By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
As we focus on investing in the Indigenous Arts Ecology, our family continues to evolve and grow. In recent months, we’ve welcomed new staff to First Peoples Fund — three young women from diverse backgrounds who are enriching our programming while supporting artists and culture bearers at the heart of our work.
Meet Golnesa AsheghAli
Born to Iranian parents in Northern Virginia, where she grew up, Golnesa has practiced traditional Japanese Karate, Shotokan, for the past 25 years. When her Sensei, Ahmad Ali Mazhari, decided to relocate, Golnesa, her husband, and her mom chose to follow their teacher to Rapid City, SD, in Oceti Sakowin homelands.
Shortly after moving to Rapid City, Laree Pourier (Oglala Lakota) invited Golnesa, then a high school teacher, to bring some of her students to the Dances With Words annual poetry slam at Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI). The young people were excited and inspired by what they witnessed, prompting Dances With Words to expand to Native youth in Rapid City and Laree and Golnesa also began working together to offer weekly after-school workshops.
For two years Golnesa served as a poet mentor for the Dances With Words program, facilitating workshops, open mic nights, participating in Tiospaye Building Days, and coaching the teams at the international youth poetry slam, Brave New Voices.
“I’ve witnessed beautiful growth and transformation in young people who are members of our Dances with Words community,” Golnesa says. “I’ve seen Dances with Words poets who went from rarely speaking in classrooms or workshop spaces to performing regularly at our open mics, at school wide talent shows, and even on the international stage at Brave New Voices.”
This fall, Golnesa joined FPF as the Program Manager of Youth Development. Laree, now working as a classroom educator, continues to work with and support the Dances with Words poets, as a beloved mentor and facilitator. Golnesa continues to express gratitude for Laree and her unwavering commitment to creating truly youth centered spaces that embody Lakota kinship values and oral traditions. Golnesa shares, “I have learned and continue to learn more than can be named from working with Laree and serving as a poet mentor, under her guidance.”
On her own transition out of the classroom and into her position at FPF, Golnesa says, “My work and intention are always driven by young people. I’m grateful I can do this work, authentically, in our Dances with Words programming and I’m excited to expand our youth programming beyond Dances with Words.”
Meet Amber Hoy
Originally from Yankton, South Dakota, Amber moved to Rapid City in 2018 to join First Peoples Fund as the Program Manager of Fellowships. She served in the US Army for 8 years, and received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio University in 2015, focusing on audio and visual storytelling. Before coming to First Peoples Fund, she was the Artist Program Manager at a non-profit community print studio in Berkeley, CA where she ran the residency and fellowship program. She is also an interdisciplinary artist who highlights stories of women in the military and stories often untold.
“My relationship with art has been changing while I’ve been at First Peoples Fund,” she says. “I learned there isn’t a word for art in the Lakota language because it’s so ingrained in life. Seeing how family and community come together to learn and share practice is amazing. From cooking to quillwork, art can be both aesthetic and functional, there’s no separating it. Art increases your quality of life, allows you to slow down and appreciate the way something is made, the amount of time and energy that goes into it.”
Working with the 2018 Fellows, Amber has noted how open and generous the artists are in sharing and giving of knowledge.
“I’m inspired by all the artists that I have talked to,” Amber says. “I’ve been reaching out to the current fellows, having one-on-one conversations about their practice.”
She keeps up her own art projects and sharing of her knowledge through guest lecturing on museum studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and also with curating exhibitions there.
“I’m excited about the 2019 Fellowship cohort and seeing how the program grows.”
Meet Chelsea Wilson
Many paths prepared Chelsea (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) for her new role as Program Coordinator. She grew up in Saint Francis, South Dakota, where she developed a passion for serving her community. Drawing from her Traditional Lakota values, Chelsea is always ready to help families and people in need.
After finishing her degree and completing an internship at an Equine therapy ranch, she continued her time at the ranch working full-time as a Program Evaluator and Counselor. When sewing machines were donated to the program, she volunteered to put them to use. Chelsea organized a sewing circle for relatives to learn, create and heal. The group then transitioned on to beading projects.
“I’ve always felt that creating art was an important aspect of healing and central to building relationships in community,” she says.
When her mother adopted a baby, Chelsea’s love for her new sibling shifted her perspective on how she wanted to serve her community. Previously pursuing museum studies, she refocused her attention to counseling and social work, which introduced her to the world of nonprofit work.
“The mission of FPF aligns with my purpose and beliefs,” she says. “For the younger generation, art gives them an opportunity to define their experiences, learn how to express themselves and tell their stories. For myself, when I create I feel connected to my identity, my culture, and my ancestors.”
We are grateful to have these young women who honor the Collective Spirit® join the FPF family as we work to continue supporting Native artists.