First Peoples Fund traveled to the Colville Indian Reservation for a visit with partner Northwest Native Development Fund earlier this month. We held a meeting with community artists to learn more about what they need and what is happening across Indian Country to raise awareness of the importance of honoring and supporting Native artists and culture bearers. Jesse Utz, a writer for The Star in Grand Coulee, Wash., attended. Here's his story about the powerful connections and the breakthrough he made at the meeting.
Opinion piece published in The Star on June 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission by The Star, Grand Coulee, WA.
By Jesse Utz
I do not consider myself an artist. Yes, I am a writer and an amateur photographer and even have grander ideas about drawing and painting. But I do not consider myself an artist. So when I found myself Monday night in a circle of chairs in the Colville Tribal Museum surrounded by local artists, I felt a little out of place at first. Yes, my wife sat beside me; that was why I was there, but somewhere during the conversation and presentation I found myself actually wanting to do more with my photos and be a part of this group as more than a listening outsider.
First Peoples Fund organized a local artists gathering with the assistance of Northwest Native Development Fund. There were artists whom I knew and some I did not. We learned a lot from each other as we each told our stories. Passion and experiences filled the room as pros and cons were shared, ideas given, failures and successes conveyed. The bottom line of what was shared was this: we need to come together, share resources, lift up fellow artists and mentor the budding fresh faces.
First Peoples Fund’s goal is to sustain culture bearers, promote local indigenous artists and raise awareness. Northwest Native Development wants to help by providing a venue. Last summer, you may remember, there was an art show in the parking lot of Body by Dam. That was them doing their second show. There will be a third this year. Although a date has not been set, they want you to be a part of the show and any other show in the area and across the region.
The artists who gathered there, whom I listened to, well, they moved me. As I thought of how I could improve my work and get it out there, I found myself thinking of my Grandma Nessly and her painting. I thought of my Aunt Micki and her drawings and storytelling. I thought of my Grandpa Utz and his cowboy poems. I thought of Frank Sieker and his artistic talents that were passed on through the generations.
We are all artists, we just don’t call ourselves that. A student that draws intricate designs up and down his arm. An Artist. The person that is doodling constantly on her notebook. An Artist. The ladies at Changes. Artists. The want-to-be rapper. An Artist. The person making homemade furniture out of wood pallets. An Artist.
It is time to let the artist out into the world, and these organizations want to help and they have a track record that proves it. I am excited to start honing my ability and show the world what I see when I look at a Northern Flicker or a Belted King Fisher. It is time for the artists to unite and come together. It is time to gather up our youth and make them the next culture bearers.
You can contact First Peoples Fund at http://www.firstpeoplesfund.org or Northwest Native Development Fund at 509-633-9940.