Entries in Artists (13)


Dignity of Earth & Sky

Dignity of Earth and Sky. Image by 'adambadwound' on Instagram.

Without a doubt, this is among the most beautiful sculptures I've ever seen. 

Just before the new year, I was able to see the Dignity Statue (a.k.a. Dignity of Earth & Sky), a 50-foot high stainless steel sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota.

The statue was made by South Dakota artist laureate Dale Lamphere and it depicts an indigenous woman receiving a star quilt. According to Lamphere, the sculpture honors the culture of the Lakota and Dakota peoples who are indigenous to South Dakota.

Three Native American women from Rapid City, SD served as the models for the sculpture. The artist began by first drawing the form and then sculpting a one-eighth-scale model. The sculpture was created in an isolated area near the Cheyenne River, east of Rapid City, SD, and later moved to the installation site.

The statue boldly proclaims that South Dakota's Native cultures are alive, standing with dignity.

According to the sculpture's Facebook page, the artist shared this statement:

“Standing at a crossroads, Dignity echoes the interaction of earth, sky and people. It brings to light the beauty and promise of the indigenous peoples and culture that still thrives on this land. The intent is to have the sculpture stand as an enduring symbol of our shared belief that all here are sacred, and in a sacred place.” 

-Dale Lamphere, South Dakota Artist Laureate


Stanford Powwow: Water is Life

Original artwork by Jack Malotte and edited by Bernardo Velez.

As the largest of the college powwows, and one of the top 10 in the nationStanford University sees 10,000 visitors a day and 250 dancers for the annual Mother’s Day weekend event. This is the university’s 46th year hosting the event and it is entirely run by students who are part of the Stanford American Indian Organization, which was created in 1972 to abolish the “Stanford Indian” mascot.

The Stanford Powwow will be held in the Eucalyptus Grove at Galvez and Campus Drives.  All events are open to the public and overnight camping spaces are available. Donations for parking are welcome.

The Stanford Powwow begins on Friday, May 12 at 7:00 PM with the first Grand Entry of dancers and continues until 10:00 PM.  On Saturday, May 13, the 21st Annual Stanford Powwow Run, a 5K race and 1 mile youth run, will begin at 8:00 AM.  Registration for the run ends at 7:40 AM. Dancing will continue from noon until 10:00 PM.  On Sunday, May 14, dancing will continue from noon until 6:00 PM.  Also open throughout the three-day event are more than 100 arts and crafts, souvenir, information, and food booths. As a celebration of sobriety, no drugs or alcohol are allowed.

As a proud alumnus of Stanford's Native American Cultural Center, I look forward to this annual event and hope to see you there!


Spider Dreams

Today I joined a couple of friends as we hiked Mount Diablo, known for its spider habitat and spectacular views of San Francisco and San Pablo Bays. The landscape, spotted with spider webs gleaming with jewels of dew, reminded me of the song Spider Dreams by David Balakrishnan of the Turtle Island String Quartet, one of my favorite chamber ensembles. 


San Francisco American Indian Film Festival

I discovered this song at the opening weekend of the San Francisco American Indian Film Festival. Inez Jasper is a Canadian artist who explains that the video was filmed at her home and on her reservation, expressing self-determination in spite of a long tradition of surpressing the culture and traditions of Canada's native peoples. She's not just talking about social descrimination-- she sings to real Canadian policies and laws that forbid cultural expression under threat of arrest for decades. 

UPDATE (11/10/2013): Jasper won the award for Best Music Video. Congratulations!

A clip of the song and video promote the 38th Annual San Francisco American Indian Film Festival, which opened this weekend and runs through November 10th. The festival is held by the American Indian Film Institute (AIFI), a media arts nonprofit organization established in 1979 to foster understanding of the culture, traditions and issues of contemporary Native Americans through film.

One of the films I had the great pleasure of viewing was produced, written, edited, and directed by a colleage from NatureBridge, Miho Aida, founder of the If She Can Do It, You Can Too Project. Her film, The Sacred Place Where Life Begins, documents  Gwich’in women from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

She explains that the area is a birthing and nursing ground for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, on which the Gwich’in people who are native to this region have depended for millennia. In their language, they call this land “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins“ and since 1986, has been threatened by oil and gas development. In the film, Gwich’in women speak out for their sacred land and inspire audiences around the world to action.

