The Arts
“LaRose” is spiritually uplifting
Tuesday, March 14 2017
Written by Michael Tidemann,
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By Louise Erdrich

larosebookcover.jpgIn this spiritually uplifting novel, Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe) shows how one family’s sacrifice heals the sorrow of another. When Landreaux Iron accidentally kills his neighbor Peter Ravich’s son Dusty while hunting deer, a great loss falls upon both the Iron and Ravich families. After cleansing himself spiritually in a sweat lodge, Landreaux follows an ancient Native American tradition and gives his youngest – and most beloved – son LaRose to Peter and his wife Nola.

It’s neither an immediate nor easy solution. As the Raviches continue to struggle with their loss of Dusty and anger at Peter, LaRose struggles to be accepted by the Ravich’s daughter Maggie who first taunts then accepts him. The Iron family also deals with problems of their own. It’s LaRose, though, who even as a small boy goes on his own vision quest and calls upon the help of his ancestors to help mend the two families. As he tells his new sister Maggie, he’s just not any kid, he has spirit helpers. Maggie and LaRose soon become accomplices in their efforts to keep Nola from committing suicide.

Erdrich masterfully weaves two other strands into the story. One is of the first LaRose, a young Native American girl first adopted then wed by a kind but surly trapper Wolfred. Her remains are stolen after her death, cruelly exhibited, and mysteriously disappear after a break-in. Erdrich also brings into the story Romeo, once best friend of Landreaux, later a ne’er-do-well who was severely crippled when he broke his friend’s fall from a bridge. Romeo has ever since held a grudge against Landreaux – a grudge that builds to the point of his wanting to take Landreaux’s life. All three strands join in an explosive conclusion.

Erdrich  is the winner of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa. For more information, see: .

Renewing What They Gave Us: Native Artist-in-Residence Program
Wednesday, February 08 2017
Written by Benjamin Gessner,
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mnhistoricalsoc1.jpgCultural artistic practices are continuous; they are passed down from one generation to the next. Each generation – and each artist – makes choices about what they will retain and what they will alter in order to express themselves, while still paying respect to those that came before them. Due to the legacy of colonialism, of intense pressure to change lifeways, and of the collecting of Native American materials by non-Natives, sometimes this transference of artistic knowledge has been interrupted.  
Museums must recognize their colonial legacy, and they must serve as resources for Native communities. They should act as a platform for traditional artists to connect with works created by their ancestors that are held in collections, and should also provide support for community members who are learning, practicing, teaching and oftentimes recovering cultural art forms.
In 2014, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) developed – and has since operated – the Native American Artist-in-Residence Program (NAAIR) to support the continuation and recovery of traditional material arts. NAAIR is one of only a few similar programs across the country and unique in its design. Participating artists are selected through an application process by an advisory panel consisting of culturally knowledgeable, community member experts; to date, jurors have included writers, curators, community advocates and artists – all Native American and all connected to the region.
Each residency award provides individual artists with $25,000, open access to the MNHS collections, a travel stipend and support to visit regional museums or other knowledgeable peer artists or elders, and the promise to purchase at least one artwork for the museum permanent collection. Each resident artist is expected to reach into their community to share what they’ve learned during their time as a resident.
Between 2014 and 2016, the NAAIR program served five artists and their communities. Beginning in September, 2017, works by these artists will be on exhibit at the History Center museum in St. Paul.
Jessica Gokey, a beadwork artist, is an enrolled member of the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) tribe in Wisconsin. During her residency, Jessica studied numerous examples of Ojibwe beadwork. Inspired by a 19th Century Ojibwe table covering, she created her piece Native Foods Ojibwe Beadwork Tablecloth which illustrates nearly 20 traditional plants used as food or medicine.
mnhitoricalsoc2.jpgPat Kruse is a birchbark artist enrolled in the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who lives in the Mille Lacs community in Minnesota. Pat studied a wide range of historic birchbark pieces and recreated many of the forms, embellishing them with his own unique style. He and his son, Gage, created more than 40 different patterns, each based on a specific historic object. Pat distributed copies of these patterns to more than 20 Tribal Nations in the Great Lakes area. “These aren’t my patterns,” he told them. “They’re ours.”
Denise Lajimodiere is an enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. She practices Mazinibakajige, the Ojibwe art of birchbark biting (the Ojibwe word translates to “pictures upon the bark”). During her residency, Denise connected with the handful of other artists in the U.S. and Canada who practice this art form. Committed to the revitalization of this unique cultural artform, Denise lectures, holds workshops, and works one-on-one with apprentices.
Gwen Westerman is an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota Oyate. Over the course of her residency, Gwen examined the practice of Dakota ribbonwork applique, which has often been associated with American Indian cultures from further east than Minnesota, the traditional homeland of her ancestors, the Dakota.
Gween said, “Working with collections of textile works made by Dakota women brought me into direct contact with their techniques... Holding their work in my hands, some of it 160 years old, was like holding their hands.”
Holly Young is a Dakota beadwork artist enrolled in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. As a Resident artist, Holly studied collections at MNHS and many other institutions across the country. As floral work in this region is often strictly associated with the Ojibwe, Holly is committed to revitalizing the artistry and collective understanding of the unique style of historic Dakota floral beadwork.
The Native American Artist in Residence program is currently seeking submissions for the upcoming round of funding. Artists from the four state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota who are practicing traditional material arts are encouraged to apply.
NAAIR is open to Native American artists currently residing in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Enrollment in a federally recognized tribe is not a requirement, but the artist must be recognized by his or her community and demonstrate significant artistic knowledge. Deadline is April 1, 2017. For information, see:
Arts helps develop personal identities and talents
Monday, January 09 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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tworiversgallery.jpgThe new year is starting with a strong emphasis on helping young Native people develop and define their own identities while advancing their artistic talents through photography and storytelling. Until Jan. 27, six Twin Cities high school students have large photographs in an exhibition at the Two Rivers Gallery located in the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

