Intercultural Leadership Institute
The ILI Fellowship stands out as a unique and impactful program in the Indigenous community. In addition to providing top-notch training to its fellows, the program prioritizes building a sense of community and collaboration among its participants. By fostering a deep understanding and appreciation of each other's knowledge systems and values, the program helps to build a powerful BIPOC coalition that can work together to effect positive change in their communities. This emphasis on community building sets the ILI Fellowship apart and makes it a powerful force for progress and equity in Indigenous communities.
Curated by our partners at the PA'I Foundation, ILI profoundly impacted the fellows who participated. They consistently expressed how deeply the Indigenous ways of knowing and being resonated with them. This observation suggests that the Fellowship provided a unique opportunity for fellows to gain insights into different cultural perspectives and ways of thinking. In particular, the emphasis on Indigenous ways of knowing and being likely challenged fellows to think critically about their assumptions and biases and develop a deeper appreciation for diverse worldviews. Overall, it seems that the ILI Fellowship was a powerful learning experience that had a lasting impact on those who participated.
If you're a prospective applicant for the next ILI Fellowship cohort, I would advise interested applicants to approach the program with an open mind and a willingness to learn. The ILI Fellowship is a unique opportunity to gain new perspectives and ideas from individuals from different cultures, and it's important to be ready to receive these gifts. At the same time, it's important to be willing to contribute your own knowledge and experiences to the group. By actively participating and sharing your own perspectives, you can help make the ILI Fellowship a truly enriching and collaborative experience for all involved.
The ILI Fellowship aligns perfectly with First Peoples Fund's mission and impact goals. First Peoples Fund's mission is rooted in the belief in the Collective Spirit®, which aims to nurture our shared humanity and honor our connection to one another, the lands around us, those who came before us, and the spirit of all things. The ILI Fellowship creates an environment that celebrates and nurtures our shared humanity and connection. The fellowship provides a platform for indigenous leaders to unite, share their knowledge and experiences, and build relationships honoring their cultural heritage and values. By doing so, the ILI Fellowship helps to strengthen the indigenous communities and support the preservation of their traditions, which is aligned with First Peoples Fund's goals of promoting and preserving the cultural heritage of indigenous communities.
Dances With Words Strives for Inclusivity
Writing is healing. Speaking is healing.
Together, they create spoken words. That is what Dances With Words (DWW), a program funded by First Peoples Fund, accomplishes among Lakota youth by empowering them to look within and channel their creative spirits.
During the Lakota Nation Invitational Poetry Slam in December, Kinsale Drake, a Diné poet, editor and playwright from Navajo Mountain, Utah, encouraged Lakota youth about the importance of being themselves and to look for healthy coping mechanisms like poetry to express themselves. After all, oral history is embedded in the Indigenous cultures of the Dakotas, as is storytelling and music.
As a mentor for DWW, Drake has taught the meaning of prose and activism with her poetry. She is a 2020 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellow and was recently selected as the winner of the 2022 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize in the annual Cutthroat Contest. She is also an alumnus of Yale University and has created spaces, like NDN Girls Book Club, for Indigenous women and girls to write and find community in art.
“Many of our first love languages were stories, told to us by older generations. Poetry is an intricate and emotional vehicle for that storytelling; it helps us to make those stories our own but also inherently makes them selfless,” Drake told First Peoples Fund. “They are almost always doing good, or expanding some kind of relationship between an audience and a poet, between friends, between instructor/learner.”
”This type of reciprocity is visible, and sometimes forgotten, across Indigenous cultures, and funding to create programs like DWW is vital for Native youth because poetry is a source of healing and empowerment, “ Drake said.
Established in 2014, DWW is a play on the 1990 movie titled, Dances With Wolves, which is famous for casting Indigenous actors. DWW pokes fun at the film and has its own spin on it. With a focus on youth engagement and individual sovereignty through a writing community, DWW encourages youth to express themselves freely.
Some write and speak about environmental activism or the ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples epidemic in their spoken words. Others explore substance abuse, suicide ideation, or the rampant alcoholism in their communities and how that is partly attributed to the historical impacts of colonization and generational trauma. In the end, healing is the center of these words no matter the subject.
According to Pte San Win Little Whiteman (Oglala Lakota), who was among the first cohort of DWW poets and now serves as FPF youth development program coordinator, DWW is youth-led on purpose.
“Our space is not just a place for our youth to connect with each other, but also to connect with themselves and their creative abilities and what they’re able to create and bring to the world,” Little Whiteman said.
They added that DWW strives to include various Indigenous cultures, including Lakota world views presented in its programming. DWW also offers a space for youth to talk about their lives, such as what they’re experiencing in their development as young teenagers.
“We have the highest teen suicide out of all the races. And that’s awful,” Little Whiteman said. “I just don’t want our youth to fall into that pit of just ‘Nothing’s going to be better.’” For Little Whiteman, and others, poetry has changed their lives for the better.
DWW, in some ways, is a healthy coping mechanism, says Augusta Rattling Hawk, DWW’s program manager for youth development. This year’s Poetry Slam, Rattling Hawk said, featured six participants, who also received training from the Cornerstone Theatre Company.
