‘Native artists are resilient. We’ll get through this’

Vincent Schilling

Native artists, musicians, comedians, actors and writers speak on careers affected by the COVID-19 virus. Freelance Artist Resources website hopes to provide relief

Native comedian Joey Clift, Cowlitz, says he is seeing firsthand the effects that the coronavirus is having on the film industry living in Los Angeles. As a television and film production comedy writer that has contributed to the Cartoon Network, Dreamworks, Nickelodeon and more, Clift says that he is in the same boat as many Native artists in that they often work as an independent contractor.

“We don't have 401ks, we're contract employees,” says Clift. “So for the next two weeks to several months that we're out of work, we're just out of work. As far as I know, there are no productions going in Los Angeles right now. So it's up to us to fend for ourselves, for lack of a better term.”

Due to the coronavirus, Many Native artists, musicians, writers, and other creative professionals are seeing doors close to upcoming opportunities. Some are also seeing jobs they previously had on their schedules now getting cancelled.

Hip hop artists Tall Paul, Nataanii Means

Last week on social media, Native hip hop artist Tall Paul, Ojibwe and Oneida, posted he had lost $4,000 due to gig cancellations in the past month.

In a tweet, Paul wrote, “Hopefully it all works out, but like all the other bullshit that’s found it’s way in my life over the years, this already feels like a blessing in disguise waiting to fulfill itself. What don’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Paul also posted several humorous tweets about self-isolation to include funny Tik Tok videos and one about working out even though he couldn’t go to the gym.

Lakota hip hop artist Nataanii Means, also said he was hurting due to cancellations and delayed payments for his work. On March 18, he tweeted.

“Bruh this gig I did 4 weeks ago still hasn’t paid me. 4 weeks I’ve been waiting for payment and now there’s a pandemic happening. They haven’t updated or nothing. They owe me big racks too. F**k this pisses me off cause all my upcoming gigs have been canceled and I’m stuck.”

Illustrator Weshoyot Alvitre: ‘I have been financially impacted by this’

Weshoyot Alvitre is a Tongva/Scots comic book artist and illustrator that said she is seeing a negative hit to her income as an artist. She has a children's book with Cherokee author Traci Sorrell titled "At the Mountain's Base" as well as an educational game "When Rivers Were Trails," as well as numerous award-winning books and anthologies.

“I have been financially impacted by this,” wrote Alvitre in an email. “I started seeing it prior to any of the shutdowns, as I was scheduled to attend Indigenous Pop Expo March 26-29 (formerly Indigenous Comic-Con.)”

Alvitre says the Comic-Con, where she sold prints, original art and merchandise helps her financially, as well as helps her make critical connections in her industry.

Turtle Island by Weshoyot Alvitre
The illustration "Turtle Island" by Weshoyot Alvitre

She explained the impact of the COVID-19 event closures on her artistry.

“Our recent graphic novel, GHOSTRIVER, came out of an interview at Indigenous Comic-Con in 2017. I have had an upcoming gallery even for GHOSTRIVER canceled as well, which has impacted more potential to line up future work and promote my current wok. I have begun speaking at Universities and conferences. Most recently I spoke at UCLA, the day they announced potential cases of COVID19 on campus. That will probably be my last in-person chat for a while. A conference in May will most likely be put on hold or canceled, and the honorarium as well.”

“So three major events over the next two months have been canceled for me, and I now cannot rely on the income I would have expected from those events. Luckily the projects I have been working on have not been cancelled.”

Alvitre says she and many fellow artists are being affected. She says she is also worried about her sister who works at a hospital, and for her husband who is an artist, that is seeing reduced hours at his retail job. But she does say she appreciates working at home with her children close by, even if things can get chaotic.

“One upside to this, is that I have experienced the ups and downs of being an independent contractor. It is something that usually does not have a set income, a consistent flow, etc. so you really need to always be prepared with several backup plans to be able to maintain your needs during slow times.”

Actor Loren Anthony: ‘I’ve had eight contracts cancelled and just lost three months of work’

Loren Anthony
Loren Anthony

Loren Anthony, Dine’, is an actor, public speaker and musician that has had several contracts recently cancelled due to COVID-19.

“Everything has stopped. Everything in the film industry has stopped and I’ve had eight contracts cancelled and just lost three months of work.”

Anthony says that though the situation is disconcerting, he is going to take advantage of the situation in the best way that he can. He said he was employing two courses of action. The first is outreach to the community in a safe way that would not endanger the elderly or increase the possibility of transmitting any possible viruses and working on improving his own craft.

“I will do whatever is safest to do in my community, such as chopping wood for elders, or bringing them groceries and leaving them on the porch without coming into contact with him. It is important to be safe, said Anthony who shared a tweet of himself and 16-year-old Damien Slinky.

“Did what we could, helped three grandmas with wood and delivered food care packages to as many elders as possible. So many elders out there need attention to the homestead and for their children to check in with them. Be safe out there everyone, love and prayers to all. #COVID19.”

“As far as my craft, now is a great time to update my actor’s reels, to study, to get even more fresh and sharpened. There is always a lot more work to do as an actor, and it always seems as if there is more to learn and catch up on. So this is a perfect opportunity to play catch up on a part of my craft that can always use practice.”

(See related article: Dine' Actor Loren Anthony 'Don't ever give up.')

Comedienne Adrianne Chalepah opened for Michelle Obama

Adrianne Chalepah, Kiowa/Apache is an actress, comedian, and writer that has been working in comedy for years. She even once opened for Frist Lady Michelle Obama. She is the author of "Funny Girl," and the founder of the all-female, Indigenous comedy troupe, Ladies of Native Comedy. In 2019, she was featured in the Netflix series, "Larry Charles' Dangerous World of Comedy."

