By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Angel Two Bulls was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. With a background in mental health, Angel received a bachelor’s in psychology from Portland State University and a master’s in counseling from the University of New Mexico.
Angel is a fellow of the Native Youth Leadership Alliance (NYLA) and co-founder of the annual Indigenous Film Festival on Pine Ridge. Integrating healing through art within the individual and community are vision areas for Angel’s work within the First Peoples Fund Indigenous Art Ecology.
Weaving between complex work — making connections, building integration, and deepening impact. This is part of First Peoples Fund’s vision in tightening the weave throughout our programs. For this, we created the new Program Weaver position, and found the right person to fill it.
Angel Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota) comes from a background of nonprofits and mental health work. It was Angel’s mother, Verola Spider, who laid a foundation for Angel’s work.
Verola had many chores for her children when they were growing up: popping corn kernels off the cob for drying, grinding chokecherries, or taking quills out of porcupines for their mother’s cultural artwork. During those chores, their mother would tell stories of the life of their great-great-grandmother, of their heritage. And Verola would always be fully present with them.
“My mom doesn’t know how to text or email,” Angel said. “When I visit her, I get 100% of her attention.”
This instilled a value of generosity in Angel of being client-centered and a good listener.
Weaving into First Peoples Fund
Angel attended the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), earning an associates degree in New Media Arts: Moving Images in 2014. At the IAIA, Angel met future life-partner Micheal Two Bulls. Micheal is an artist and former First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership recipient.
When they decided to move back home, Angel planned to find work in a mental health position but was pleasantly surprised at the opening of Program Weaver for First Peoples Fund.
“I had previous experience in the nonprofit world through the Native Youth Leadership Alliance,” Angel said.
Angel had connected with First Peoples Fund in other ways, including through David Cournoyer (Sicangu Lakota), a board member of First Peoples Fund and the Native Youth Leadership Alliance (NYLA). Co-founding the first film festival on Pine Ridge in 2015 gave Angel an opportunity to work with the Rolling Rez Arts Mobile Unit.
The Rolling Rez Arts was part of the past two film festivals, providing a platform for facilitating information, screenings and classes. In the mobile unit, Angel taught a workshop on beginner filmmaking.
“I’d already seen First Peoples Fund within the community work I do,” Angel said. “That’s why I was attracted to them.”
Surrounded by a family of artists, Angel understands the philosophies behind First Peoples Fund’s Indigenous Arts Ecology.
“Because of my husband’s positive experience with First Peoples Fund, and coming from a family of artists on both sides including my in-laws, it seemed a natural transition for me,” Angel said. “First Peoples Fund’s Indigenous Arts Ecology model makes sense to me because I’ve lived it.”
Knowing the work of First Peoples Fund in communities — starting with individual artists — motivated Angel to become a part of the process. “I saw how much of an impact this work can have, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. When we came back home after school, I wanted to work in the community. Being at First Peoples Fund translates to working with communities.”
The Program Weaver ensures connections are made where they need to be, encouraging programs to overlap, and ultimately tightening the weave.
“My role is to help the programs work together,” Angel said, “and be that bridge between the programs.”
Angel is also becoming a certified community coach through funding provided by NYLA. This translates to moving work forward in strategic planning, intention and next steps — useful qualities in nonprofits such as First Peoples Fund.
Angel is a creative as well, and recently had quillwork featured in the Tapun Sa Win show hosted by the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies, and has worked with Native POP: People of the Plains in Rapid City.
“Culture often comes out in art,” Angel said. “It’s how we express the moments we live in and what’s going on in the world right now. When an artist creates a piece of work, a lot of times it’s on their current experience. Like a snapshot in time that will last forever.”
The Value of Generosity
Angel’s mother is still a model for community work, and for being someone who is completely present for whatever she’s doing, even listening.
“My mother is like that with everyone,” Angel said. “They feel close to her. She gives them so much attention, love, and respect. It’s nice to aspire to, knowing that in our community, people value her because she’s loving and giving. She shares her knowledge with everyone.”
Generosity is one of the values Angel brings to the Program Weaver position, a value integral to the heart our work.