The Worth of His Labor

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, 2015 Artists in Business Leadership Fellow


An avid painter and tattoo artist for over a decade, and a member of the Turtle Mountain Tribal Arts Association, Derek Poitra (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) is a full-time artist. He was awarded an Artist in Business Leadership (ABL) fellowship in 2014 and 2016. Derek resides in St. John, North Dakota.

Derek Poitra sees the world through the light of his culture, which gives to him and to his art. He gives back through his time and through drumming, and now through helping other artists in his community by giving them a chance to grow their revenue.

Derek’s work is deeply rooted in oral tradition, his strongest platform when creating his art. Elder Native artists influenced his work when he was a youth working for them, cleaning their studios. He knew then he had to be an artist. He wants to influence his generation and future generations, to tell the stories behind the imagery.

With Derek’s First Peoples Fund fellowship, he purchased a quality camera, lens, and printer to create prints of his original paintings. He offers this service to other artists for whom this was far beyond their reach. Some of the artists didn’t know the possibilities. Now they do. It’s strengthening the art in his community.

The expense of an original piece is outside the budgets for most buyers in his market, but with high-quality prints, they can take pieces of art into their homes. A piece of Derek and his culture.

Though Derek does his best, always pushing his boundaries and reaching for the next hardest thing, he never thought of himself as a good artist. But the blessing of the ABL fellowship has shown him the true worth of his labor. It’s made him appreciate his life and his gift from the Creator.