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Thursday June 22nd 2017

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For the Native youth of Phillips “there are a lot of possibilities out there…to be a part of…”

I See Generations

AmericanIndianCenterMuralFinalcropped(2)

Photo by Jaime Martinez

BY COCO VILLALUZ with LINDSEY FENNER

The eastern wall of the Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC) at 1530 E. Franklin Avenue has been turned into a 3,306 square foot canvas. Guided by Native youth, mural artists Gregg Deal and Votan have created a stunning new mural alongside George Morrison’s wood collage on the MAIC that showcases the wealth of Native public art in the Phillips Community. This new mural acts as an entrance to the American Indian cultural corridor along Franklin Avenue.

The MAIC mural was a collaboration between ClearWay Minnesota, a non-profit working to reduce commercial tobacco usage; the Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota; and community organizer Charlie Thayer. The project was further supported by Mary LaGarde, Executive Director of MAIC, and Frank Downwind and Ozzie Snowdon from Little Earth of United Tribes.

In February 2015, ClearWay Minnesota hosted two community dialogues in the urban American Indian community to develop murals to convey the message: “Keep Tobacco Sacred.” Charlie Thayer and Senior Community Development Manager at Clearway MN, CoCo Villaluz, had participated in a fellowship through Intermedia Arts and dreamed up doing murals in the American Indian Community that shared the voices and values of Native peoples.  As Thayer observed, “Art is a powerful tool that we can utilize to build our communities; there is power in activism through art.”

With leadership from Lannesse Baker, Executive Director of the Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota, connections were made between motivated Native youth from south Minneapolis and community organizers and artists. Baker explained that the goal of the Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota “is always to create support for young Native people to develop and strengthen leadership skills. We know this happens in the most profound ways when we facilitate positive relationships with healthy adults and create opportunities for learning through service and action projects. The mural project is one example of this approach.”

The mural design process was community centered and youth-driven. Indeed, one of the faces depicted in the mural is an actual image of a youth involved with the mural visioning process. Youth leaders engaged over 100 youth to determine the visual message young Native people wanted to share with their community and the broader society about who they are, health, traditional tobacco, and hopes for the future.  Youth involved with the Wiconi Waste program at Little Earth were among those who influenced the design and put in many hours helping paint.   

Baker noted that “the youth crew did an incredible job facilitating and hosting conversation with their peers. It’s powerful for Native youth to know they are heard and their input matters because they are oftentimes the most overlooked and invisible group. With this project, their voice and vision were visible immediately. These types of projects challenge dominant story lines about who young Native people are and inspire change.” One of the young people who helped to facilitate the discussion, Abel Martinez, said that being a part of the mural process helped him to see he had a voice and can make positive change.  It opened his eyes to see that there are a lot of possibilities out there and that he can be a part of it.

East Phillips Native  youth will get to see themselves as a part of a continuing project that will connect generations around the globe. Although the painting of the mural was completed last spring, the project has become a catalyst for other projects throughout the world. Thayer and others involved with the project will soon be traveling to Nicaragua and working on a similar project with Indigenous relatives to the south.

A community organizer involved with the project, Deanna Standing Cloud, sees the mural as “a timeless creation that reflects the strength in our collective wisdom for many generations in the East Phillips neighborhood. The revitalization of our traditional teachings can connect our Native youth to their identities. This mural offers a visual representation of our innate knowledge we each carry within the strands of our own DNA, even through generations of trauma and colonization. It is a beautiful gift to our vibrant Native community in the Twin Cities.”

CoCo Villaluz is Senior Community Development Manager at Clearway MN.

Lindsey Fenner, is a Collaborative and Community Writing Volunteer for The Alley Newspaper.

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