A portrait of Native artist Chanelle Gallagher (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe) throwing pottery in her studio.
A portrait of Native artist Chanelle Gallagher (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe) throwing pottery in her studio.
A basket woven by Delores Churchill (Haida), master basketweaver

Our Blog

Explore the vibrant world of Native art and culture. Our blog, dating back to 2012, is a rich collection of stories that showcase the creativity, passion, and dedication of individuals who are the heart and soul of the Indigenous Arts Ecology.

A white arrow pointing down.
The Wičahpi Olowan Music Program aims to extend its impact beyond South Dakota
January 25, 2024

Wičahpi Olowan

A Harmony of Culture and Creativity Thriving on Pine Ridge Reservation
Wicahpi Olowan Music
Oglala Lakota Artspace
Grace Benally

Settled in the scenic landscape of Kyle, South Dakota, the Wicahpi Olowan (WO) Music Program at First People’s Fund Oglala Lakota Artspace on the Pine Ridge Reservation stands as a transformative initiative, helping to bring life into the artistic aspirations of Indigenous talents of all ages. 

Led by dedicated individuals such as Program Manager Talon Bazille Ducheneaux and Tiana Spotted Thunder, Rapid City Mentor, the Wicahpi Olowan team is engaged in the world of music, evolving the program into a dynamic center for aspiring and existing musicians, singers, songwriters, and producers to showcase their skills while cultivating rich cultural preservation and creativity.

“I believe that by having music careers ourselves as WO staff, we can host workshops to educate and coach others who need the boost to either get their music careers started or to grow as artists. The education part is most important for those looking to add a business aspect to their music careers,” Tiana said. 

“I believe that by having music careers ourselves as WO staff, we can host workshops to educate and coach others who need the boost to either get their music careers started or to grow as artists..."

Since its inception last spring, with the help of the Playing for Change Foundation, the music program has been a beacon of support for Indigenous artists, offering diverse opportunities through free workshops, concerts, jam sessions, and events. The activities span diverse genres, including hip-hop, rock, folk, and traditional Oglala Lakota music, showcasing the incredible diversity within Indigenous artistic expression.

“We've had artists who've come in primarily known in their communities as traditional singers and keepers of those old songs. But they've had new songs in their expression and things that aren't tied to being traditional or only being with the drum,” said Talon. 

One of the unique aspects of the Wicahpi Olowan Music Program is its commitment to providing Indigenous creatives with a space to explore and go beyond the boundaries of traditional music.

One of the unique aspects of the Wicahpi Olowan Music Program is its commitment to providing Indigenous creatives with a space to explore and go beyond the boundaries of traditional music. Far from confining artists to the usual Indigenous musical genres, the music program embraces a spectrum of expression, allowing musicians to venture into any genre that interests them. 

Fostering the program is the Oglala Lakota Artspace, an innovative art space designed to promote creativity and preserve the rich cultural heritage of the Oglala Lakota nation. Through this collaborative effort, artists find a platform to express themselves and connect with their community.

“I noticed a lack of awareness and teachings about things that I know I could share because they are things passed down to me from those who have passed away. I wouldn’t want their teachings to die along with them. Being able to blend generations before into the generations up and coming is such a blessing to be able to witness,” Tiana said.

One of the music program's key elements is its community connections of the key elements of the music program is the community connections it holds. By linking aspiring Native artists, facilitating insightful exchanges, and providing assistance with project completion, the program has become a home for collaboration and growth. 

As the Wicahpi Olowan Music Program continues to flourish, the vision for its future extends beyond the borders of South Dakota. Talon envisions a path where the program's artists can transcend local confines and explore broader horizons.

“We want to be able to try to send some of these artists in our roster to conferences, but also set up artists and residencies for them to check out outside of South Dakota and allow them the opportunity to travel with their music and create in a new place and see what that's like,” Talon said. 

As we celebrate the great things that have unfolded since the opening of the WO Music Program, it is evident that this initiative is not just about music; it's about building a community, preserving culture, and uplifting Indigenous talent. 

In 2023, First Peoples Fund experienced a transformative year marked by reflection, growth, and positive change.
January 25, 2024

2023 Highlights

A glimpse of our remarkable growth
Indigenous Arts Ecology
Oglala Lakota Artspace
OLA Artist-in-Residence
Native Artist Professional Development
Sonya Paul

2023 was a year of reflection, recalibration, growth and positive change here at First Peoples Fund. We have continued to strengthen our leadership across the organization. We are growing our Programs team – as we collectively work to support culture bearers and artists by deepening and expanding the Indigenous Arts Ecology.

Some particular highlights from this past year include the long-awaited grand opening of our Oglala Lakota Artspace and the launch of our first-ever Artist in Residence and Wichapi Olowan music programs. After being on hiatus throughout the pandemic, we reinstated our in-person fellows convening and the Native Arts Professional Development (NAPD) program. We also introduced our new Collective Spirit™ Conversation Series. 

  • Indigenous Arts Ecology: Cultivating Entrepreneurship in Indigenous Communities Convening - During this first fellows convening since 2019, the workshops focused on tax preparedness, Native Community Development Financial Institutions and the effects of climate change on Indigenous artists. Participants gathered in Santa Fe, NM to engage in professional development, peer learning, and community building with leaders from Native Women Lead, New Mexico Community Capital and other partner organizations.
  • Oglala Lakota Artspace  Grand Opening - We welcomed more than 250 Pine Ridge community members, funders and friends during our May 19th and 20th events that ranged from art making activities to live performances, talks and honorings. Thank you to everyone who was able to join us! 
  • OLA Artist in Residence (AiR) Program - The AiR program is designed to support Oglala Lakota artists working in the continuum of Lakota art, historically, traditionally and contemporarily, to develop their practice, explore connections and build collaborations with local artists and community. This first year five artists participated in the 3-6 weeks residencies that included living accommodations, food and materials stipends, a workspace, transportation to and from the OLA, and uninterrupted time to concentrate on creative practice. 
  • Wichapi Olowan (Star Songs) Music Program - FPF’s new music program, in partnership with Playing for Change, enables intergenerational emerging artists to learn how to produce and record music from local musicians. Monthly jam sessions for local musicians, singers, and rappers provided opportunities for these artists to build confidence by performing in front of an audience. 
  • Native Arts Professional Development Program - We hosted NAPDs in Minnesota, California, Washington, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota this year. The entrepreneurship curriculum takes emerging artists on the journey of business development through a Native arts and culture lens. Topics include budgeting, pricing, marketing, taxes, etc.
  • Collective Spirit Conversations - This summer we introduced a new series of virtual discussions highlighting the work of Native American and Native Hawaiian artists and addressing timely community issues. Topics included: 
  • Harmonizing Identities: Indigenous Queer Artists on Art
  • Indigenous Futurism: Bridging Ancestral Roots and Contemporary Art
  • Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights

These programs and initiatives along with all of our other work, our dedicated staff and board, trainers, funders and supporters like you, continue to fill our hearts with gratitude and hope. We hope they can do the same for you. 

Oglala Lakota Artspace's 2023 AiR program: Uniting Lakota artists, heritage, and community in a vibrant tapestry of creativity...
October 12, 2023

Revitalizing Heritage, Cultivating Artistry

Inaugural year of OLA Artist-in-Residence program amplifies Oglala Lakota Culture
OLA Artist-in-Residence
Oglala Lakota Artspace
Grace Benally

In the heart of Oglala Lakota territory

A visionary project is opening that promises to breathe new life into the artistry of the Oglala Lakota people. The Oglala Lakota Artspace Artist-in-Residence (OLA AIR) Program has unveiled its inaugural year, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at providing a nurturing and empowering environment for Oglala Lakota artists to showcase their talents, explore new horizons, and contribute to the rich tapestry of indigenous artscape.

Leading the charge in the initiative is Leslie Mesteth, the Associate Director of the Oglala Lakota Artspace. Leslie's passion for preserving and promoting Lakota artistry, historically and contemporarily, has been a driving force behind the conception and execution of this program.

