By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015


The Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards (CSA) recognizes exceptional artists who have shown a lifetime commitment to perpetuating their art and sharing it within their communities. These practicing artists embody the Collective Spirit®, and are nominated for the award by members of their communities.

“These culture bearers quietly, selflessly give of themselves in their communities year after year,” says Lori Pourier, president of First Peoples Fund. “Through the Community Spirit Awards, First Peoples Fund honors and shines a light on their work to restore and pass on ancestral knowledge and traditions, connecting their peoples to their greatest assets.”  

We are honored to introduce you to these culture bearers well deserving of their 2018 Community Spirit Award.




Jamestown S’Klallam and Lummi

Sequim, Washington


It began in frightening times for young Elaine. She sat near a potbelly stove with her grandfather, David Prince, during World War II blackouts along the Jamestown Beach. But as he calmly peeled apples and told stories, Elaine listened, her fears forgotten as she pressed each word into her mind. He gave her the gift of storytelling.

Today, this art medium overlaps with traditional cooking and basketry for Elaine.

She spent much of her life living around the Straights of Juan de Fuca (also known as the Salish Sea) where she digs clams, picks oysters, catches salmon, crab and octopus and prepares them in traditional ways.

“I have taught two generations of my family to do the same and am beginning to teach our third generation,” Elaine says.

“I have taught two generations of my family to do the same and am beginning to teach our third generation.”
— Elaine Grinnell

She is also showing them how to gather, prepare, and weave Western Red Cedar bark along with their stories.

Because of that dedication, Khia Grinnell (Jamestown S’Klallam and Lummi) nominated Elaine for the CSA.

“My grandmother has worked tirelessly to preserve and share our culture,” Khia says. “She has served as an ambassador of our people in a manner that has made not only her family but her community proud.”

“My grandmother has worked tirelessly to preserve and share our culture. She has served as an ambassador of our people in a manner that has made not only her family but her community proud.”
— Khia Grinnell

Following in the steps of her grandmother Elaine, Khia is a storyteller and serves on the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association board alongside Elaine.

Elaine also serves on the Jamestown S’Klallam Culture Committee, the Native Elders Committee of the University of Washington, Northwest Native American Storytellers Association board, and is a certified Klallam language teacher.




Native Hawaiian

Kaunakakai, Hawai’i

For 37 years, Kanoelani has practiced hula, the Hawaiian dance form instilled in her being, along with other cultural practices like wood carving, weapon making, and gathering shells for lei. Her daily occupation, though, is bringing these practices into fashion design through her company, PōMahina Designs.

“It took over 34 years of understanding traditional wear to really grasp the meaning of integrating traditional and contemporary wear,” Kanoelani says.


She values the importance of understanding art and life lessons through the lens of her ancestors, and how vital it is to share those lessons.

“Once that is understood, it allows the creative to create contemporary art forms using ancestral thought process,” she says. “The idea is to allow an individual to take some ownership in the traditions of their ancestors and yet be an individual in today’s time. I foresee balance.”

In her role as Hawaiian Arts Program Director for the Molokai Arts Center, Kanoelani plans to continue holding classes with interested learners.


“Kanoelani Davis is a tireless advocate, supporter and practitioner of Native Hawaiian arts and culture,” Brandon Jones says. He is the executive director of the Molokai Arts Center. Brandon honored Kanoelani with the CSA nomination.

“Anytime she or her students perform hula, the community is confident they are witnessing an authentic act,” he says. “Kanoelani’s company, PōMahina Designs, was recently invited to show at the Pacific Fusion Fashion show in New Zealand. This sent a message to the young people of Molokai that success and recognition are possible for someone who is dedicated to culture.”





Anchorage, Alaska


“With flashes of color and escalating drum beats, Yup’ik dance envelopes the audience in a celebration of traditional sounds and culture, a blending of music, language and dance,” Marie says.

A traditional dancer, Marie embodies her belief that this gift of dance has taught her who she is as a Yup’ik person.

“Yup’ik dance can be a form of prayer that helps me connect to the core of my soul and spirit as a human being,” she says.

While maintaining strong relationships and family ties with her homeland and the Yup’ik community in Southwest Alaska, Marie travels to practice her art at public and private gatherings, festivals and celebrations. She also shares her dance with the larger global community.

Joy Demmert (Yup’ik) knows her through Marie’s son, Stephen, who performs worldwide with his Inuit soul music group, Pamyua.

“Through Marie, the traditional dancing and singing to tell stories of Yup’ik traditions and ways of life continue to be shared as they have for thousands of years,” Joy says. “She has not only strengthened our communities in Alaska through her art forms, but has spread them all over the world.”

Along with mentoring her sons, grandchildren and many relatives, Marie has taught Yup’ik dance at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus for many years. In 2015, Marie was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame for her contributions to the Alaskan community. She currently works at the University of Alaska Anchorage as a professor for Yup’ik Language, Yup’ik Orthography, and Alaska Native Dance.




Versailles, New York


Peter is a clay artist of the Onondaga tribe in New York State. Returning to his homeland in 1977 after studies at the Institute of American Indian Art, he has worked to bring Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) pottery back to life in his home communities.

These pots reflect what was originally made with clay gathered from stream beds and altered with the addition of crushed shell, crushed granitic rock and sand to create a clay body that was useful and durable after it was fired.

Peter works within the Six Nations Iroquois communities of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora people.


“Because pot making had died out in our culture, I have studied our ancient pottery for over twenty-five years, trying to understand not only how it was made but also what it was used for and sometimes what the designs meant,” Peter says.

He shares this knowledge in classes and workshops throughout the Six Nations Communities. He says, “This returns to our people something that is uniquely ours.”

Carol Ann Lorenz nominated Peter for the CSA. She serves as a faculty member and museum curator at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.


“I believe it is safe to say that Peter nearly single-handedly revived the making of clay pots in Iroquois country,” she says. “Largely through his efforts, there are dozens of Haudenosaunee artists working in clay today.


“Peter epitomizes the ideals of community connectedness and the giving spirit that the Community Spirit Award is designed to recognize and honor.”