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“It’s a acceptable day to be indigenous!” said KREZ radio’s belligerent DJ Randy Peone, played by the backward abundant John Trudell in the 1998 blur “Smoke Signals.” And aloof like that, Indian country affiliated a brilliant new motto, replacing the antecedent one, which was about, well, dying: “It’s a acceptable day to die!” The blur was acclaimed — on and off the rez — for its insights into abreast Indian country. The Los Angeles Times akin acclaimed that accuracy in a review, adage that aback the blur cited “historic injustices or abreast issues in Native American culture, it does so with wry, casual humor.”

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For non-Native audiences, it was a glimpse into Indian country that they hadn’t apparent before, article far altered from how the “Indian experience” had historically been portrayed. It was a battleground moment in abreast cinema: American Indians had become absolute people, aerial out of a frozen, fabulous accomplished into the apple as modern, active communities. As we abutting the ages acutely appointed as Native American Heritage Month, a time aback the U.S. engages in civic conversations about American Indians, our actual actuality is a admonition that for us, the chat never ends.

If there is such a affair as the avant-garde “Indian experience,” acclaimed Cahuilla and Cupeño biographer and columnist Gordon Johnson writes the Native California adaptation of it. With his roots on the Pala catch in arctic San Diego County, the titles of his books “Fast Cars and Frybread: Reports From the Rez” and “Bird Songs Don’t Lie: Writings From the Rez,” his afresh arise assignment from California administrator Heyday Books, accomplish it abundantly bright he relates best carefully to Indian country. But his autograph additionally draws non-Native bodies in with appeals to what he calls the “universality of the beastly condition.”

“Writing is a absolute abandoned pursuit; you’re on your own so much, but you do appetite to accept a affiliation with humanity,” he says. “I address acquisitive I accelerate actuality out there and maybe accession connects with me [and] I’m abutting with people.”

It’s accessible to see Johnson as the antisocial biographer that he frequently describes himself as. His rez abode is abounding with an all-embracing mix of handmade Indian art and an electric guitar accumulating broadcast on the walls. Out aback through the antiquated arid backyard is his autograph studio, a stuccoed hay-bale anatomy that insulates adjoin the baking Pala summers. Above the aperture hangs a 1960s-era Bing Copeland longboard, one of Johnson’s admired backing from his surfing days, and on the board sits an IBM electric typewriter.

Johnson is an old-school writer, animate for years as a columnist with the Press-Enterprise in Riverside.

I accept kids and 11 grandkids, and I’d like to leave a little bequest for them, so aback I’m gone, there will be a aroma of me larboard on the planet.

Gordon Johnson

While he writes for Native people, Johnson says he “writes for story,” and he hopes readers feel a little added animate aback they’ve apprehend him. “One of the common comments I get from bodies is they say, ‘When I apprehend your stuff, I feel like I’m home.’”

At the aforementioned time, he’s acquainted of the differences amid Native and non-Native audiences. “I shouldn’t say this,” he chuckles, “but non-Native bodies don’t apperceive if you’re [lying to] them, but with Native bodies you accept to be on the mark or they’ll apperceive it!”

As a Native writer, Johnson says he doesn’t address alone to advertise books; instead he’s added absorbed in absorption what it’s like to be a California Indian today, aggregate change with age-old aboriginal chain into a seamless, culturally based accomplished of accustomed life.

“Also,” he says, “I accept kids and 11 grandkids, and I’d like to leave a little bequest for them, so aback I’m gone, there will be a aroma of me larboard on the planet.”

Johnson’s acquaintance mirrors what abounding Native artists and writers acquaintance daily: that charge to antithesis activity aural the ascendant society, their inherently political identities as citizens of affiliated nations, and authoritative a living. Native writers such as Johnson are faced with the abiding challenges of representation and authenticity, but aboriginal artists, photographers and appearance designers face agnate obstacles, and abiding questions: Who is it that Native bodies actualize art for? And why?

Ambassadors of adeptness

Despite the career activity of art, there is annihilation accessible about actuality an Indian artist.

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In Native societies, art was chip into the act of authoritative accustomed things and art altar were generally ceremonial; Native bodies frequently agenda that the chat “art” is about alien in aboriginal languages. Today, authoritative a active as an artisan is advised by bazaar armament with demands of its own. At pale are circuitous dynamics that braid calm character and adeptness with non-Native expectations about amount based on authenticity. This accordingly involves adamant stereotypes built-in from abridgement of knowledge. It additionally agency that the Native artist, no amount the casting or medium, advisedly or accidentally is casting in the role of educator.

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“I fell into a allurement for 10 years or added of aggravating to brainwash the non-Native about what Natives were about,” says Gerald Clarke Jr., a Cahuilla artisan accepted for his ample anchored sculptures. “It’s a allurement because the absence ambience for boilerplate America is that the artisan is the abettor of the community, and that about replaces the absorption in the artist’s own creativity.”

Clarke, additionally a assistant of aboriginal studies at UC Riverside, infuses his Cahuilla character into corrective works and sculptures, which he creates generally from begin altar and garbage. His massive 6-foot bassinet fabricated from ashamed beer and soda cans has been broadly exhibited, including at the Autry Building and the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Pamela Peters, an L.A.-based Navajo columnist and filmmaker, on the added hand, embraces the drillmaster role. Her photographs of Native bodies advisedly assignment adjoin the arid stereotypes of what she calls the “relic Indian” — the buckskin, chaplet and accoutrement Indian. In her alternation blue-blooded “Real Ndnz Retake Hollywood,” for instance, Native bodies arise in atramentous and white arch shots evocative of the alluring 1940s era Hollywood.

“I’m motivated because of aggregate accident to our communities,” Peters says. “We’re ambidextrous with racism, and that’s why we accept a lot of kids committing suicide, because they see this racism and abhorrence from television, sports, from bodies biting us on altered platforms in media. Or bodies analytic if we akin exist, like allurement us: What amount of Indian are you?”

An assured aspect of educating non-Native association is abolition the abstraction of authenticity; that is, what is advised “authentic” Indian art. Clarke credibility out that the conception of the Indian art bazaar was based on the actuality of the Indian artist. Akin the Indian Arts and Crafts Act — which is a truth-in-advertising-law that mandates Native bodies are able to prove their affiliated character — is absolutely advised to account non-Native bodies added than artists.

“The boilerplate wants to commodify the article and accept it as allotment of the all-embracing art market, but they don’t absolutely appetite to apperceive what we think,” Clarke says. “ Who decides what’s authentic? Is it the academic, the art historian, or is it the community?”

Commodified arts

In 1998 aback “Smoke Signals” was made, it had been bristles centuries of a adamant genocidal aggression and a continued assumption of arrant federal behavior that larboard Indian country in a accompaniment of grinding, crushing poverty. But commercialism waits for no one, atomic of all Indian country, and for them, it was accompany or die.

U.S. colonialism had continued advised for Indians to abandon into a banknote economy. Survival apprenticed bread-and-butter self-sufficiency, and the corruption of Native art traditions was targeted as allotment of federal assimilation policy.

In the 1870s, Brig. Gen. Richard Henry Pratt was a backer of “Americanizing” aboriginal communities and started government boarding schools that allowable cultural assimilation. He additionally provided art food to Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho prisoners of war at Ft. Marion in Florida. Their artworks, antithesis drawings, were a anatomy of actual affidavit in abounding Plains affiliated nations, generally referred to as “wintercounts.” Images corrective digest addle and added beastly hides depicted important contest in the activity of the association and was after acclimatized to cardboard antithesis annal kept by traders and military.

Who decides what’s authentic? Is it the academic, the art historian, or is it the community?

Gerald Clarke Jr

Pratt additionally incubated a plan to commodify antithesis drawings. While imprisoned, antithesis artists Zotom (Kiowa) and Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne) were connected, for example, by Pratt to affluent white art assemblage like Eva Scott Fényes (who was one of the aboriginal supporters of Los Angeles’ aboriginal museum, the Southwest Building of the American Indian created by aberrant polymath Charles Lummis), allotment them to actualize assets for her. It was a affected tactic to absorb them into the U.S. bazaar abridgement and was aesthetic beneath the 1887 Dawes Act, which codification the official and barbarous action of affected assimilation.

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By the aboriginal 20th aeon the Fred Harvey Detours were bringing trainloads of tourists to Santa Fe’s beginning Indian art scene. The Southwest Indian Fair and Industrial Arts Exhibition had its countdown appearance in 1922 as a way to beforehand and bottle Indian art forms while creating bread-and-butter befalling for Native people. It additionally formed to ensure the amount of Indian art in beforehand of a bazaar beachcomber of day-tripper trinkets and souvenirs. After adeptness abundant changes over the years and reorganizing into today’s Southwest Assn. for Indian Arts in 1959, the Indian Fair acquired into today’s Santa Fe Indian Bazaar which is still advised the best celebrated Indian art appearance in the world.

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Since again the arts, all kinds, accept been a applicable career advantage for Native people.

Unlike the non-Native art world, however, the Indian art apple has never upheld any allusive distinctions amid accomplished art and craft. An awfully crafted bassinet or allotment of beadwork is accorded the aforementioned account as a accomplished painting or sculpture. In accession to painters and sculptors, some of the best acclaimed Native artists accept been jewelers, bassinet makers, beaders and potters. San Ildefonso Pueblo, N.M., potter Maria Martinez (1887-1980), for instance, became apple acclaimed for her black-on-black Pueblo appearance pots as a aftereffect of the Indian Fair and her bequest lives today, anesthetized bottomward through her birth and added students.

The Southwest Native art apple was never bound to Southwest bodies but drew from affiliated nations all over the country.

The access of these artists can be apparent in some of today’s acclaimed painters, such as Benjamin Harjo Jr. (Absentee Shawnee-Seminole) and Eric Tippeconnic (Comanche). Harjo’s abstract, Pop-art appearance has becoming him a acceptability as one of the Indian art world’s best admired artists. Tippeconic, whose adumbration conjures age-old Plains activity as calmly as it brings the accomplished into beheld chat with the present, refers to himself as a “historical artist.”

“I generally use my art as a agency to accomplish actual chat or at the actual atomic as a adjustment to abet a chat that will accordingly end up as a altercation accompanying to history (most generally Native American History),” Tippeconnic said via email. A history assistant at Cal Accompaniment Fullerton, Tippeconic uses art as a belvedere to advise the subject. But he uses his art to additionally draw absorption to Native adeptness in its abounding manifestations, such as a alternation he corrective based on the Apache Sunrise Ceremony, or added accepted issues of Native life.

Wrestling with authenticity

One of the goals of the Santa Fe Indian Fair in its activity to body an Indian art bazaar was to ensure the actuality of Indian art, and that has been a authentication of the Indian art apple anytime since, for bigger or worse. It’s a acrid sword. It can set up absurd standards for Native bodies to alive up to, yet it accompanying works to clarify out cultural allotment and aboriginal frauds. Still, collectors and Native artists akin booty it seriously, relying on approved and accurate markers of affiliated attitude generally absolute in the convenance of storytelling.

Crow and Arctic Cheyenne appearance artisan Bethany Yellowtail calls herself a “storyteller in fashion,” invoking a basement cultural custom that is consistently affected by ethics abiding in a audibly aboriginal worldview. At the aforementioned time, she is anxious about apropos attitude in her appearance and accent business which is a aggregate of Native artists.

We appetite to abutment and amplify our communities, so how do you acquisition the antithesis as a all-around bazaar casting and advance candor as a Native person?

Bethany Yellowtail

Reflecting on what it agency to account tradition, Yellowtail says, “We appetite to abutment and amplify our communities, so how do you acquisition the antithesis as a all-around bazaar casting and advance candor as a Native person?”

The B.Yellowtail accumulating brings Bethany’s aboriginal appearance designs calm with one-of-a-kind handmade adornment pieces, beadwork, moccasins, and more, imparting a faculty of cultural actuality and assurances that the assignment has been appropriately vetted.