One of the great things about watching the film at the festival was that Miho was able to speak at a Q&A session after the film. She shared that the entire film was made on a flip camera and iMove on her MacBook-- "Not even a MacBook Pro," she emphasized. It's encouaging to see her sharing an important message and reminding us that, if she can do it, maybe we can too?

Watch the trailer below, but also be sure to buy a copy of the DVD to see the full film, catch a screening, and most importantly, take action!


How the Moon Made Me by Lucia Comnes

My good friend Lucia Comnes recently released her latest single and music video, How the Moon Made MeI was proud to support the project's Kickstarter Campaign, which was a fun way to stay updated on its progress and to hear from Lucia about the process. The end result was a beautiful collaboration, notably involving Aaron Proctor, who also helped create her last music video (which I absolutely loved!). 

Lucia is an American singer, songwriter and violinist with a singular voice releasing acoustic music set in an atmospheric, captivating landscape.  A San Francisco native with a rich background in performance, travel and ethnomusicology, her focus has been Irish/Celtic, Balkan/Eastern European and American folk music. She recently accompanied Joan Baez on violin for a series of concerts with French singer, Marianne Aya Omac

She also recently played America the Beautiful at the opening of the Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers at Coliseum in Oakland. Congratulations, Lucia!


Honor the Treaties

Today is the United Nations International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples and the theme is "Indigenous people building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements."

Appropriately, today is also the launch of the new website of Honor the Treaties, an innovative organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of Indigenous communities through art and advocacy. Founded by Aaron Huey, National Geographic Photographer and author of Mitakuye Oyasin, the organization funds collaborations between Native artists and Native advocacy groups so that their messages can reach a wider audience.

I'm honored to serve on the Advisory Board of Honor the Treaties to establish a strong partnership with the Lakotamedia Foundation. Together, we are part of a growing movement and of building alliances that honor treaties and other constructive agreements.

We Have A Responsibility

Today, indigenous communities are fighting their most important battles in recent history—battles to protect the integrity of their land and water and traditions. The treaties are at the heart of these battles. Article VI, Clause 2 of the US Constitution, also known as the Supremacy Clause, lists these treaties as the "supreme law of the land."

These legally binding contracts contained promises that recognized tribes' rights to live self-governed and undisturbed on their own land, with religious freedom; to hunt, fish, and gather natural resources; and to have benefits such as healthcare, education, and in some cases financial payments for lands previously sold to the government. These treaties, on a daily basis, are being violated.

This is not a closed chapter in history. This is a living issue. You can make it visible. You can teach it. You can join the fight. We have a responsibility to honor the treaties, honor the earth, and honor one another.

Artistic Activism

Checkout this Ted Talk by Aaron, America's Native Prisoners of War, based on his experiences photographing poverty in America, which led him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There, the struggle of the native Lakota people—appalling, and largely ignored—compelled him to refocus.


2012: Year of the American Indian Summer

In most years, an “Indian Summer” describes a heat wave that occurs in the autumn that occurs in the Northern Hemisphere between late September and mid-November. In 2012, however, it could be argued that “Indian Summer” now means something more similar to the “Arab Spring” uprisings that arose independently and spread across the Arab world in 2011.

The “American Indian Summer” wasn’t similar to the “Arab Spring” in that it involved expressions of violence within revolutionary conflicts, but it was similar in its effective use of new media technologies in a variety of coordinated social movements.

2012: the year the American Indian Movement effectively used digital, mobile, and social media technologies.

It’s about time.

Researchers have noted the “digital divide” – inequalities in access to information and communication technologies, as well as inequalities in the knowledge and skills needed to effectively use the information gained from connecting. No doubt, there are geographic and generational barriers to connectivity in American Indian communities, complicating social fragmentation and other disparities.

However, recent events suggest that the American Indian Movement is dramatically different in the 21st Century: it’s no longer institutional, protected by trademarks, or governed by a Grand Council.

Now, it's that and it's digital, mobile, and social. It's open source and open to all!

