Blog

5.13.15

Building a Native Arts Consortium in the Northeast

Dawn Spears
Coordinator

As the organizer of the Northeast Indigenous Arts Alliance planning group, I have come to a place of reflection; looking back I can say I jumped headfirst into planning and I am now knee deep! This is a great place to be, I wanted to be methodical in my approach by using the knowledge gained while working as the program manager for the Native Arts Program at NEFA. Instead of starting construction by digging a new foundation, I am using the concrete that was already poured, our planning group has the side walls up, and now we are working to put the windows in and soon the roof over our heads.  In this moment of pause, I wanted to also reflect on why this is important for our region.

What we know:

  • We know that we have a vibrant Indigenous community that produces beautiful unique art; art that is representative of our geographic area, our distinct cultures and the spiritual connection to our communities.
  • We know that for generations many have lived in less than ideal living conditions and that as much as we try to fit within the dominant culture our identity is still exactly that – its our identity and that distinctiveness is that we are the original peoples of this land, which ties us directly to this landscape here in New England.   We want to share our perspectives on Indigenous life both historically and contemporarily through our artist expression.
  • We know that many of the resources used by artists are directly related to their region, their landscapes, and the resources that are harvested there. This expresses our connection to the land, our life ways, and our Indigenous perspective. We are finding that invasive plants, population growth and development are compromising many of the resources and thereby affecting  our artist expression and traditional life ways. 
  • We know that as the indigenous population we do not have a strong public image here.  We are the invisible minority; you do not see representation or connection to the local tribal communities other than casino billboards. Why not?  There is a negative impression in many areas, which has made it extremely difficult for our youth to succeed academically.  Racial inequities still exist. We face the same challenges as other minority groups with high dropout rates, high teenage pregnancy rates, high rates of substance abuse, and high suicide due to the historical trauma we have faced over the last 400 years including genocide, displacement, enslavement, detribalization, acculturation, forced assimilation, and continued erasure practices through pencil or legal genocide.
  • We know that November is National Native American Heritage Month. The tribes here are in demand at this time and speaking/demonstrating jobs are at their peak during the "Thanksgiving" season. This brings up the question of how does one find someone to visit their school? Yellow pages? 
  • The Native community represents less than 1% of the minority population nationally and the Native community only receives a fraction of 1% of the funding available, so we are not receiving adequate funding to support the need across all areas from health, education to art.  Our region is home to 14 federally and state recognized tribes and nearly 135,000 individuals who identify as Native American, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

The newly formed Northeast Indigenous Arts Alliance was established to support the artist community needs, and based on our findings, establish a program that will benefit and help sustain the cultural assets of regional artists.  There is a natural relationship between art, social justice, environmental issues and health, with our community connection to land and its resources.  Our intention is to build an organization that is led by the community it is supporting, the community of Indigenous artists and Native arts organizations. We will continue to raise the visibility of our artists and build our network to increase opportunity for both our artists and for the public to connect via strong partnerships, shared marketing, collaborative art shows, and other empowering opportunities to support New England Native Arts and beyond.

Through NIAA we hope to dispel myths, educate the public on Indigenous art of New England Tribes, promote Native American artists, network with Native American arts organizations and create a forum where the public can find the best Native American artists and performers.

These are all reasons why this consortium was created to move forward the initiatives set in the Native Arts Program at NEFA is important and why the Northeast Indigenous Arts Alliance is needed here in the region. For more information on how you can help support this work contact us. Or like us on Facebook and keep an eye open for our NIAA website coming soon!

kutapatush (thank you),
Dawn Spears

 

Federally Recognized Tribes in the Northeast:

Connecticut

Maine

Massachusetts

 

New York

  • Cayuga Nation of New York
  • Oneida Nation of New York
  • Onondaga Nation of New York
  • Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (formerly the St. Regis Band of Mohawk Indians of New York)
  • Seneca Nation of New York
  • Shinnecock Indian Nation
  • Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians of New York
  • Tuscarora Nation of New York

Rhode Island

Additional Resources: