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Reservation of the Mind: Curating the Indigenous Experience

When I was a kid, I started writing, scribbles in pink-bound notebooks, sonnets in sky-shaped clouds, and, squatting down in the country-side, I scrawled some unknown quantity like Jesus of Nazareth writing in the sand. Other Tribal artists were probably doing the same thing, carving sticks with sticks, painting underneath their eyelids and mixing strength and sinew to form something wild and new.

Native art has always been there, secreted away in museums and exhibits, or tucked in the pages of a journal, but oftentimes, unless explicitly stated, Indigenous art can enter the public sphere without being recognized as such, and non-Tribal people, with their "spiritual" designs and Arizona chevron patterns, can pull a believable facade, deigning to speak for the American Indian, as though we were unable to speak for ourselves. Indeed, publishing art as an Indigenous woman can feel like writing in the sand, or like whispering into the wind, some sudden stray dog freedom followed by mildly exhibitionist disappointment. For whom am I writing? To whom do I speak?

Although it can be very important for non-Native people to experience our work - to be given the chance to hear what we would say, finally drowning out the Urban Outfitters Navajo panties scandal, or the drunk white girls in headdresses smoking cigarettes in an empty bathtub, or the sexy Pocahontas costumes their teenage daughters want to wear - I don’t believe the impetus is on us to educate outsiders.

True, maybe Christina Fallin, of Pink Pony, could put aside her appropriative “appreciation” of our culture if she had the chance to hear our stories, and maybe every hipster with faux-leather moccasins could begin to understand who we are through this medium - if they were willing to listen. But that’s not what this is about.

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First and foremost, Four Winds is for us. I believe it is worthwhile for Indigenous artists to share their work and to benefit from Inter-tribal stories, patterns, and styles, in the same way we might at a powwow, when we all come together to form friendships, and appreciate each other’s backgrounds, diverse though they may be.

Yet, until July of this year, there was no singular literary journal or magazine dedicated to showcasing the art of the Indigenous People of North America. Yellow Medicine Review probably comes the closest, as it accepts submissions from Indigenous artists the world round. As/Us accepts submissions from (primarily) Native American women, and all women of color. But if you wanted to find a journal curated and edited by Native American authors, with exclusively Tribally-affiliated contributors, you wouldn't have been able to find one - until now.

Four Winds Literary Magazine is a kind of solution I thought up one day. I was simultaneously going through lists of literary journals, chatting with friends on Facebook, texting, and checking Instagram notifications (I am a woman of my generation) when it occurred to me - where is this magazine? I'd heard tales of a certain publication with (maybe?) Medicine Wheel in the title, but internet searches showed nothing. The more deeply I dug, the further the gap between what I was looking for, and what existed. There was some kind of "Indian" story on the internet, but it came so awfully close to the Noble-Savage-My-Great-Grandmother-Was-A-Medicine-Woman crap we've all seen before, which begs the question: who is curating the Indigenous experience, packaging it, and sending it into the deep realms of the internet? Who designs the so-called "Indian" patterns; who splashes purple-winged Native women on mugs and calls it authentic?

The answer: we don't know, but it's about time we started telling our own story. Four Winds Literary Magazine showcases exclusively Canadian and American Indigenous stories, artwork, carvings, poetry, stories, essays, and lyrics. So far, submissions have included Comanche, Kalispel, Shoalwater Bay, Coeur D'Alene, Cree, Abenaki, and Yaqui Indians. Our stories and voices are diverse - but they are beautiful, and unexpected, and they are loud and hushed and they move through every note on the scale and they mix paints to create colors we've never seen or heard before. Compiled in a single, if upstart, magazine, we're choosing to utilize our agency, and to speak with our own voices, found slow and somehow also suddenly, like Moses in the reeves.

Misty Lynn Ellingburg is the editor-In-chief of Four Winds magazine, which is currently accepting submissions for our fall 2014 issue, themed "Reservation of the Mind." If you would like to get involved with the magazine, be advised that we are looking for a graphic designer, a logo design, and a public outreach coordinator. Send a brief bio paragraph and a sample of your work to Attn: Editors,