“Writing has such an intimate connection with just feeling and living and expressing one's emotions that a lot of times we see youth using this as an outlet to express themselves or feel better or bring about attention to problems that their communities face, or contribute to overall movements and causes like environmental activism poems,” Rattling Hawk said.
Oglala Lakota Artspace
First Peoples Fund’s Oglala Lakota Artspace (OLA) has hosted many events supporting tribal creators and culture bearers since opening in early 2022. Amid workshops, a storytelling festival, jam sessions, and a new residency program, OLA also hosted a three-session sewing class for students from Pine Ridge Girls School in South Dakota in November 2022.
Oglala Lakota Artspace Program Manager, Leslie Mesteth (Oglala Lakota) says the sewing classes stemmed from a series of OLA sewing circles held during the fall of 2022. The sewing circle caught the attention of Pine Ridge Girls’ School which lead to a partnership and a series of sewing classes. attention who in turn partnered with OLA to develop a class for their students. The Pine Ridge Girls School dress code requires students to have a ribbon skirt. Often, this is a challenge for families experiencing financial hardship and/or a lack of access to materials and resources. OLA saw this as an opportunity to not only develop a relationship with a regional school but also to share cultural knowledge while addressing a need among students and families.
The classes, hosted by Helene Gaddie (Oglala Lakota), taught participants how to create traditional items like ribbon skirts for use at their school and in cultural activities. Gaddie spent each session teaching students how to use sewing machines to create clothing like ribbon skirts and tea dresses appropriate for traditional hand games or sweat ceremonies. As a lifelong pow-wow dancer, Gaddie’s history with creating regalia and her existing studio at OLA made her the perfect choice to host the class. “She started out making regalia, so she learned a lot of these things from her family members, and now she’s able to pass that knowledge down to the community,” Mesteth said. “I think it’s really important to know these things - to carry on the ceremony and the cultural teachings.”
“They really like it - they like what they learned. I know one of the girls. She is my little niece, and she went home to her dad with her skirt and said, ‘look what I made on my own,’” Mesteth said. “It’s a time for them to come and create something at the art space they learned to do on their own.” On the cultural impacts the sewing sessions present to youth participants, Mesteth said, “The sewing sessions allow knowledge to continue flowing from one generation to the next.”
OLA continues to make strides toward creating a space for the community to gather, learn and share in a safe and comfortable environment. In the coming year, OLA will continue its work as a nexus of cultural knowledge and expression beginning with a series of star quilt workshops, the OLA Jam Sessions in partnership with Playing for Change - an international organization charged with inspiring and connecting the world through music, a beadwork workshop, and an inaugural Artist-in-Residence (AiR) program set to begin in 2023. First Peoples Fund is excited to see the OLA space activated by the community and we look forward to seeing it grow.
Wooyake Theca Oyate & Supporting Youth Storytellers
Here at First Peoples Fund (FPF), we believe storytelling and poetry are crucial cornerstones in preserving traditional knowledge and culture. We also believe intergenerational work and focusing on our youth are critical to sustaining and growing the cultural fabric of our communities and our ability to thrive.
Through our Dances With Words (DWW) program, First Peoples Fund cultivates and support young literary and spoken word artists on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota – a program inspired by and born out of our experience with the nationally renowned, San Francisco-based Youth Speaks. Our youth programming grew beyond DWW in 2021 with the introduction of the Emerging Poets Fellowship - a program supporting Lakota youth in building their artistic skills and professional development connections while building new paths for their success. And this fall, our youth development team hosted the first annual, Wooyake Theca Oyate, or Youth Storytelling Festival, at the Oglala Lakota Artspace in Kyle, South Dakota.
In organizing this event, First Peoples Fund collaborated with regional partners at the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, Nis’to, Inc. in Sisseton, South Dakota, and the Indigenous Peoples Task Force in Minneapolis, Minnesota to bring 14 Native youth to the Artspace for a three-day celebration. These storytellers, ranging from 12 to 19 years old, gathered to celebrate their stories through poetry, song, and visual art, led by fellow artists and culture bearers. Together the group composed a rap song, created a short book of poetry and art, and painted a mural.
Youth participants had the opportunity to learn first-hand from accomplished Native artists and mentors who are part of the First Peoples Fund family. Tusweca Mendoza (Oglala Lakota, Sicangu Lakota) and Michael Patton (Oglala Lakota) led the mural painting, while First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital fellow Talon Bazille Ducheneaux and Terrance Jade led a songwriting workshop with the festival participants. Students learned writing and poetry fundamentals from Cultural Capital fellow Kinsale Drake. Together with First Peoples Fund Associate Director of Youth Development Autumn White Eyes, the group created a safe place for Native creatorsto tell Native stories.
“Native storytelling often hinges on sharing deeply held beliefs and traditions with others, building a sense of community and reciprocity in the attempt. Whichever form those stories ultimately take, they stem from a place of vulnerability and connection, which means creating the appropriate place to share them can be crucial,” White Eyes says. “Creating art can be this really vulnerable experience, especially for Native youth who struggle with so many things. [This event] gave people their own space, and [the opportunity] to take up that space during the festival. They worked together and shared their work with each other. That reciprocity is something we talk a lot about with the youth and that is really central to storytelling.”
White Eyes sees Wooyake Theca Oyate as another way to support the goals behind Dances With Words™, and First Peoples Fund’s mission toward celebrating and lifting up Native storytellers. FPF plans on hosting the festival again next year while working to expand the ways participants may express themselves and engage with their culture. White Eyes said she hopes to host the program during the summer, and include film as a medium.
We The Peoples Before
From expanding our staff to reintroducing and expanding our community outreach through programming, events, and grant-making initiatives - 2022 was been a big year for First Peoples Fund. To add, our capstone 25th anniversary We the Peoples Before (WTPB) celebrated at the historic John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity to amplify the critical work our network of Indigenous artists and culture bearers perform nationally. The 3-day event provided a platform to engage with a larger audience and build relationships through workshops, films, and performances designed to know, honor, and share the cultural fabric of Indigenous peoples. To add to the momentum of this remarkable year, First Peoples Fund expanded its reach by introducing the We the Peoples Before Education and Impact Initiative.
Through a partnership with the Kennedy Center’s premier digital and arts education programs, the WTPB Education and Impact Initiative is creating a high school curriculum centered on Indigenous cultures, history, art, and stories from first contact through the present day. Six of the nation’s leading educators were selected to lead the initiative, alongside First Peoples Fund Program Manager of Special Initiatives, Emmy Her Many Horses (Sicangu/Oglala Lakota), through the inaugural We the Peoples Before Education Fellowship. They include Leona Antoine (Sicangu Lakota), Brigitte Russo (Kanaka ‘Oiwi, Siciliana), Benjamin Grignon (Menominee), Sandy Packo (Inupiaq), Lynette Stant (Dine), and Nicole Butler-Hooton (Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians - Chetco Band, San Carlos Apache Tribe). Each fellow brings intersecting backgrounds in education and art and is actively working to develop a curriculum that helps educators across the country respectfully and effectively learn and share Indigenous culture and history.
“We have come together to explore these content areas and tribal histories, and to develop materials not only for students but also for educators so they can rethink their understanding and perpetuation of how they've learned about Native peoples and in turn have taught about Native peoples,” says Emmy Her Many Horses. “Also, in understanding how stretched educators are, we have realized how many resources the classroom teachers need, not only to access the content but to access it respectfully - in a way that honors the stories we share.”
The resulting curriculum will center its framework on six principles: resilience, dispossession, reclamation, adaptation, sharing, honoring and knowing. “Through this curriculum and the development process, we're utilizing a framework born out of First Peoples Fund’s beliefs and understanding of the world, and how we connect with communities,” Her Many Horses continues. Since the launch of the WTPB Education and Impact initiative, the fellows and Her Many Horses have presented their work at national education conferences like the recent National Indian Education Association Conference to increase visibility and to garner additional support needed to move this project forward and into the classroom.
As the first round of the curriculum nears the implementation phase, Her Many Horses reflects on the potential this project has to provide Native and non-Native students, teachers, and families nationwide. “We want to help them connect art and cultural history - to see how all these things come together,” Her Many Horses said. “The idea is to take a holistic approach by helping students and educators understand the art and work in front of them and where it came from.”
Grounding Creative Practice in Cultural Continuity
In September’s Collective Spirit newsletter we hear from Associate Director of Youth Development, Autumn White Eyes (Oglala Lakota, White Earth Anishinaabe), on the most recent cohort of Emerging Poet Fellows. In this piece, Autumn shares the impact of the Emerging Poet Fellowship on the youth participants and how this work informs their current and future prospects in their community and beyond.
A RETROSPECTIVE ON THE DANCES WITH WORDS EMERGING POETS FELLOWSHIP
This summer, Dances with Words (DWW), First Peoples Fund’s (FPF) spoken-word Youth Development initiative, hosted the second year of the Emerging Poets Fellowship. The Fellowship is an opportunity for young people to take their writing and artist development to new heights and refinement. After taking a year off from offering the fellowship to focus on providing virtual DWW workshops during the ongoing pandemic, FPF was able to offer the fellowship at the new Oglala Lakota Artspace once there was a low number of COVID-19 cases in the community.
Youth Poets participated in the 8- week fellowship centered on an advanced poetry curriculum and professional artist development. The poetry curriculum was developed by Oglala Lakota poets and educators Layli Long Soldier, Autumn White Eyes, and Helen Thomas. Through the course of the fellowship, youth met three times a week with their mentors in Kyle, SD, and Rapid City, SD. They read and discussed a variety of poets such as Joy Harjo, Orlando White, Haryette Mullen, Simon Ortiz, and a variety of forms of poetry including found poetry, erasure poems, prose, dadaist, public art poetry, and using the white space on the page. The poets also attended a professional development workshop each day which included learning skills such as writing an artist bio and resume, creating budgets, and pricing their work.
Among the fellows were Omaka Nawicakincinji Mendoza (He/Him, Oglala & Sicangu Lakota, 13 years old) and Charlize Pourier (She/They, Oglala Lakota, 18 years old).
““I am a poet in so-called Rapid City, SD who strives to include aspects of life into my work whether it being political or just capturing nature in my art. I have participated in the Dances with Words program and emerging poets fellowship and I strive to learn as much as I can and broaden my mind in all aspects of life.”
