A heartfelt thank you to the New York Times for highlighting the importance of the National Endowment of the Arts funding for Lakota Country. If approved by Congress, the national budget proposal would mean the elimination of NEA grants to Native artists and the organizations and institutions that support them across Indian Country.
In 2016 alone, the NEA awarded 2,400 grants that provided support to dancers, musicians, writers, filmmakers, weavers, beaders, painters and others throughout the country. Many of these grants funded activities in rural tribal communities where access to arts and cultural activities and other resources is extremely limited and loss of NEA support would be potentially devastating.
As described in the Times today, NEA funding supports First Peoples Fund’s Rolling Rez Arts bus, enabling us and our partner Lakota Funds to work together to bring art education by Native culture bearers, business training customized for Native artists, and mobile banking and financial literacy training across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Rolling Rez Arts reconnects residents to their cultural assets and helps them build financial assets based in their unique culture and values.
In 2016, four of the NEA’s nine National Heritage Fellows were Native artists. Two former First Peoples Fund Community Spirit Award honorees, Tlingit ceremonial regalia maker Clarissa Rizal and Penobscot basket maker Theresa Secord were among the 2016 fellows.
Since the beginning of the National Heritage Awards in 1982, 71 of the fellows have been Native, and seven have also been Community Spirit Award honorees. These culture bearers carry and connect their communities to the ancient knowledge, traditions and lifeways of our ancestors.
The NEA’s recognition honors their contributions as critical agents of cultural equity for tribal communities. First Peoples Fund honors our partnership with the NEA.
“The federal government must uphold its trust responsibilities to tribal communities. The elimination of the NEA represents an abrogation of these responsibilities to Native artists and culture bearers who are deeply rooted in their tribal homelands,” says First Peoples Fund President and CEO Lori Pourier. “For centuries, art and culture have been the heart of Native communities, and they are what will sustain us going forward.”