“When you look back historically, a lot of artists had to leave the reservation to get their work noticed or promote their work outside of the reservation and, and create space for themselves as artists”

At its core, this program celebrates artistic heritage and is an incubator for contemporary expression deeply rooted in the Lakota culture. Residencies, extending from two to six weeks in 2023, provide a comprehensive support system for artists, including living accommodations, a food stipend, a dedicated workspace, a material stipend, and transportation to and from the residency space. This initiative offers artists uninterrupted time, allowing them to concentrate solely on their creative practice.

“Giving them [the artists] that space to kind of not only share what they know, as cultural barriers but also going out into the community… Getting back that knowledge of this is how it is today, to be back on the reservation, because a lot of them live off the reservation. So they were all really excited to come back and just be with family”

In announcing the talented artists selected for this year's residency, OLA, under Leslie's guidance, is proud to present a group that truly embodies the spirit and creativity of the Oglala Lakota community. Each artist brings a unique perspective and artistic style to the residency, promising a dynamic and engaging experience for both the creators and the community.

The roster of artists for the 2023 OLA AiR program is impressive and diverse. It includes:

Arthur Shortbull, Lakota Kikyo, William Underbaggage, Nathan Ruleaux, Leah Altman

The walls of OLA bear witness to their journey—a journey that merges the historical with the contemporary, the traditional with the innovative, forming an intricate mosaic that tells a story beyond words.

These artists venture into the community within the residency, sharing their gifts and fostering collaborations. Workshops, exhibitions, and performances become their medium, connecting hearts and minds and bridging the gap between the artists and the community that welcomes them.

“They [the artists] have to do a community event, or they share their work with the community, or they could even do a workshop and bring all the supplies and then teach their methods”

As the residency is in the middle of its year, the artists leave behind not just their finished works but a legacy—an indelible mark of Lakota artistry and the promise of a vibrant future where tradition and creativity dance in harmonious celebration.

The Oglala Lakota Artspace Artist-in-Residence Program has sown seeds of creativity of a renewed Lakota artistic identity, embracing the continuum of art, bridging generations, and lighting the path for many more to follow. The journey has just begun, and the future is ablaze with the brilliance of Lakota creativity.

First Peoples Fund is making significant strides in California through its Native Artist Professional Development (NAPD) program...
October 12, 2023

Empowering Native Artists

First Peoples Fund's Native Artist Professional Development Program
Native Artist Professional Development
Grace Benally

First Peoples Fund is making significant strides in California through its Native Artist Professional Development (NAPD) program.

With a focus on fostering entrepreneurship and cultural leadership, NAPD offers transformative training programs and certification courses, allowing artists to thrive in their careers and communities.

In recent endeavors, First Peoples Fund successfully launched the NAPD program in California, marking the return to in-person training after a hiatus since pre-pandemic days. The California trainings engaged 27 registrants and saw active participation from 10 individuals.

“By year's end, we anticipate hosting  14 in-person and two or three virtual classes. And [the program’s] hitting the ground running after being on a bit of a hiatus for the past couple of years during the pandemic. People are eager to get back to training and working with First Peoples Fund,” Juan Lucero, NAPD’s program manager, said.

Participants expressed high regard for the trainers, emphasizing their professionalism, knowledge, and interactive teaching styles. Tiffany Adams was commended for her engagement and insightful sharing of personal experiences, keeping students engrossed and motivated. Carolyn Kualii was commended for her interactive approach and ability to encourage critical thinking, creating an enriching learning environment.

The success of these training sessions would not have been possible without the collaboration and support of esteemed partners, including the California Indian Culture & Sovereignty Center and the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. Together, they have demonstrated a commitment to the mission of empowering Native artists.

“[Partnerships] allow us to connect with the community. It gives us a much broader audience. I guess you can say, to be able to reach out to them and bring them into our classes,” Lucero said.