— Omaka Nawicakincinji Mendoza
Charlize Pourier (Oglala Lakota) Her Red People Woman is eighteen years old. She lives on Pine Ridge rez and is a Senior at Red Cloud High School. She writes poetry to express her personal experiences and to shed light on the casual abuse in Native Women and Children within their community and outside.
““One thing that i really enjoy about the fellowship program was the people who were part of it. They all treated me with so much kindness and helped me improve my writing. I’m glad to be able to meet these amazing people and be part of this community”
— Charlize Pourier
Youth worked on developing poetry anthologies and culminating the fellowship with creating their own chapbooks (short books of poetry) and planning a poetry reading for their community.
Omaka read selected poems from his chapbook, “Red Word, and Charlize read poems from her chapbook, “Red Woman.” Audience members included family, friends, and community members. The poetry reading ended with an open-mic and local youth poets also performed selected poems. Through the course of the fellowship, both Omaka and Charlize grew exponentially in their craft and performance.
Autumn White Eyes, the Associate Director of Youth Development says, “One of the most rewarding parts of the fellowship was seeing the ways in which the youth would connect their poetry back to societal and political issues and engage in discussion on these issues. One of the goals of our programs is to assist youth in becoming engaged members of society and in seeing them connect and writing poetry about issues impacting their lives was truly inspirational and shows the power of artistic expression for Native youth speaking their truth.”
Over the course of the summer, the fellows were also heavily involved in the planning of Wooyake Theca Oyate Festival (Youth Storytellers Festival) and selecting the theme, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Relatives. This October 7-10, 2022 Oceti Sakowin (SD, ND, MN) Indigenous youth artists will gather at the Oglala Lakota Artspace to attend poetry, music, and mural-creating workshops with featured artists, Tusweca Mendoza, Michael Patton, Kinsale Drake, Talon Bazille Ducheneaux, and Terrance Jade.
By Charlize Pourier
The color red is associated with war, wealth, power, aggression, the fires of Hell.
Is that what they saw in me?
With their white marble skin and cheap gold crosses
An aggressive, red indian
Is that what they hoped for me if i didn’t bend and knee to kiss their feet?
The color red is an symbols of energy, passion, strength, love, warmth, and beauty
Is that what my mom saw in me?
With her warm red hands holding mine
She saw beauty in my skin and passion in my eyes, strength in my words and love on my lips
Is that what she hoped for me?
To be loving, warm, and passionate red beauty??
To be red is to be a determined person who refused to be pushed over by the white
To be red is to be powerful being that scares the color out of their marble skin
To be red is to melt the cheap gold to make beautiful earrings that speak when they move
To be red is being myself
By Omaka Mendoza
The bugle that the elk makes in the hills carries down to rapid hitting me like a hard wind it makes me want to take our lands back and give them a place to thrive I want tatanka to be left alone without being pet like a dog by aliens to my homeland I want our people to drop the bottles and be warriors not for themselves but for the people I want us to have land where we don't have to worry that in the future they might be bulldozed for profit over people we should not have to make sure to not have our hands in our pockets when we go into the store or having our hood up because we look suspicious. I want to have a place where elders are laughing and telling stories and have children playing running around and have hunters return with a good hunt…it stops and I snap out of it, Omaka! Come here we need to finish.
In February 2022
First Peoples Fund announced the new cohort for the Cultural Capital (CC) and Artist in Business Leadership (ABL) fellowships, including honorees for the annual Community Spirit Award.
“Being selected for the fellowship is already exciting,” says Del Curfman (Crow Nation of Montana), a painter of Apsáalooke culture and a 2022 ABL fellow. Curfman is developing a series of paintings for a project titled Faces of Our Land: Decolonizing Urban Identities. “[My] inspiration is to connect with fellow Indigenous people, [and] to hear their stories and create meaningful artwork,” says Curfman.
The Artist in Business Leadership (ABL) fellowship is one of three grant-gifting opportunities for Indigenous artists at First Peoples Fund. Since 2004, ABL has supported more than 100 artists by building their entrepreneurial, marketing, and networking skills. But what excites Curfman most is collaborating with current and past fellows.
“First Peoples Fund alumni and established collaborators are so talented and inspiring,” says Curfman. “I am honored for the support [from First Peoples Fund].”
Similarly, Ursula Hudson (Tlingit), a fashion designer and visual artist, is ready to network outside of her small town in Colorado. “I’m generally very isolated from other artists, let alone other Indigenous people,” says Hudson, also a 2022 ABL fellow. “I’m thrilled to expand [outside] my community.”
“Many Indigenous artists that I follow and admire have received Artist in Business Leadership (ABL) fellowships.”
- Ursula Hudson (Tlingit)
The Collective Spirit of Community
In addition to the ABL fellowship, the Cultural Capital (CC) fellowship strengthens the Collective Spirit of artists who perpetuate generosity, wisdom, and integrity through community-based and cultural preservation projects. And Wetalu Rodriguez (Nimiipuu) is among the eight 2022 CC fellows who will strengthen the Collective Spirit of their communities over the next year— and beyond.
Rodriguez, a beader and seamstress, is coordinating a powwow camp for children. “This powwow camp will be all-inclusive and recommended for experienced and non-experienced dancers,” says Rodriguez. “It is important to introduce these dance styles at a young age [in order] to develop a firm cultural bond.”
First Peoples Fund has supported over 50 CC artists and cultural projects that share and strengthen ancestral knowledge. “As Nimiipuu, we are taught [that] the more you give away, the more it comes back full circle,” says Rodriguez.
“I knew if I received the opportunity for funding and resources offered from the [Cultural Capital] fellowship, it would allow me to be a cultural mentor without the heavy financial burden— and that is a huge inspiration.”
- Wetalu Rodriguez (Nimiipuu)
Blossom Johnson (Diné), a storyteller and playwright, is also strengthening her community’s Collective Spirit through her CC fellowship. “I’ve been wanting to work with my community for years,” says Johnson. “And the fellowship allows me to plan and develop a five-week playwriting workshop.”
Johnson’s fellowship project is inspired by her mothers, sisters, and aunties (who also encouraged her to apply to the fellowship). She is developing a new play that will be translated into Diné. “When I write,” says Johnson, “I re-learn things I’ve forgotten, like culture, tradition, language, and history.”
“I have so much planned for the fellowship,” says Johnson. “But building a strong relationship with my community will be the most important part, because without [community], I would not have had the courage to apply in the first place.”
Inspired to Lead the Way
The alumni network of ABL and CC fellows consists of over 230 artists and cultural bearers. And Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti (Kanaka Maoli), a musician and composer, was inspired to apply to the ABL fellowship because of the talent she admired in previous cohorts. “I greatly respect Moses Goods (Native Hawaiian),” says Lanzilotti. Goods is an actor, playwright, and 2021 ABL fellow.
For Lanzilotti’s own 2022 ABL fellowship, she is excited to connect with Indigenous artists from different disciplines. “It is a great help to have this support, both in terms of concrete financial support and community,” says Lanzilotti. “[I] can dream big!”
Filmmaker and reporter Tsanavi Spoonhunter (Northern Arapaho) was also inspired to apply because of previous fellows. “I remember reaching out to Ben Pease (Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Hidatsa, Cree) a few years ago to work on a poster for my short film,” says Spoonhunter. “I learned he was a [2019 ABL] fellow, and I think that's what really encouraged me to submit my application.”
“A lot of respected artists in Indian Country have gone through the [First People Fund fellowship] programs.”
- Tsanavi Spoonhunter (Northern Arapaho)
For her fellowship project, Spoonhunter is opening a filmmaking production company. “I've struggled to figure out where to begin,” says Spoonhunter. “And I knew this fellowship would give me that guidance.”
In all, First Peoples Fund selected 19 Artist in Business Leadership (ABL) fellows and 8 Cultural Capital (CC) fellows. Moreover, 4 Community Spirit honorees were selected, too.
Through a $25,000 award, the Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award celebrates artists who exemplify their People's cultural assets in their creations and in their way of life.
“Community Spirit honorees embody their community's ancestral, cultural, and linguistic knowledge,” says Rachael Nez, who leads the selection process. “It's important we recognize and support their work.”
The 2022 honorees include basket maker Ed Carriere (Suquamish Tribe), fiber artist Renee Dillard (Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians), canoe builder Shawn Brigman (Spokane Tribe of Indians), and storyteller Charlie Soap (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma).
With a community of 31 fellows and honorees this year, First Peoples Fund staff will host workshops and virtual gatherings for fellowship recipients. And Tsanavi Spoonhunter is ready for the work ahead. “I'm excited to get to know all the artists in my cohort,” says Spoonhunter. “Indigenous-led organizations [like First Peoples Fund] are unique because they provide a space for like-minded individuals with similar backgrounds.”
“That's something I appreciate,” says Spoonhunter. “And [that’s] what I look forward to being a part of.”
Are you interested in applying to the 2023 Cultural Capital or Artist in Business Leadership fellowships? Do you wish to nominate a cultural bearer for the Community Spirit Award? Applications open in June 2022. Stay updated by visiting www.firstpeoplesfund.org, and follow new updates on First Peoples Fund’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.
‘We the Peoples Before’
As COVID-19 case numbers rise and with the Omicron variant rapidly spreading across the nation and in the D.C. area, we have made the difficult decision to postpone this event. We The Peoples Before has been rescheduled for the summer and will take place in late June or early July.
At First Peoples Fund, we are committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our culture bearers, performers, staff, and tribal communities. We believe in the strength, resilience, and joy of Native communities — and for them to be strong, they must be healthy and safe. Thus, given the public health crisis, we simply cannot put our elders, community, and guests at risk with an in-person celebration at this time.
We commend the Kennedy Center and its leadership for the stringent protocols they have in place to ensure the safety of their performers and patrons. We are deeply appreciative of their partnership and ability to find new dates in the summertime when, hopefully, we will be in a better state of health across the country.
To all the artists, performers, host committee members, sponsors, staff, partners, and all of you who have been with us as part of We The Peoples Before, we thank you for the dedication, time, and heart you have poured into planning this historic event and performance.
We look forward to seeing you in a few months.
Until then, we ask that you continue to support the work of our WTPB artists and performers by following them on social media. You can check out the amazing lineup here and find links to their socials.
Storytelling the Indigenous Experience
Although We the Peoples Before is postponed, Filmmaker Charine Gonzales (San Ildefonso Pueblo) has high hopes for her short documentary Our Quiyo: Maria Martinez, which was scheduled to debut at the Kennedy Center. Instead, Gonzales’s documentary will have an advanced virtual screening in February 2022 that will be open to the public (visit www.wethepeoplesbefore.org for updates).
“Native representation is so important because we haven't had control of our narratives,” says Gonzales, who is one of six Native women filmmakers featured in the virtual film screening.
Our Quiyo: Maria Martinez is about Gonzales’s great-great-great grandmother Maria Martinez (1887-1980), a world-renowned San Ildefonso Pueblo pottery artist. “There are many documentaries [about Maria Martinez],” says Gonzales. “But they are told from a non-Native perspective.” Maria Martinez is known for reintroducing the black-on-black pottery process to San Ildefonso Pueblo, says Gonzales. “My short documentary is about her legacy told through her descendants who still make pottery today.”
Also debuting at the February 2022 virtual film screening is the short film The Feathered Girl written by and starring Madeline Easley (Wyandotte Nation).
Filmed by Outaline Productions, The Feathered Girl is a “rage-revenge story,” says Easely. The synopsis follows a brutal assault on a young woman, whose sister (played by Easley) gets lost in a manhunt. “My [character] symbolizes when prey are preyed upon so much that they become the predator,” says Easley. “[The film] is about the battle between anger and helplessness and how that manifests in Native women.”
Moreover, Easley hopes audiences learn how violence against women impacts the course of their lives. “The fictional predatory/prey adaption occurring in this film was directly inspired by the interim expiration of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2018,” says Easley.
Rewriting Indigenous History
In December 2021, First Peoples Fund announced an inaugural cohort of six education fellows who are centering stories and histories about Indigenous people, which is often distorted or missing in lesson plans.
“Across the United States, learning about the cultures and histories of Indigenous nations often leaves us in the past, portraying us as primitive beings,” says Lorna "Emmy" Her Many Horses (Sicangu/Oglala Lakota). Her Many Horses is Program Manager of Special Initiatives at First Peoples Fund and is leading curricula development for We the Peoples Before.
“We want to challenge educators and students to learn about Indigenous cultures, histories, art, and stories,” says Her Many Horses. The curricula will debut every month through virtual programming starting in March 2022 until the rescheduled We the Peoples Before in summer 2022.
In a 2015 study published by Theory and Research in Social Education, 87% of content taught about Native Americans is dated pre-1900s. And according to a 2019 Smithsonian Magazine article, 27 states did not have Native American histories included as part of their teaching standards.
“Conversations with the education fellows are incredible,” says Her Many Horses. “The knowledge, experience, and cultural traditions that span across the cohort are so meaningful and impactful in how we think about the diversity that exists across tribal nations and communities in the United States.”
“Each of the fellows brings important ideas and questions for us to think about in developing resources for students and educators.”
The 2021 We the Peoples Before Education Fellows include:
- Leona Antoine (Sicangu Lakota Oyate), Education Specialist at the American Indian College Fund
- Brigitte Russo (Kanaka 'Õiwi, Siciliana), 8th grade science teacher at Waiʻanae Intermediate
- Benjamin Grignon (Menominee), recipient of the 2020 National Education Association's Leo Reano Memorial Human and Civil Rights Award
- Sandy Packo (Inupiaq), a 10-year teaching veteran and College Readiness Program Administrator for the American Indian College Fund
- Lynette Stant (Diné), winner of the 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year award
- Nicole Butler-Hooton (Confederate Tribes of Siletz Indians-Checto Band, San Carlos Apache), winner of the 2021 Oregon Teacher of the Year award
In addition to the virtual film screening in February 2022, First Peoples Fund is producing more virtual events that will lead up to the rescheduled We The Peoples Before in summer 2022.
“We are so thankful to all the artists and performers for their time and creative work,” says Lori Pourier, President at First Peoples Fund.
“While we are physically apart, art and cultural expression connect us to one another.”
In December 2021, young people gathered at the 44th Annual Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) across the Great Plains to compete in sports, arts, and cultural activities.
And First Peoples Fund’s Dances with Words program sponsored a day-long poetry event that included an artist workshop, a poetry slam, and an open-mic for youth poets.
The event was emceed by award-winning actor Zahn McClarnon (Lakota), who has appeared in over 80 film and television productions, including the groundbreaking FX series Reservation Dogs and the Disney+ series Hawkeye. McClarnon facilitated an artist workshop and offered career advice for future performers and actors.
At the poetry slam (a competition where poets perform spoken-word poetry in front of an audience and judges), eight youth poets performed 3-minute poems, followed by a lightning round consisting of 90-second poems. Poem topics ranged from climate change and protecting Mother Earth, to mental health advocacy, and social movements for the Lakota language and for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women/Relatives, also known as MMIW/R.
"Hearing the youth share their stories out loud with the community was truly inspiring,” says Autumn White Eyes (Oglala Lakota, Turtle Mountain Band of Anishinaabe), Youth Development Program Manager at First Peoples Fund. “Sharing their stories on stage is a truly vulnerable action, so I was so proud of their bravery and willingness to share.”
The judge panel included community members Tiarra Little, Peter Strong, and Eleanor Ferguson, while musician and DJ Zuya Lakota Rapper, also known as Almadon Swalley, performed original music.
The winning poets were Jaxsyn Claymore from Rapid City Schools, Charlize Pourier from Red Cloud High School, and Antonio Rojos from Little Wound High School. Additionally, excellence awards in categories such as best performance, melancholy and emotional content, and Native pride were presented.
“I loved being a part of the LNI Poetry Slam,” says Frankie Miner, a Lakota poet from Cheyenne River Eagle Butte. “I appreciate being presented with the Meadowlark Award” that honors excellence in engaging the audience’s emotions. “We have a lot of meadowlarks where I live and they remind me of home,” says Miner.
The event ended with an open-mic and a freestyling performance between youth poet Lamara Howe and DJ Zuya Lakota Rapper.
For eight years, the Lakota Nation Invitational Poetry Slam has created space for Lakota youth to share their stories when popular American culture is unaware of the issues young Native people face.
“Indigenous youth are writing about issues that matter to them most: climate change, mental health, language,” says White Eyes. “The LNI poetry slam is an event to hear directly from youth on how society is impacting them."
The event was the first in-person poetry slam since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. At the event, Lakota youth practiced social distancing and wore masks to protect elders and their community.
First Peoples Fund congratulates the young people for sharing their stories and for speaking their truths.
Pushing Through the Pandemic
In 2016, First Peoples Fund launched Rolling Rez Arts (RRA) to provide art and business workshops for artists and cultural bearers living on the Pine Ridge Reservation
Two years later in 2018, RRA hosted 80 in-person workshops that reached over 800 community members, due in part to the program’s unique approach: via a state-of-the-art mobile unit (which was featured on PBS Newshour).
The success of RRA’s mobile unit coincided with a 2018 groundbreaking ceremony for the Oglala Lakota Artspace (OLA), a reservation-based facility for Pine Ridge artists (and future homebase for RRA).
The mission of OLA is to offer a home base for comprehensive outreach services and arts programming to the Pine Ridge community through a partnership between Artspace, Lakota Funds, and First Peoples Fund. The facility was scheduled to open in 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, subsequently postponing OLA’s grand opening– twice.
Rolling Rez Arts, on the other hand, adapted its programming to serve Native communities when they needed art the most: during the uncertainty of a pandemic.
On The (Virtual) Road
Like many nonprofit organizations during the pandemic’s onset in 2020, First Peoples Fund quickly adapted in-person workshops and transformed them into virtual events using online resources, like Zoom, Facebook Live, and Youtube.
What helped RRA maintain its arts programming – now called On the Virtual Road with Rolling Rez Arts – were dedicated teaching artists like Cynthia Masterson (Comanche). Masterson taught a beading workshop last December on Zoom.
“I wanted to set up [workshop attendees] for success,” says Masterson, who is a bead artist and a 2019 Cultural Capital fellow at First Peoples Fund. “We need an easy win right now, as everything is so hard” for Native people.
As a result, Masterson taught students an introductory beading project that could be gifted during the holiday season. “Beads are just props that facilitate sharing an emotion,” says Masterson. “[Beading] is how we connect with somebody.”
But Masterson admits teaching virtual workshops is a learning process. “We were throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks” during the first year of the pandemic, says Masterson. “But I think the pandemic was good for my teaching. Even though it's not ideal, I've connected with so many more people” due to the geographical reach and flexibility of virtual learning.
The Heart of RRA: Teaching Artists
In 2021, RRA curated over a dozen workshops covering an array of artistic disciplines, such as beading, fashion, and performance. Workshop titles included:
- Moccasin Making for Baby with V.R. Janis (Ojibwe)
- Creating Applique for Lakota Fashion and Dance Regalia with Helene Gaddie (Oglala Lakota)
- Learn How to Quillwork with Mary Lebeaux (Oglala Sioux)
- Rez Rap Crate Digging with Talon Bazille (Crow Creek Dakota, Cheyenne River Lakota)
- Matting and Framing Your Art by Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota)
Moreover, what drives the virtual success of RRA are the teaching artists themselves. “Every class was an exciting wealth of knowledge with a glimpse into the creative process and techniques used by professional working Native artists,” says Bryan Parker, Rolling Rez Arts Program Manager. “The idea is that classes will be the stepping stone to the more concentrated programming that will happen at the Oglala Lakota Artspace.”
The Road Ahead
In 2021, RRA extended its programming to support elders residing at the Lakota Sioux Nursing Home and on the Pine Ridge Reservation. “Elders will utilize pre-recorded videos from our artists and learn new skills,” says Parker.
“Our strength and knowledge come from our elders,” says Parker. “And it is our responsibility to continue to help pass on that knowledge and continue to celebrate Indigenous art and culture.”
The video series is the starting point for a long-term plan. “Our ultimate goal is for elders to participate at the Oglala Lakota Artspace [in-person],” says Parker. “The Oglala Sioux Tribe has restrictions on how many people can gather indoors [due to COVID-19], so we patiently wait for the ordinance to lift.”