Take, for example, the creative mobilizing efforts of the “Save Pe’sla” movement. Artists, celebrities, tribes, and people from many other social spheres, came together to purchase the sacred site by using various digital media projects, such as this video, spread via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms, most of which centered around the "Last Real Indians" website by Chase Iron Eyes.   

Or, how artist Aaron Huey raised awareness of the Lakota fight to claim the Black Hills in South Dakota, demanding that the government start Honoring the Treaties. He did so though a book, documentary filmTed Talk, mural project, and website, to name a few of his strategies.

Or even more recently, the #IdleNoMore movement in Canada has rallied behind a collection of digital, mobile, and social strategies that include a tweeted hashtag meme, flash mobs, and website – all mixed with traditional protest methods of road blocks, marches, and even a very real, human hunger strike – inspired by assertion that if "Aboriginal people did not speak out it would mean they "comply with [their] silence" on the most important issues to indigenous communities. The movement has grown to broaden the conversation, calling for treaty recognition, tribal self-determination, and policy reformation, among other important areas.

I see these movements as the product of very real contributing factors, including:

  • Policy: The 2009 passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama early in his administration.  A portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act designated approximately $7.2 billion in investments to expand broadband access nationwide, improve high-speed connectivity in rural areas and public computer centers, and increase Internet capacity in schools, libraries, public safety offices, and other public buildings.
  • Philanthropy:  people today - particularly social entrepreneurs and innovators - see that the commons can be more creative and nimble than political change via government policies, or developing solutions based on markets and profit margins. The Save Pe’ Sla movement was ultimately a fundraiser, for example.
  • Technology: hardware and software have dramatically improved as our phones have become smarter, increasingly light and mobile, and easier to use. The above referenced examples provide evidence to suggest that websites and widgets are dramatically improving creative connectivity through devices that are increasingly common and relatively affordable.  For example, I learned about Aaron Huey’s Documentary Video and TedTalk from a friend at a barbecue, later watched both on YouTube on my iPad and then promptly downloaded the digital illustration he used on his mural as my new desktop wallpaper.
  • Society: it’s clear that people now see the adoption of digital, mobile, and social media technologies as standard tools in our mobilization kit. People can and do use a mix of basic mobile devices, such as Androids and iPhones, basic social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to produce basic  digital with content such as images and videos, all delivered through basic digital media platforms such as YouTube and  Flickr. We consider the insights of bloggers and “posters” of all kinds, from status updates to manifestos. You can follow the hunger strike in your news feed.

Welcome to 2013 – join me in watching what will come in the year ahead for the new American Indian Movement and the digitization, mobilization, socialization of media from indigenous communities across the globe.

I'm reminded that these recent events all began after the Return of Pté San Wi, the White Buffalo Calf Woman in July. Could these events be the dawning of the Age of Illumination, the age when mankind walks upright and once again remembers his true relationship with Creator? In the words of Black Elk, "...the yellow for the south, whencer come the summer and the power to grow.


Protect Pe'Sla Lakota Sioux Sacred Site

Artist Shepard Fairey and photographer Aaron Huey created this image in reference to the U.S. government's policy of ignoring the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.Not long ago I wrote a post, Vistory at Pe'Sla, about how Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney in South Dakota, wrote an article on to raise money to purchase Pe'Sla, a sacred site in the Black Hills. At the time, it seemed like a true success story about a group of young, professional, 21st Century American Indians reclaiming our land through grassroots activism.

Sadly, the victory call was too good to be true. For now.

According to The Washington Post, the land holds sacred significance for the Lakotas: "The property is important to their creation story, and tribal members have long held ceremonies there. When the land was put up for sale, tribal members worried it would be developed because of its proximity to Mount Rushmore."

This area is partly owned by the Reynolds family. They planned to auction off almost 2,000 acres on August 25, 2012 to the highest bidder. According to The Washington Post, "Landowners Leonard and Margaret Reynolds canceled a public auction of the property earlier this year after tribal members expressed outrage. The Reynolds then accepted the tribes’ bid to purchase the land for $9 million if they have the money by November 30, 2012."