Looking ahead, First Peoples Fund and its partners have their eyes set on expanding the NAPD program across various areas in California. With the aim of reaching more aspiring artists, two California Native Arts Ecology Building grants have been awarded to the Alliance for Felix Cove and the Redbud Resource Group, further highlighting the dedication to promoting entrepreneurship within the Native arts community and growing the Indigenous Arts Ecology in California.

First Peoples Fund's NAPD program offers two distinct training opportunities. The first is the Native Artist Professional Development Training, a comprehensive two-day program tailored for artists at any stage of their entrepreneurship. It equips them with essential knowledge, tools, and confidence to navigate the intricacies of a professional artistic career. Emphasizing values-based education, this program recognizes the business of art and cultural expression as an avenue for leadership, enabling artists to realize their vision of success.

The second opportunity is the Community-Based Certifications. This aspect of the program certifies participants as Native Arts Professional Development trainers. It is ideal for artists aspiring to become mentors and financial and non-profit professionals seeking to work with artists. The certification offers expertise to artists interested in initiating or expanding their businesses, fostering a supportive network and nurturing a thriving Indigenous Arts Ecology.

“By the end of the class, we want our participants to come out with the beginnings of an established business plan… They will hopefully gain a foundation for a business plan or usable, functioning business model,” Lucero said.

First Peoples Fund's trainers, hailing from diverse backgrounds across the United States, represent a wide spectrum of professional artists and entrepreneurs. Their dedication to supporting an Indigenous Arts Ecology is instrumental in building a community where artists, cultures, and communities can flourish.

+ Interested in participating in or hosting an NAPD workshop? Visit our calendar for the most up-to-date information on upcoming NAPD workshops. More information on the NAPD program can be found here, or contact Juan Lucero or Jaren Bonillo for more information.

First Peoples Fund has recently launched an exciting and long-awaited initiative: the Collective Spirit® Conversation Series with the support of the ATALM...
September 20, 2023

Collective Spirit® Conversation Series

Celebrating Indigenous Art and Identity
Collective Spirit
Heidi K. Brandow

First Peoples Fund has recently launched an exciting and long-awaited initiative:

the Collective Spirit® Conversation Series with the support of the Association of Tribal Archives and Libraries (ATALM). This ongoing series of virtual discussions shines a spotlight on the incredible work of Native American and Native Hawaiian artists while tackling timely and relevant issues facing our communities. We were thrilled to start this series with our first two conversations exploring the intersection of art, healing, and identity.

Harmonizing Identities: Indigenous Queer Artists on Art

Our inaugural conversation, "Harmonizing Identities: Indigenous Queer Artists on Art," brought together a remarkable panel of artists: Golga Oscar (Traditional Council - Yup'ik Nation), Penny Kagigebi (Anishinaabe), and Kenny Ramos (Barona Band of Mission Indians). Our host and First Peoples Fund staff member, Keana Gorman (Diné), joined them. This engaging discussion celebrated art as a powerful catalyst for communal healing and understanding of identity.

Art has a unique ability to help us express and communicate our complex emotions and experiences with the world around us, and queer Native art is no exception. The panel delved into thought-provoking questions surrounding queer identities and experiences within the art world, shedding light on the transformative potential of artistic expression.

Indigenous Futurism: Bridging Ancestral Roots and Contemporary Art

Our second conversation explored the intriguing concept of "Indigenous Futurism." Distinguished artists Jordan Poorman Cocker (Kiowa, Tongan) and Chris Pappan (Kaw, Osage, Cheyenne River Sioux) took center stage alongside our host, First Peoples Fund staff member Heidi K. Brandow (Diné, Kanaka Maoli).

During this conversation, the audience gained deeper insights into how these contemporary artists pay homage to their ancestral roots while actively engaging with the Indigenous present. The discussion also touched upon how their artistic practices envision an Indigenous presence now and in the future.

Through these live-streamed events, we explored the profound ways in which art intersects with identity, healing, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Looking Ahead

We are excited about the future of the Collective Spirit® Conversation Series and the opportunity to bring you more timely and insightful discussions featuring leading artists and culture bearers of our time. These conversations celebrate the rich diversity of Indigenous artistry and provide a platform for meaningful dialogues that can inspire and educate.

