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Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Announces 2017 Mentor Artist Fellowship Awards

Native Arts and Cultures Foundation fellowships include 12 Native Artists from three regions: Pacific Northwest, Southwest and Upper Midwest
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For six years, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NARF) has awarded National Artist Fellowships to Native artisans in a number of disciplines, traditional and contemporary in communities all around Native America, including Alaska and Hawaii. Part of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Fellowships has always had a community component and this year they have reached an important goal with a pilot project.

On April 19, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation announced their first Mentor Artist Fellowship Awards to 12 artists in three regions of the United States: the Pacific Northwest, Southwest and Upper Midwest. The awardees reside in Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. Beginning in July, each artist will train and mentor an emerging Native artist apprentice for one year and are required to produce a joint art project at the completion of the Fellowship period.

The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Mentor Fellowship includes a monetary award of $30,000 per artist for a total of $360,000 awarded in fellowships. Each artist has specific plans to mentor young artists, to teach traditional methods so that they can pass on knowledge and hopefully the apprentices will become leaders as well as practicing artists. Modern methods of collaboration, networking, museum studies and marketing will also be taught to enable future community projects to have a sound footing. The projects may in some cases not only preserve traditional arts but revitalize and renew them for the betterment of the community.


The 2017 Mentor Fellows in Contemporary Visual Arts include:

Descriptions of each artist courtesy of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation website.

Nicholas Galanin - Tlingit/Unangax̂, metalwork and multi-disciplinary, Alaska

Nicholas Galanin - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Nicholas Galanin

Nicholas Galanin is an educator, lecturer, and multi-disciplinary artist with an exceptional skill in the metal-smithing and sculptural technique known as chasing and repoussé.

Jackson Polys - Tlingit, carving, mixed media, Alaska

Jackson Polys - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Jackson Polys

Jackson Polys opens opportunity for dialogue to reconsider the meanings and functions of traditional Northwest Coast art forms through his carved sculptures.

Cara Romero - Chemehuevi, Photography, New Mexico

Cara Romero - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Cara Romero

Cara Romero is a visual storyteller whose dynamic photographs challenge preconceived notions of Native art, culture, and peoples.

Dyani White Hawk - Sicangu Lakota, mixed media, Minnesota

Dyani White Hawk - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Dyani White Hawk

Dyani White Hawk has been blessed with opportunities to learn beadwork, porcupine quillwork, sewing, and traditional art forms that are vital for her to share.

The 2017 Mentor Fellows in Traditional Arts include:

Descriptions of each artist courtesy of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation website.

Lani Hotch - Chilkat Indian Village, weaving, Alaska

Lani Hotch - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Lani Hotch

As an artist, Lani Hotch continually focuses her work and ambitions on the resurgence of traditional arts in her community.

Royce Manuel - Auk-Mierl Aw-Thum, fiber art, Arizona

Royce Manuel - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Royce Manuel

Royce Manuel is revitalizing an endangered art form, fiber weaving from harvested desert plants, which has not been practiced or taught for nearly eighty years.

Delbert “Smutcoom” Miller - Skokomish, carving, Washington

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Delbert “Smutcoom” Miller - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Delbert “Smutcoom” Miller

Miller follows what was passed to him by his tribal elders. He teaches the Tuwaduq (Skokomish) words that correspond with the artwork that his students create as well as the traditional practices that go along with crafting the art. He wants those he teaches to also pass on this traditional knowledge and in doing so, this generation may become the advisors and leaders of the Skokomish and Chehalis people in the future.

Tahnibaa Naataanii - Diné, weaving, New Mexico

Tahnibaa Naataanii - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Tahnibaa Naataanii

Navajo weaving has been passed for generations in TahNibaa Naataanii’s family along with songs or stories that come along with each woven piece.

Wayne “Minogiizhig” Valliere - Lac du Flambeau Lake Superior Band of Chippewa Indians, birch bark canoe making, Wisconsin

Wayne Valliere - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Wayne Valliere

Wayne Valliere has devoted four decades of his life to the preservation of his people’s arts, language, and culture.

Delina White - Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, regalia/apparel, accessory making, Minnesota

Delina White - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Delina White

Delina White is devoted to Anishinaabe Inendamowin (thought/ways of thinking) and keeps her Anishinaabe woodland designs and history alive through her artwork.

Laura Wong-Whitebear - Colville/Sinixt, basket weaving, Washington

Laura Wong - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Laura Wong-Whitebear

Laura Wong-Whitebear is dedicated to utilizing and preserving traditional basket-weaving knowledge and has chosen an apprentice with the same commitment.

Shirod Younker - Coquille/Coos, canoe paddle making, multi-disciplinary, Oregon

Shirod Younker - Courtesy Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Shirod Younker

Shirod Younker is an experienced culture bearer having researched his tribe’s lost historic and traditional knowledge, and now teaching it to the next generation.


The 2017 awardees were selected from an open call for applications that was issued last October to American Indian and Alaska Native artists. Applications were reviewed from more than 100 submissions by a panel of art peers and professionals. In accordance with the Fellowship guidelines, the awardees are accomplished Native artists of 10 years or more in Traditional Arts or Contemporary Visual Arts. They have resided in their respective states for at least five years and are enrolled in an American Indian tribe or Alaska Native corporation.

“The goal of the Mentor Fellowship program is to improve creative development, artistic rigor, and perpetuate intergenerational cultural and traditional knowledge,” says Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Director of Programs Francene Blythe, Diné/Sisseton-Wahpeton/Eastern Band Cherokee. “This fellowship will foster the continued growth of Native artist mentors and apprentices and empower them to play an integral role in their communities.”

The Mentor Fellowship Program is generously supported by individual donors and regional funders committed to preserving and perpetuating Native arts and cultures. Native Arts and Cultures Foundation is grateful to Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and to the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation for supporting an Oregon mentor fellow.

The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation’s mission is to promote the revitalization, appreciation and perpetuation of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian arts and cultures through grantmaking, convening and advocacy. To date, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation has supported a total of 251 awards for Native artists, organizations, and advocacy efforts in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia; funded over 300 events and activities, engaged more than 146,000 participants and reached an estimated 842,000 people.

Native Arts and Cultures Foundation was launched in 2008 with a $10 million commitment from the Ford Foundation and many other Native and non-Native contributors. The foundation was initiated a generation earlier by Native Artists who formed Native networks, organizations and institutions to establish a healthy environment that nurtures and promotes Indigenous arts and cultures. Tribal governments have had their own priorities while operating with limited funding.

Historically, government policy was to suppress Native American language, religion, and culture in order to forcibly assimilate Native Americans into mainstream society. But Indigenous peoples have remained resilient, adaptive and creative as our communities survive and thrive. And it is the artists, craftspeople and cultural resource keepers that have often held the culture together. Yet, many Native American artists live on a subsistence level, networking outside communities is difficult, there is little government support for Native art and culture or consistent support from the American philanthropic community. This has changed over the last generation and it is due to Native Americans themselves, brokering successes to find partners in business, nonprofits and government agencies.

To learn more about the National Artist Fellows and Native Arts and Cultures Foundation ’s work, visit: