RAPID CITY, S.D. —Each year artists across the United States apply for the First Peoples Fund’s (FPF) Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award (CSA). The award recognizes the work of Native artists who are keeping their cultures alive and positively impacting the lives of their people. First Peoples Fund usually honors recipients in person in the artists’ communities, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put those celebrations on hold.
Each CSA honoree is nominated by someone in their community who believes the artist’s commitment to their people should be recognized. In the last 20 years over 100 artists from 63 tribal nations across the United States and Canada have received the $7,500 award and grant.
The 2020 honorees are Corine Pearce in Redwood Valley, California; TahNibaa Naataanii in Shiprock, New Mexico; Virgil Marchand in Omak, Washington; and H’Klumaiyat-Roberta Kirk in Warm Springs, Oregon.
President of First Peoples Fund Lori Pourier says, “The Community Spirit honorees are the ones who continue and carry on the culture and teachings and the knowledge of our communities, passing on the language and tradition-based practices so the legacy will continue.”
As a member of the Redwood Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, Corine Pearce has taught her people’s traditional basket weaving techniques for over 20 years. She has passed on the importance of specific plants and materials that cannot be simply purchased but must be gathered from the environment. Pearce tends local plants like willow, cattails, redbud and dogwood to create baskets, sometimes planning 15 years in advance to make sure she has the proper supplies.
TahNibaa Naataanii, a Navajo weaver and sheepherder, keeps alive the traditional practices of wool preparation from start to finish. She raises Navajo Churro sheep, sheers them, washes the wool, and processes it before spinning and dyeing the wool for her art. Naataanii acknowledges that Native artists should both preserve their peoples’ traditions and keep them alive through innovation.
“This is a new adaptation of a traditional Navajo method,” Tahnibaa explains. “Tradition and transmission are often misunderstood. Copying work is transmission; it keeps alive our ancestors’ ways. Producing contemporary pieces incorporating time-honored ideas, symbols, and techniques is tradition — it keeps alive our spirit, unsullied. Being traditional can mean retaining transmitted notions while simultaneously producing something new. Tradition entails creating something novel with what is inherited.”
Virgil “Smoker” Marchand of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Arrow Lakes was encouraged to pursue art by his brother, who helped him enroll at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After graduating in 1971, he explored many artistic expressions before discovering his love of steel sculptures.
Marchand has been depicting his people’s traditions through paintings and steel sculptures for almost 50 years. Depictions of the Arrow Lakes Band Coville Tribe have been put on display along highways, parks and buildings across the Pacific Northwest and Canada. His longtime friend Kenneth “Butch” Stanger nominated Marchand and believes his friend’s work should be appreciated everywhere. “He has done many paintings of our people, tribal leaders, art that depicts our culture and traditions,” Stanger says. “Everyone deserves a chance to experience Smoker’s art.”
For H’Klumaiyat-Roberta Kirk, traditional beading was a way to reconnect with her people after her family was forced to move from their community. When her family’s home burned down, Kirk’s mother decided to move her and her nine children to a suburb of Portland. Whenever her family visited the reservation, Kirk always saw other children dressed in traditional clothing that was passed down from generation to generation. Since her mother’s heirlooms were lost in the house fire, Kirk decided to learn traditional beadwork from her older sisters.
Kirk was also recently recognized in her home state through the 2020 Oregon Governor’s Arts Award. While Kirk specializes in Plateau Shell dresses, she makes traditional clothing for men, women and children, passing down the traditions to others in her community.
Kirk was honored to be chosen for the CSA, and is eager to meet her fellow artists through First Peoples Fund. While COVID-19 prevented her from meeting as planned this year, Kirk is looking forward to eventually seeing them when it is safe to travel and gather again.
“I just wish I could meet them and thank them in person,” Kirk says. “I’m grateful to them and I want to meet the other artists when all of this is over.”
You can learn more about this year’s CSA recipients by clicking HERE.