Mazinaakizige: American Indian Teen Photography Project is an internship and training collaboration between the Minnesota Historical Society and PATCkids. Details were being worked out in late December for the artistic photo collection to become a traveling exhibit, said Two Rivers executive director Maggie Thompson.

Separately, young students in the Duluth area have also turned to cameras to hone artistic skills and storytelling talents for a 2017 calendar, “Through Our Eyes.” It partly serves as a fundraiser for the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) that has several housing programs for urban Native Americans in Duluth.

AICHO sells the 13-month calendars for $15 each, plus $5 for shipping and handling; and it does offer bulk rates for large orders.   
Calendar sales mostly cover costs of production and printing, said Michelle LeBeau, AICHO’s development director. That, in turn, helps AICHO to work with young people from its housing programs to develop their talents and self-esteem, and realize their own strenths as well as their cultural strengths, she said.

Kristine Sorensen, an educator with the St. Paul-based In-Progress group that mentored the Duluth young people, said there are “two-fold” objectives behind the annual photography, storytelling and calendar project. It does build young peoples’ self-identify, she said, and it allows some of the young people to develop marketable skills that could lead to careers in various media and visual arts.  

That is the strikingly obvious connection of present and future opportunities for the students whose works are on display at Two Rivers Gallery. The student artists participating in the exhibit include: Joe Ettawageshik, a freshman at Breck School in Golden Valley from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa (Upper Peninsula of Michigan); Amoreina Espinosa, a sophomore at Twin Cities Academy in St. Paul, who descends from the Aztec of Mexico and the Red Lake and White Earth Ojibwe cultures; Angel Swann, a senior at Armstrong High School in Robbinsdale who traces her culture to the White Earth Nation; Marco Hunt, a senior at Breck School who traces his origins to Ho-Chunk, Oglala Lakota and Buffalo Clan Ojibwe from Leech Lake; Nolan Berglund, a sophomore at Harding High School in St. Paul, a descendant of Northern Cheyenne (Lame Deer, Mont.) and Oglala Lakota (Pine Ridge, S.D.); and Shaw Handley, a student at Fair Senior High School in Minneapolis. He is originally from Rapid City, S.D., and traces his origins to the Sicangu Lakota at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

In biographical information accompanying their art at Two Rivers Gallery, Berglund said he thought of how the medicine wheel represents four stages of life – infancy, adolescence, adulthood and “elderhood.” “Each of my photos express the stages of life and how throughout the stages we gain knowledge that guides us down the right path...,” he wrote.

The Minnesota Historical Society said the name of the project, Mazinaakizige, can be loosely translated from Ojibwe to mean “one (or he or she) take picture.”

How encompassing this art form can be is expressed in the biographical material from Marco Hunt. He said he was inspired by the portraiture on school walls. In joining the program, he said, “I learned how to photograph subjects that move rather than still life alone, as I was doing in the past.

“I hope the audience is able to see the relationship with the photo, to understand that it is okay to lean on your friends for support, and to strengthen those connections,” he said.

For information about the Two Rivers Gallery exhibit and the Mazinaakizige: American Indian Teen Photography Project, check websites:

For information on the American Indian Community Housing Organization, its youth photography project, and how to order 2017 calendars, check these websites:

Native Documentary Shorts Screening
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Catherine,
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In Progress and the Sundance Institute will show a curated selection of Native short documentaries by Sundance Film Festival alumni. The films represent a diversity of tribal nations, with films exploring Native identity and cultural evolution in a rapidly changing world.
The Sundance Institute Native and Indigenous Program staff will also have a discussion with filmmaker Billy Luther about his work and the art of documentary filmmaking.

Films that will be Screened include:
• Nikamowin (Kevin Lee Burton, Swampy Cree). This experimental work plays with the human connection to language to make a statement about the loss of Native languages.
• Mobilize (Caroline Monnet, Algonquin). Guided expertly by those who live on the land and driven by the pulse of the natural world, Mobilize takes veiwers on an exhilarating journey from the far north to the urban south. Hands swiftly thread sinew through snowshoes. Axes expertly peel birch bark to make a canoe. A master paddler navigates icy white waters. In the city, Mohawk ironworkers stroll across steel girders, almost touching the sky, and a young woman asserts her place among the towers. The fearless polar punk rhythms of Tanya Tagaq’s Uja underscore the perpetual negotiation between the modern and traditional by a people always moving forward.
• Jáaji Approx (Sky Hopinka, Ho-Chunk and Pechanga). Against images of landscapes that he and his father once traversed, filmmaker Sky Hopinka overlays audio recordings of his father speaking in the Ho-Chunk language which is then transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet, narrowing the distance between recorder and recordings, new and traditional, memory and song.
• Natchiliagniaqtuguk Aapagulu/Seal Hunting With Dad (Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Iñupiaq). An Iñupiaq father teaches his son to hunt seals on the frozen Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska.
• Red Lake (Billy Luther, Diné/Hopi/Laguna Pueblo). In 2005 the Red Lake Indian Reservation was at the center of national media attention after a devastating mass school shooting. Ten years later, survivors continue to heal long after the national spotlight has faded.
For more information about Sundance Institute Native and Indigenous Program and In Progress:;

The event will take place on July 15, from 6-8 p.m and includes a reception following the program.
Free and open to the public, at In Progress, 213 Front Avenue, in Saint Paul. RSVP by July 11 at:

Native community pushes back against Scott Seekins’ art
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Katie spielberge/TC daily planet,
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seekinswithhisart.jpg“If Scott Seekins had taken photos of Auschwitz and inserted himself into those photos, I can’t even imagine the moral outrage,” said Anishinaabe artist and activist Ashley Fairbanks. “This is art about genocide.”

Inside the crowded Douglas Flanders & Associates gallery on May 14, one of Minneapolis’ most recognizable artists, Scott Seekins, opened his exhibit “The New Eden,” a collection of paintings and drawings depicting the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Many of the pieces seem to mimic Plains Indian art forms, including work created on ledger paper.

Images of Seekins himself appear throughout the collection, which is typical of his work. But when Seekins, a white man, paints himself next to Britney Spears – which he did throughout the 2000s – it’s different than inserting himself into cultural work dealing with genocide and oppression.

Back in February of this year, Seekins similarly poached Southern Black culture in a series exhibited at Gamut Gallery titled “Uniquely Dark.” The paintings and drawings were co-created with his partner, Aleister White, and borrowed heavily from traditional Louisiana voodoo in an intimate depiction of their romance gone sour. Gamut Gallery could not be reached for comment on this story.

“I think a lot of times people are either being provocative to be provocative or being provocative because they don’t know better,” Fairbanks said. Since artists are expected to be ‘provocative,’ they are often excused from dialogues about race…. people will make those excuses for you. There’s no demand for people to respond, and you don’t have to, because you’re an artist.”

Taylor Payer, gallery associate at All My Relations Arts, a gallery owned and supported by Native artists, said “the art world traditionally has been a white world.” On Seekins’ newest exhibit she says, “It’s a depiction of Dakota history, but a very poor one.” And especially when plenty of Native artists are creating and showing work in a wide variety of styles in galleries and museums across the Twin Cities.

“It’s a perpetuation of the American narrative,” Fairbanks said. “Native erasure [had to happen] for those American stories to exist, for the ‘manifest destiny’ of the empty land that was just meant for white people.”
By speaking for Native people, Seekins is taking space that belongs to Native artists, Fairbanks said, and selling artwork that imitates Native styles for more than a Native artist might receive for their own artwork.
The Facebook page for the opening quickly filled with comments about cultural appropriation, links to Native ledger artists and calls for the gallery to cancel the show. Fairbanks was one of the first to alert her network, which includes a number of Native artists in the Twin Cities, via her social media. “It was good to just instantly light a fire,” she said.

“The fact that someone would show it, that this would have an audience, is all just kind of mind-boggling,” Fairbanks said. The same attitude that allows Natives to continue to be used as mascots for sports teams also permits artists like Seekins to produce and show this kind of work, she said.

As Seekins’s show opened, a small group of activists, including representatives from Showing Up for Racial Justice and Idle No More, offered gallery-goers fliers titled, “Are you looking to support real Indigenous art?” describing some of the many opportunities to do so. One of the fliers was even taped inside the window to the gallery.

Inside, gallery owner Doug Flanders appeared unfazed by the protesters, saying he didn’t mind them as long as they were “peaceful,” and continued with the business of selling art. One of Seekins’ paintings had already sold for $4,500.

Despite hearing from many people asking him to cancel the show, far more people had encouraged him to continue with it. He said Seekins, who “feels terrible” about the negative response, had suggested covering up all the paintings with a black curtain hanging on the back wall. “I feel that Scott really did a great job with this,” Flanders said. “I hope that people who have been verbally against it come and see the show.”

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