Artist Votan Ik of NSRGNTS stands before the nearly completed mural.
To me, it’s rather astounding to think that Duluth has been without indigenous representation for this long. I imagine people from all over the world have been visiting Duluth as tourists and have only gotten to see one side of this place, unaware of the precolonial history that it’s tied to. This mural is a long-awaited step toward reaffirming our presence as indigenous people. It’s unapologetically native — an unmistakable vision that grew into fruition along the stretch of West Second Street, firmly declaring the presence of a people long pushed to the side from mainstream narratives.
Gimaajii Program Coordinator Daryl Olson presents Dr. Robert Powless with a plaque honoring his contributions to the Native community. Photo by Ivy Vainio.
On March 24 the American Indian Community Housing Organization opened its doors to the community to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin. The Gimaajii Building is AICHO’s official headquarters and serves multiple functions; not only does it provide 29 units of permanent supportive housing to area families, but it’s Duluth’s only American Indian center. In conjunction with its supportive services, AICHO has established a thriving arts and cultural program, working with Native American and emerging artists to help them overcome barriers to their professional careers, including unexpected costs, public awareness and finding their voice in the community. AICHO hosts hundreds of events each year and averages around 15,000 visitors annually — many of the events have taken place in the auditorium and art gallery space formerly known as Trepanier Hall. On the night of Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin’s fifth anniversary celebration, AICHO officially unveiled the new title of this space in honor of a man who’s been there from the beginning.
The Standing Strong for Our Precious Water Art Exhibit and Concert Benefit for Standing Rock took place this past Friday at AICHO Galleries and was an amazing success. 400+ people showed up, raising a preliminary estimate of above $7,000 for Standing Rock water protectors and Honor the Earth (and that number continues to rise as more artwork is purchased over the course of the next month). The evening featured artwork by roughly 100 different visual artists, with musical performances by Annie Humphrey, Keith Secola, Jamie Labrador, #theindianheadband, Oshkii Giizhik Singers, Jake Vainio, and Richie Townsend.
Visiting artists Petrona Guaillas, Victoria Sarango and Paulina Gonzalez said that visiting with beadwork artists from the area was the highlight of their stay. Photo by Caitlin Nielson.
September is shaping up to be a busy month at the American Indian Community Housing Organization. This past Thursday a trio of indigenous beadwork artists from Saraguro, Ecuador visited. They are members of the cooperative Las Mujeres de Teresa de Calcuta and widely known for their netted necklaces.
On Day 2, the kids were sent on a scavenger hunt that encouraged them utilize different camera techniques.
The kids were broken up into teams; they learned not only how to use the cameras, but how to teach each other.
Those who visited Brighton Beach last Thursday might have spotted the group of the kids playing in the waves of Lake Superior. They may have also noticed some touting high-end DSLR cameras and bright colored notebooks, wandering the shoreline with eager faces. That’s because, last week, the American Indian Community Housing Organization partnered with a St. Paul-based nonprofit, In Progress, to host culturally specific photography and storytelling workshops for Native American youth.
Lesson facilitator Kristine Sorenson made the journey up from the cities to the Gimaajii location to teach kids ages 8-12 how to use professional camera equipment (ranging in price from $800 to $6,000 per camera) and document the beauty in their lives. The results of their adventures couldn’t have been more inspiring.
A good number of photos featured here were taken by both myself and the participating youth and volunteers; however, at first glance, I’m willing to bet that no one would be able to distinguish who took which of the images here!
Juror Ivy Vainio asked the crowd (as more shuffled in) to raise a hand if this was the first time they’d been a part of an exhibit. Photo by Ivy Vainio.
It’s been a few weeks since the opening of the Let’s See What You See Duluth photography exhibit, and already it’s time for the photos to come down from the wall and for the American Indian Community Housing Organization to start planning its next function. The exhibit was a huge success, garnering hundreds of cellphone photo submissions and attracting over 200 people in a line that extended out onto the sidewalk and down the street shortly after 6 p.m.