2014 Community Spirit Awards Brings Hundreds Together To Celebrate Native Art, Honor Four Indigenous Artists

From the darkness on stage, the words and voice of Heid E. Erdrich (Ojibwe) illuminated the hearts and minds of hundreds of people as she opened the 2014 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards last month at The Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts in Minneapolis. Her voice filled the theater:

Our words are not our own,
We never speak alone.
Our work is not our own,
We never work alone.

It was the perfect start to the evening's celebration that honored Douglas K. Limón (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), Delbert Miller (Skokomish), Jody Naranjo Folwell-Turipa (Santa Clara/Tewa) and Anton Treuer (White Earth/Leech Lake Ojibwe), four remarkable culture bearers whose contributions within their communities—and across the country—allow their deep, cultural traditions to live on today.

"We are all getting to see ourselves and our community, in the broadest sense, in a whole new way tonight, which is an extraordinary gift... one of many given to us by First Peoples Fund," said the Honorable Betsy Hodges, mayor of Minneapolis, during the event.

"It was an absolutely beautiful, touching honoring and a wonderful evening among new and old friends, artists, and benefactors who continue to make First Peoples Fund the national organization it has become," said Lori Pourier, president of First Peoples Fund. "I think we all left the weekend filled with the Collective Spirit that filled The Cowles."

I know as we talk about language and making art and singing and dancing, they are more than about words or movement--they are surer and closer ways in to describing

The evening kicked off hours before the ceremony with the Second Annual Pre-show Art Auction, which included more than 40 pieces of artwork donated by First Peoples Fund artist alumni. Artists who showcased their work included 2014 Honoree Jody Naranjo Folwell-Turipa and 2012 Cultural Capital Fellow Pete Peterson, Sr. (Skokomish).

"The entire event keeps getting better and better," said Jennifer Easton, the founder of First Peoples Fund, and the person who the honoring is named after. "I said to Lori, 'I have no idea how you'll top last year's event.' But then they do, and it is just... remarkable. It fills my heart."

What was particularly poignant to Easton was the Art Auction. "This, you see—this selfless act of artists giving back—is the final link in the circle. It completes the circle, and inspires a new generation of artists to do the same," she said.

"Pete Peterson, for instance, donated his finest work—a bentwood box—to the fundraiser. Pete is a master carver. I have seen his studio. I have eaten with him. And I have laughed with him. His work, and his passion to pass his gifts on to others, means that this centuries old tradition will live on forever. It just means so much to have artists give back."

"What First Peoples Fund does is very unusual when you step back and look at their mission, and their work—it isn't being done anywhere else in Indian Country," said Carole Howe, who has been a supporter of the organization for many years. "I am incredibly proud of First Peoples, of how far we have come with the resources we have.

"Through the Community Spirit Awards, we are telling compelling stories that must be heard... stories of community, generosity and gratitude. These are values that are universal, and are lived out by the artists, staff and supporters alike," Howe said.

Through the Community Spirit Awards, First Peoples Fund has been able to raise over $247,000 over the past few months in gifts and pledges that will help to continue to give voice to culture bearers through the Community Spirit Awards, and provide professional development, entrepreneurship and business coaching to hundreds—if not thousands—of artists in the years ahead.

"This has happened because we have an incredible group of supporters—including our artist alumni—who give back in ways that are inspiring, and humbling. My heart is full because they stand with us in our work to offer Native artists the very best resources," Pourier added.

To see photos of this year's Community Spirit Awards, click here.