Until then, the new video series keeps elders engaged in RRA programming safely in their homes.
In 2022, Parker hopes elders can participate in person. “I hope that [program] success is defined not only through gaining new skills and trying new mediums,” says Parker, “But that cultural stories are shared [to inspire] creative solutions to better serve the community,” which is the heart of Rolling Rez Arts’s legacy.
Drumming For Recovery
Descending from the Osage Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes
Francis “Rock” (Nayi-Hu) Pipestem is a singer, drum maker, and teacher. He was taught by his elders and has sung in the Grayhorse Inlonshka since 1992. In 2018, he founded Pipestem Drums and Rawhide Development, an organization serving Native communities that’s dedicated to the preservation and teaching of cultural arts. Pipestem strives to promote, practice, and sustain cultural arts for coming generations. Residing in Pawhuska, he and his wife Anna have four children, Kingston, Katelynn Rose, Emma, and Jesse. Pipestem is a Minister of Jesus Christ licensed through the Osage Indian Baptist Church in Pawhuska.
For decades, Francis “Rock” Pipestem has been creating handmade drums for ceremonial and social gatherings. “The Osages/Wazhazhes have ceremonial dances every June,” says Pipestem. “There are three different districts, and each district has its own drum. These communities are Grayhorse, Hominy, and Pawhuska, and I have been singing in the Grayhorse community since 1992.” According to Pipestem, the Grayhorse drum was given to his People from the Poncas in the late 1800s. “The Grayhorse drum we use today is over 130 years old,” says Pipestem.
For his 2021 Cultural Capital fellowship, Pipestem is building Thunder, a bison hide drum measuring 42 inches in diameter. “I will be using hides from the Ioway bison herd,” explains Pipestem. “The frame is going to be made of select maple hardwoods and birch plywood of the finest quality.”
Moreover, Thunder represents Pipestem’s connection and strength to his faith. “I plan on having [Thunder] painted and keeping it as a mighty instrument to praise God,” says Pipestem. “Thunder will represent the heartbeat of the Father.”
“And I’m so thankful to First Peoples Fund’s Cultural Capital Fellowship because it’s helping me to accomplish my mission.”
The Road To Recovery
Pipestem advocates that drum making is a healing tool for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. “Over the past three years I have been employed as a Cultural Consultant for the Osage Nation Primary Residential Treatment Center,” says Pipestem. “I am a graduate of meth and alcohol addiction.”
“I help [residents] construct rawhide shields,” says Pipestem. “I also teach them songs about having courage [during] their recovery.”
Pipestem says his role as a Cultural Consultant is a rewarding experience. “To see someone succeed is so beautiful and powerful. In my time there, I have made countless hand drums and shields. I take this work very seriously, as many of our people struggle with addiction. I am thankful God gave me my dream job.”
Believing In Community Spirit
Recently, Pipestem was commissioned to create drums for the Voices of the Drum exhibit, which features artwork from over 20 traditional artists. “My goal is to be the best drum maker, and God opened the door for me to build 19 drums,” celebrates Pipestem, whose own artwork inspired the exhibit’s concept. According to Osage Nation Museum Director Marla Redcorn-Miller (Osage/Kiowa/Caddo), the exhibit “opens an avenue for fresh perspectives to enter our traditional practices, celebrating them and renewing their purpose for people of today.”
And Pipestem’s long-term vision is to build drums that are enhanced by his faith. “As I grow spiritually, my art form has grown immensely,” says Pipestem. “I build drums dedicated to the Great Spirit.”
“And as a [Cultural Capital] fellow, I will be able to uplift my art and inspire other artists from my community.”
Asa Benally is a 2021 Cultural Capital fellow and he was raised on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona.
His grandmother, a traditional weaver, and his father, a silversmith, fostered his love for design. Benally studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, and in 2016, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in costume design at Yale University. Benally lives and works in New York City.
“I have been a costume designer for twenty years,” says Asa Benally (Navajo/Cherokee), who studied fashion design during his undergraduate studies. “I create different worlds for the stage,” in which Benally compares costume designing to storytelling. “My process starts with sketching and painting the designs and then taking those ideas and making them a reality.”
During his Cultural Capital fellowship, Benally learned more about Indigenous fashion. “I wanted to explore aspects of native art and design,” says Benally.
But his research wasn’t easy. “The pandemic certainly made things challenging,” says Benally. “I was cut off from so many resources.” Still, he discovered new pathways to learn. “I’ve become more savvy in how to present and research digitally. I realized that the digital connection can be imperative in knowledge sharing.”
“I’ve become more savvy in how to present and research digitally. I realized that the digital connection can be imperative in knowledge sharing.”
What inspires Benally’s designing process is what he learned while growing up on the Navajo reservation. “I learned to be an innovative and problem-solving designer from my time spent on the reservation,” says Benally. “I learned to create something out of what I found around me, and I had boundless space for my imagination to fly.”
Benally has designed for theatre, musical theater, and opera, including Devilfish, a 2019 play written by Vera Starbard (Tlingit/Dena'ina) that featured an all Native cast. “I got to collaborate with Tlinqit Artists and we created an ancient Alaska [that] brought to life the legend of the creation of the Raven clan.”