We invite you to join us in this ongoing journey of exploration and celebration of Indigenous art and identity. Together, we can continue spotlighting the remarkable work of Indigenous artists and their vital contributions to our shared cultural tapestry.

We welcome you to view these events on our YouTube Channel:

1-Year Anniversary: Reflecting on the Cultural Celebration at The Kennedy Center with First Peoples Fund. Redefining Indigenous identity through the arts...
July 17, 2023

We The Peoples Before

One Year Anniversary
We The Peoples Before
Alastair Bitsoi

Last summer, we reclaimed our spaces in the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank, Piscataway and Pamunkey lands (also known as Washington, DC) during the 25th anniversary of the First Peoples Fund. At The Kennedy Arts Center, world renowned for creative arts over the last 50 years, we showed and shared our cultural lifeways and diversity as Indigenous Peoples with the public.

First Peoples Fund Board President Sherry Black (Oglala Lakota) says that We The Peoples Before celebrated film, theater, performances like spoken words, and music. It was also a way for the First Peoples Fund to correct the stereotypes of Native Peoples through the performing arts and how the theory of Indigenous Arts Ecology, which leads our work, is reciprocally linked to the worldviews and cultures of who we are as cultural bearers and artists.

Being on the board for First Peoples Fund for over a decade, Black adds that the nonprofit carries on the momentum of the work of the National Congress of American Indians, which had coined the phrase, “We Are The People Before We The People.” Black tells of how FPF pluralizes ‘Peoples’ to include global Indigenous peoples and the hard fights of changing and recognizing our demographic as peoples instead of generic labels of identifying Indigenous populations.

“It is a recognition that we're humans,” Black said. “So many people don't understand the different meanings behind all this. And art is part of everything. We cannot separate it.”

Earlier this month, we resumed our Rolling Rez Arts workshops and hosted Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) artists, Tara Gumapac and Ikaika Bishop...
June 15, 2023

Start The Bus

Rolling Rez Arts Talks Story with Kanaka Maoli Artists
Rolling Rez Arts
Oglala Lakota Artspace
Alastair Bitsoi

Start the Bus!

Our mobile bus, which brings arts to your community, is a pop-up that fosters creative energy. Earlier this month, we resumed our Rolling Rez Arts workshops and hosted Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) artists, Tara Gumapac and Ikaika Bishop, both from Hawaii.

During Gumapac’s two-day workshops, attendees sipped tea provided by AUNTEAS, learned painting techniques and talk story with Gumapac. Being in Lakota Territory was Gumapac’s second visit, jointly made possible through First Peoples Fund, the Pa’i Foundation and Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI). As an artist, she makes sure to elevate the voices of her people because of how often Kanaka Maoli are misrepresented by the mainstream media.

By centering her people’s cultural narrative, Gumapac shared the significance of Lizard Woman or Freshwater Guardian to contextualize the role and power of feminine deities. “She’s one of those deities that I think a lot of people don’t talk about,” Gumapac said, adding that Lakota community members were also able to learn and paint their version of Lizard Woman on canvas.

Along with this cultural exchange, Gumapac traveled with her children and husband, Ikaika Bishop, who taught two additional workshops on anime creation using coding from MIT’s Scratch platform. Bishop is known for his creative work as a podcaster and digital media expert elevating the voices of those with disabilities. As a person considered legally blind, Bishop says creating animation is vital to reach all audiences.

Bishop told First Peoples Fund that he was inspired by the long sunsets across the prairies and found cross-cultural connections with his visit to South Dakota, including learning of the controversy of the Black Hills and the Dakota Access Pipeline.  

“To listen to the story of the people up there, I understand that there's still a lot of struggle going on for all of us and I'm happy to stand in solidarity with them,” Bishop said. “Hopefully, if we can get more of this media out there or advocate for tangible action, we can start to struggle a little less together.”

Bryan Parker (White Mountain Apache), FPF’s Program Manager for Rolling Rez Arts, said that the workshops held by Gumapac and Bishop showed how different mediums of storytelling can be told. As strong as oral storytelling is among Lakotas, it is also sharing with them visual techniques to reach different age groups and learning curves, he said.

