

The Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota

was happy to host planning meetings that will ultimately lead to the

installations of three new mural projects in the East Phillips

community beginning in April 2015. Baker felt honored to be working

with youth and community on this project, “It’s a powerful

experience to work in partnership with youth and adults to co-create

and co-lead a creative process to use art to improve positive

presence in our community. We are hoping the community feels that

these pieces belong to them and inspire them toward their own


Native youth leaders participating in

the project have connected quite naturally with one another and to

the work itself. Sierra Villebrun (Bois Fort Ojibwe) is a junior at

All Nations South High School shared her perspective on decolonizing

through art, “The government keeps us secret because of everything

that has happened in this country. We’re here to tell the world

through our art that we’re still here and we’re here to tell the

truth in a beautiful way.” In this way, art proves to raise the

consciousness of Native culture.

Abel Martinez (Ho-Chunk) expressed his

ideas as well, “We have a chance to educate people [with the

murals] and have them learn things about our people they wouldn’t

regularly learn about.”

Of the three murals painted, one will

be on the First Nations Recovery Center, one on the Minneapolis

American Indian Center and the third at Little Earth of United


Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute), a

contemporary Indigenous visual artist implementing the imagery of pop

culture to challenge stereotypes of Native people, accepted the

opportunity to lead the mural projects in the Twin Cities along with

visual artist Cheyenne Randall (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe). He often

utilizes classic images by applying modern artistic layers, inviting

viewers into a new world one could only imagine.

Spending much time in Little Earth as

a child, Randall is self-taught and has been deeply influenced by his

late father, Robert Randall. He reflects upon his work, “There are

times when I complete a piece and take a step back and feel a

celestial collaboration with my father.” He feels he is continuing

in his legacy, “My father’s goal was to work with youth and

create murals one day.”

Deal and Randall will be working with

members of the Minneapolis American Indian community to hear what it

is they envision a healthy connection to tobacco and wellness and

implement these concepts that emerge from listening sessions into the

murals. In this way, these murals really do belong to the community.

Villaluz’s passion is to facilitate

tribal communities through a process of reclaiming sacred

relationship to tobacco. She believes strongly that through the arts,

this is a powerful way to return to traditional teachings. “We come

from a very unique place as Indigenous people and when we come

together, our Ancestors are there with us.”

Top photo: Twin Cities Native American community members come together to share

space and embrace creativity at the Community Art Night, inspired by

"The Art of Resistance" exhibit at All My Relations Gallery from Feb. 17

to May 9. (Photo by Deanna StandingCloud)

Bottom photo: Finished canvases from NACDI’s Art of Indigenous Resistance Community Art Night on Feb. 9. (Photo by Deanna StandingCloud)