“I’ve absitively that it’s acutely about afraid to our amount association ethics like reciprocity, in how we abutment our added artists and our collaborations,” she says. “We accept assertive protocols about things; I’m actual alert about what can and can’t be used.”

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Respecting acceptable protocols is allotment of the complication of acclimation bazaar apropos adjoin authenticity, about one defines “authentic.” This is about representation, which is consistently abounding area in Indian country, abnormally aback it comes to film.

The blur industry is belled for both assiduity Native stereotypes (think of the all-over “relic Indian”) and blank Native Americans as avant-garde bodies in active communities. And, as actor, producer, and administrator Kimberly Norris Guerrero (Colville/Salish Kootenai/Cherokee) says, the industry is arbitrary in its appeal for Native actors:

“As an actor, my better claiming is the actual affair that has kept me animate all these years — the acrid casting of actuality a Native American actor,” Guerrero said in an email. “On one hand, you get the calls aback the roles appear around. But aback those roles dry up, as they accept for the accomplished few years abnormally for Native women over 40, I don’t work. For some reason, I’m aloof not anticipation of aback it comes to arena a adjudicator or a mom or an FBI agent. Fortunately, the amphitheater association is added aggressive in its casting.”

Guerrero is best accepted for her role in the television ball “Seinfeld” as Jerry’s Native American girlfriend, area the appearance exploited her ethnicity to advance aback adjoin stereotypes through humor. With her clearly aboriginal look, in the all-inclusive majority of her blur and date assignment she has been casting as Native characters, including the iconic Cherokee affiliated administrator Wilma Mankiller in “Cherokee Chat for Water” (2014). Arena the advance role in a blur about a avant-garde Native cultural hero — abnormally a woman — is still an all too attenuate abnormality in Hollywood.

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Controlling how Native bodies are represented in television and blur is how they can best assignment to about-face all the affliction patterns. “Smoke Signals,” the aboriginal all-Indian produced above motion account in history, was the signature cine that has led to the conception of a Native blur industry, and a admeasurement of Native blur festivals in the U.S. and Canada. Joely Proudfit (Luiseño/Payomkowishum), controlling administrator of California’s American Indian and Aboriginal Blur Festival, angle her role as acute to alteration the way American Indians are apparent in media:

“I do not accede myself an artisan in the acceptable faculty but a Native woman, mother, educator, and media maker who tries to drag the representation of American Indians in accumulation media,” says Dr. Proudfit, who has additionally accomplished American Indian studies for over twenty years.

“As a PhD in political science, I bound abstruse that if I capital to change action or added finer access social, bread-and-butter and political change, I could be added able in appetite to change our anecdotal through art and media,” Proudfit says. “Working with Native media makers, directors, producers, writers, performers and artists, I advice to accommodate assets to blur and television industries, accumulation media and absolute agreeable creators that advance compassionate and beforehand accurate representation of Native American and aboriginal peoples in storylines, exhibition and business campaigns”

Art as cultural sovereignty

Proudfit’s angle point to the adherence of authenticity, representation and the ample political area of Native ascendancy in all realms of aboriginal existence, including the arts. If the conception of an Indian art exchange was originally advised to digest Native bodies into the ascendant association through capitalism, how do Native artists appearance the ascendant society’s assimilative actuation in an era of affiliated self-determination?

​Gordon Johnson, commonly not one accustomed to across-the-board political statements, nonetheless sees Native art as a amount of sovereignty.

“I can’t allege for everyone,” he says. “I’m a simple guy, but I anticipate Native art is an announcement of cultural sovereignty, which, in the better picture, is the adeptness of Native bodies to actuate who they are. And it begs the question: What is Native art? I anticipate it is an analysis of cultural identity.”

Things are far from ideal in Indian country. Racism and abandon are alone some of the problems Native bodies abide to face. But it’s additionally actual that we’ve appear a continued way aback the canicule of Pratt’s captive of war art projects and the Fred Harvey Detours, now a aeon in the past. We may still accept a lot of assignment to do to alleviate the wounds inflicted by colonialism, but in the continued run, KREZ DJ Randy Peone was right: It absolutely is a acceptable day to be indigenous.

Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes) is a biographer and drillmaster in aboriginal studies.

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