Now that the Oglala Lakota Artspace (OLA) is now open to the public, Parker imagines more robust programming and the Rolling Rez Art (RRA) workshops, like those offered by Gumapac and Bishop, being an extension of the creative artspace. He says that OLA and RRA will focus on different mediums of art and skill levels of creativity.

“The bus really serves as a creative vehicle to point people in the direction to come to this arts space to build upon their skills and different things that we're teaching,” Parker said.

From listening to the needs of our community, we are now celebrating the official grand opening of the Oglala Lakota Artspace...
May 16, 2023

Oglala Lakota Artspace Grand Opening

May 20, 2023 in Pine ridge
Oglala Lakota Artspace
Alastair Bitsoi

From listening to the needs of our community, we are now celebrating the official grand opening of the Oglala Lakota Artspace. It is a creative space that celebrates our artists and cultural bearers on and around the Pine Ridge reservation. The space includes built-in studio and production spaces, as well as being a center for year-round programming. On May 20th, we will celebrate its grand opening.

This space also means that Lakota culture bearers and artists can share their knowledge with community, youth and other organizations. A music program and recording studio is also provided for all Lakota artists who want to create music.

“Arts and humanities are critical for all communities to help with stress levels, allowing people to come together to create and learn new techniques like traditional and contemporary quill work, beading, sewing, painting, music, and sculpture,” says Leslie Mesteth (Oglala Lakota), FPF’s Program Manager for the Oglala Lakota Artspace.

The Oglala Lakota Artspace partially originated from a 2013 market study that examines the arts economy as an economic engine for Native communities. An arts space is one of six resources Native artists need to be economically successful, according to our 2019 Investing in the Indigenous Artists Ecology report.

On May 19th, which is known as Native Nonprofit Day, you can make a donation to support the Oglala Lakota Artspace.

Last month, we hosted and welcomed cultural artists, who are known for their work in folklife and traditional arts, from across the U.S., to Lakota Territory...
May 15, 2023

National Folklife Network Visits Lakota Territory

Oglala Lakota Artspace
Alastair Bitsoi

Last month, we hosted and welcomed cultural artists, who are known for their work in folklife and traditional arts, from across the U.S., to Lakota Territory. The first such gathering of the National Folklife Network – a new collaboration among the First Peoples Fund, the National Endowment of the Arts, Southwest Folklore Alliance and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts – attendees were exposed to Lakota values, culture and foods. The purpose of the National Folklife Network is to provide resources to uplift, connect, and nurture artists and cultural bearers from seven regions of the U.S.

Emmy Her Many Horses (Sicangu/Oglala Lakota), Program Manager for Special Initiatives for  First Peoples Fund says, ”The National Folklife Network enabled First Peoples Fund to host about 30 artisans, some traveling from as far away as the San Juan Islands.” These visiting artists experienced Lakota lands for the first time in their lives, which also served as a teaching moment for them as guests to see how creative art is present, vibrant and alive.

“Grounding them in our culture and values is necessary for the network to understand and process what folklife means to us. While the term ‘folklife’ can be problematic,” Her Many Horses says, “there are efforts to make sure folklife is inclusive of all.”

To get these artists grounded in our culture, they saw the social-cultural-economic experience of our people living in and between Rapid City and Pine Ridge, and how that influences our creative pursuits. The network members also found similarities and differences in the folklife each comes from, including the challenges of the meaning behind folklife, which for Native communities can be polarizing to view our lifeways as arts and crafts, Her Many Horses said.

Even so, this is where First Peoples Fund comes in as a nonprofit to facilitate these hard conversations with the network but also empower the voices of our artists and cultural bearers.

“We thought deeply about what local traditions we could bring into the space, that are things that we still do, but they're not taught in a formal class structure,” Her Many Horses said. “Typically, when someone's learning them. They're taught when you go to your grandma's house, and she says, ‘Hey, come here, help me with this.’ And you're there and you're learning naturally, through intergenerational transference of knowledge.”

