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Sandra Hale Schulman

Special to Indian Country Today

With reservations and Native communities being hit particularly hard by the pandemic, Native artists are getting out the message of social distancing and hygiene through art. 

Websites, Instagram and printed posters at community centers are some of the ways the art can be seen.

Brent Learned is an activist artist and curator out of Oklahoma as a member of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes. He has put together several Native Pop group shows to exhibit contemporary Native art for up and coming generations. 

Masked Chief art by Brent Learned COPY

He actively uses Instagram and posts his new art online while participating in top national shows including Indian Market in Santa Fe. His booth is always a highlight as friends and groups of people are constantly streaming by to say hello, see his new artwork and grab a photo, but along with most of the big summer events, South West Indian Market has been canceled this year due to the pandemic.

When the lockdown started, Learned went to work creating clever, colorful paintings to get the message out in a way that would appeal to art lovers and younger viewers.

“I saw what was happening in Oklahoma, and I knew I had to help get the message out there to protect people, especially our elders,” he said by phone. "I know people who have gotten sick and passed away already so know how serious this is. Unfortunately, I see lots of people not taking it seriously. Maybe art can help get the message out there.”

Bunky Echo Hawk

Echo Hawk detail UIHI.jpg

As a high-profile Native artist who usually travels the country to conduct art workshops, create murals for the Miccosukee in Miami’s Wynwood Art District, and design blankets for Pendleton, Bunky Echo Hawk, Pawnee from Oklahoma, is an in-demand artist. 

He has become active in the coronavirus health cause, designing posters to make the message visual with graphics and ways to protect oneself and others.

Echo Hawk-Covid-Talking Points Poster

“The Urban Indian Health Institute reached out to me about illustrating information on how Native parents can talk to their children about Covid-19,” Echo Hawk said in an email. “As a parent in a tribal community, I couldn’t find many resources at all to help. The project definitely filled a void!"

He said it's important for Native communities to be represented appropriately at all times, whether in pamphlets, flyers, television, film, politics, academia or the courts.

"This pandemic further illustrates, to me, that the federal government doesn’t have our best interests at heart. Now is the time for our communities to define how we want to live, how we want to thrive, how we want to persevere, and how we can work with other tribes.”

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Klee Benally

Translations_ Alfredo Yazzie, Art_ Klee Benally

Klee Benally is a Diné musician, traditional dancer, artist, filmmaker and Indigenous anarchist, one who is never afraid to stand up for what he believes in. 

Klee is originally from Black Mesa, Arizona, and has worked most of his life at the front lines in struggles to protect Indigenous sacred lands. 

He has toured the world with his former award-winning band Blackfire and now as a solo performer. 

Klee provides strategic planning and direct action training with Indigenous Action Media and is currently the national coordinator for Clean Up The Mines. He also helped establish Táala Hooghan Infoshop, Protect the Peaks and Outta Your Backpack Media, and he volunteers with Haul No.

Translations_ Alfredo Yazzie; Art_ Klee Benally

Klee is now a Key Partner of Kiłani Mutual Aid, providing urgently needed supplies to the Navajo reservation as well as creating striking posters to get the message across. Their main message is “Solidarity Not Charity”.

“We are an all-volunteer grassroots indigenous-led group operating on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations (Navajo Hopi Solidarity)” he says. 

“We are prioritizing the elderly (especially those raising their grandchildren), single parents, and struggling families by helping them buy groceries, water, and health supplies, and by protecting them (and their vulnerable communities) from exposure by engaging volunteers to make the purchases and deliver them to a safe transfer location for the families. Thank you all for your grace and patience.”

Lehi Sanchez 

Thunder Voice Eagle mask design (1)

Navajo designer/artist Lehi Sanchez makes paintings and resourced hats under the name Thunder Voice Eagle. 

He has teamed up with Gear Up and Protect (G.A.P.) and ThunderVoice Hat Co. to fill immediate needs in the Bodaway/Gap area of the Navajo Nation, where his family is from. 

He has designed washable cotton/linen canvas masks with striking Native prints. Funds raised through mask, art print, and reclaimed turquoise jewelry sales via ThunderVoice Hat Co will be used to purchase supplies and resources for the community. 

The sales proceeds ($15 from each $40 mask sale) are going to the Navajo Nation to provide needed support. The funds are being overseen by Gentle White Dove, mother of ThunderVoice Eagle. The funds are going to both the GoFundMe as well as to direct support of his family's Chapter House: Bodaway Chapter.

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Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, and has produced three films on Native musicians.