The Great Sioux Nation must raise $9 million to purchase the land by November 30, 2012, securing it as a sacred, undeveloped site, accessible to all. They've raised $6.5million and with the help of a number of influential celebrities, are on track to get the rest. Spread this video far and wide. Donate and get more info at and

This is what the American Indian Movement looks like in the 21st Century. Digital media, social media, and traditional media are spreading the message: NOW is the time to act! Hoka hey!

PE'SLA 2012 from Village Beat on Vimeo.


Victory at Pe'Sla

Artist Shepard Fairey and photographer Aaron Huey created this image in reference to the U.S. government's policy of ignoring the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Although I live in California, far from the the Black Hills and my family in Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming, I am still very encouraged to learn about the grassroots efforts of people in my generation making positive contributions to the Lakota people by protecting our sacred lands.

On August 1, Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney in South Dakota, wrote an article on to raise money to purchase Pe'Sla, a sacred site in the Black Hills. He explains:

"Pe' Sla is an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota (just west of Rapid City) that is considered by the Lakota people to be the Center and heart of everything that is. It is part of our creation story. It is a sacred place. We perform certain ceremonies at Pe' Sla which sustain the Lakota way of life and keep the universe in harmony.

This area is partly owned by the Reynolds family. They plan to auction off almost 2,000 acres on August 25, 2012 to the highest bidder. It is likely that the state of South Dakota will put a road directly through Pe' Sla and open up this sacred place for development.

The seven bands of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Oyate (people) aka Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) have a collective effort to buy as much of Pe'Sla as we can at this auction (although we also believe that the land cannot be owned and that our sacred places were illegally taken by the United States). Yet we are trying to work within the current U.S. laws to regain custody of our sacred sites and prevent future road and industrial development. Our sacred ways must be protected and passed on to our future generations so that our children may live.

This area of the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) is also home to many plants and animals who should also be protected. In fact, many consider that the area should possibly be a historical site, which would also assist in protecting it from future development as well.

As Lakota people, our ancestors prayed here, at Pe' Sla, at certain times of year, when the stars aligned. We cannot go elsewhere to pray. We were meant to pray here. This is what they do not understand. Please help the Lakota people. "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children." - Chief Sitting Bull, 1877.

We have a group of young professional Native people that are dedicated to the promotion of education, health, leadership, and sovereignity among our indigenous Nations. Our goal is to assist in any way possible the purchase of Pe' Sla and other sites by a collective effort of the seven bands of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) - the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people. All proceeds from this campaign will go towards that effort. This area would be open to tribal nations for ceremonial purposes. The plants, animals, water, and air in the area would be respected and honored."

Over the course of the month, the website raised more than $300,000 that was combined with $1.3 million from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Together, they are credited for purchasing and saving the sacred site:

"We are greatly encouraged by the enormous outpouring of support to protect Pe'Sla and for the reigniting of our collective consciousness related to sacred sites and the Black Hills - Wamaka Ognaka y Cante (the Heart of Everything that is)" reads a press release on

Family and friends in Rapid City, a rally will be held Wednesday, September 5 at 5 p.m. to celebrate the purchase of Pe’ Sla at the Memorial Park Band Shell.

Watch this video from their press conference on Saturday, September 1, 2012 - Chase Iron Eyes tells the story of this important victory for the Lakota:

Mid-month, I was at a BBQ event in San Francisco and a friend told me about how his family, on vacation, watched a documentary by Aaron Huey, Honor the Treaties. It was in viewing these videos that I came to learn about Chase Iron Eyes' efforts to mobilize people to protect our lands. The documentary, with many hard truths, sends our message of self-determination.  Watch the video:

Honor the Treaties | The Film from eric becker on Vimeo.


My New Favorite Gift Shop

As a nonprofit professional at a major tourist attraction, I always like to see what kinds of products are available in the gift shops of other public destinations. This past weekend, I went to Muir Woods National Monument with some visitors from France and found the art instillation in the gift shop to be one of the most fascinating wood carvings that I've ever seen! 

Carved into a single redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), is a timeline of humanity that flows, from left to right, in order:

Inhabitation -> Colonization -> Exploitation -> Conservation -> Recreation

I took these shots on my iPhone, so please forgive the poor quality.

Cool, huh?