From their visit to our motherland, one member from Memphis Voices, Corey Travis, wrote a reflection piece about experiencing Lakota folklife through intergenerational transference of knowledge.

“As Emmy and others, we encountered and they poured out every ounce of their heritage, family, and culture with us through purposeful experiences, food, and activities I could only just sit back and take it all in. To be reminded of what the Native American people went through, suffered, and experienced only to see the still lingering lasting effects both positive and negative was so grateful to feel and be a part of. Upon arriving I met the sweetest lady in the lobby of the hotel named Diane from Idaho who hosts the biggest sheep festival in her hometown and boy we were joined at the hip for the rest of the trip! We and my other Memphis Voices hung out every day and enjoyed everything about Rapid City and we even went to visit Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Both of those experiences were one of a kind as well. The NFN workshops began and boy did they open up thoughts and provoke our thinking! We were put into groups and the first question asked was, "Who are you and who are your people?"  WHOA, what a question that I never have even asked myself before and to hear the answers from the others took my group into a deep conversation, highlighting who we are and where we come from. The exercise of trying to wholistically define culture, folklife, culture bearers, and more was eye-opening. The community connectors and voices that were chosen were from heaven. Hearing the talents, community work, and passion of each person was mind-blowing. It makes you think that there are really amazing people doing some extraordinary work and are extremely unnoticed and not represented at all in many ways which is sad and somewhat unjust. The connections made were priceless and ones that I will cherish for a lifetime. Overall, being chosen to have this opportunity has been something that changed the way I looked at a lot of the work I do and the cultural work of others I know and connect with. It made me so excited to come back to Memphis and think of ways to enhance the awareness of folklife in Memphis and afar,” - Corey Travis

In April, we welcomed our 2023 Cultural Capital and Artist in Business Leadership fellowship recipients and Native Arts Ecology Building grantees to the Indigenous...
May 12, 2023

Indigenous Arts Ecology

Cultivating Entrepreneurship in Indigenous Communities
Indigenous Arts Ecology
Native Arts Ecology Building
Alastair Bitsoi

In April, we welcomed our 2023 Cultural Capital and Artist in Business Leadership fellowship recipients and Native Arts Ecology Building (NAEB) grantees to the Indigenous Arts Ecology - Cultivating Entrepreneurship in Indigenous Communities convening. Typically an annual gathering that provides reciprocal support to the professional and personal growth of our fellows and grantees, this was the first time since 2019 (pre-COVID) that we’ve been able to bring everyone together. Because of that several fellows and NAEB grantees from the two previous years (2021 and 2022) were also able to attend. The focus of the convening this year centered on how to best support the entrepreneurial spirit of the artists and cultural bearers.

“The Indigenous Arts Ecology convening was an excellent opportunity for all grantees under the FPF umbrella - Native artists and Native-led organizations - to meet and network while rejuvenating the Indigenous Arts Ecology as we finally step out of a global pandemic that greatly affected Indigenous communities,” said Ryan Parker (Northern Cheyenne), FPF’s Regional Program Manager of Community Development.

From the workshops we offered, grantees were able to connect and learn from each other through panels like what is the Indigenous Arts Ecology, Tax Preparedness for Artists, Native Community Development Financial Institutions, and the topic of climate change’s impacts on our artists and cultural bearers, among other conversations.

"I loved it and I was engaged throughout. Creating, networking, and strengthening our creative economy has been heavy on my mind." - James Pakootas, Cultural Capital Fellow
"I didn’t expect such knowledge from this session, very informative!" - Seth Brings Plenty (a community artist who traveled with our NAEB grantee Four Band Community Fund)
The ILI Fellowship stands out as a unique and impactful program in the Indigenous community...
April 5, 2023

Intercultural Leadership Institute

Centering Indigenous Values, Leadership & Culture in Hawai'i
Intercultural Leadership Institute
FPF Team
Alastair Bitsoi

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.

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...
April 4, 2023

Dances With Words Strives for Inclusivity

Dances with Words
Oglala Lakota Artspace
Alastair Bitsoi

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.
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