Adrianne Chalepah
Comedienne Adrianne Chalepah

With all of her accolades, recent events have had a big effect on Chalepah.

“Well, as you can imagine, I’m taking a huge financial loss with the cancelling of all my shows for the months of March and April. People like me depend on our self-employment to pay our bills and feed our kids. Traveling is part of the job. Large crowds is the other part of the job. Unable to do both, I am forced to seek welfare or other sources. I’ll get creative in making money. I have a bachelor’s degree to fall on so I know this will pass. But to say I’m not worried about feeding my kids, is definitely an understatement,” wrote Chalepah in an email.

“Also, now that my kids are out of school, I have to spend my time focused on them and their home-schooling, which takes more time away from making money. The stress levels are at an all-time high but I feel like this will definitely make our family stronger in the long run. We started a garden and learned about what we can do to protect the most vulnerable in our society. We’re using this time to really put our belief systems into action.”

“We’re playing it safe and staying home. In the meanwhile I’m trying to think of ways to keep my fan base engaged and perhaps sell some merchandise online. I don’t have a huge fan base so this will be difficult. I’ve also thought about doing some freelance work.”

TV writer Kelly Lynne D'Angelo: ‘I will let love win over fear’

Kelly Lynne D'Angelo is a Haudenosaunee Two-Spirit comedy television writer that has contributed to the Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

Kelly Lynne D'Angelo
TV writer Kelly Lynne D'Angelo

“Much has been affected, but I’m one of the lucky ones in that my job has allowed me to work from home at least for the time being. That’s not to say things might not look very different in a couple of weeks or even days.”

D’Angelo says she isn’t afraid of the virus. In a tweet she wrote: “I'm not afraid of the virus. I'm afraid of people. The way people behave when their livelihood is threatened. When they can't make rent. When they can't buy food. But I will let love win over fear. I will care for those I can. I will take the higher road.”

TV and film writer Lucas Brown Eyes: ‘Will this cause the industry to play it safe?’

Lucas Brown Eyes, Oglala Lakota, is a television writer, actor, and comedian that has worked on over 100 episodes of television with Fox, Freeform, Disney, PBS, and Netflix. Including a Native family comedy pilot he sold based on his life. He said in an email that despite the current state of events, he "considers himself lucky."

Lucas Brown Eyes
TV and film writer Lucas Brown Eyes

“The show I was staffed on wrapped in the fall, so I’ve been working from home. Which is pretty lucky that I’m able to do that. I have started taking video meetings, which combines the awkwardness of a phone call, the insecurity of having to see yourself from that low webcam angle, and the uncertainty of whether or not your internet will freeze. Worst of all, you have to wear non-ranch stained clothes, which is hard for me. Also, they are less personal, and personal connections are a surprisingly big part of working in television.”

Brown Eyes says the biggest disruption for him has been the uncertainty.

“As a television writer, the next job is never a given. You could go months and months without a job. So you have to plan for that, but there’s no planning for an event like this. I’m currently developing a lot of projects, and the fear is that this will cause an industry slowdown. So the biggest question is, “how long can I last without an income?”

“And when you’re Native there’s another fear that weighs heavy... will this cause the industry to play it safe? Natives are just now getting a sliver of representation after a century of erasure. Will Hollywood go back to the old anti-Native ways? Because sadly, even in 2020, Hollywood has no “proven track record” for Natives because they never allowed us the opportunity. I pray that Hollywood doesn’t fall back on the old stories and points of views they’ve been telling for years because not only will that rob Natives of crucial representation, but it’s robbing the world of our amazing never been told before stories.”

Actor Michael Greyeyes: ‘As Indian people, we have faced much worse’

Michael Greyeyes, Cree, has been working in some of the most prominent television and films productions over the past several years to include lead roles in “Fear the Walking Dead,” “V-Wars,” “Blood Quantum” and “True Detective.”

Michael Greyeyes as Qaletaqa Walker - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 3, Episode 8.
Michael Greyeyes as Qaletaqa Walker - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 3, Episode 8.

“This is a global event, so naturally here in Canada we are experiencing much of the same effects of this pandemic as our friends to the south.”

“Once the outbreak in China was first reported, my wife and I began to get worried. We live in Toronto, which experienced the SARS epidemic awhile back, so we were instantly aware of how quickly a virus can spread in our global economy. After it appeared in Iran, we began to worry in earnest. Now it is here, but for the moment we are safe, hunkered down in our home. Schools, universities, restaurants, gyms and theatres are all closed. The initial panic of the last week has subsided and it seems our city is beginning to understand how long this pandemic will affect us. We are preparing for the long haul. Personally, all of my work has disappeared.”

“Just days before I was scheduled to leave for Vancouver to begin season 2 of "Home Before Dark," filming was suspended. "Wild Indian," an indie that I was filming in Oklahoma last year is also on hold. We're looking at a few months (we think) of no income from our regular jobs. As many of you know, I'm quite outspoken here on Twitter about how our governments often fail us, but I'm heartened to hear that there are measures in place in Canada to assist artists, gig workers and self-employed people.”

“Now we will wait and see how it unfolds. But I am fortunate, I am with my family and we are safe — that is not the case for many people in our communities. We are facing an unprecedented crisis, but know that we, as Indian people, have faced much worse. We are survivors; we have real strength in our blood and in our communities. So be strong and love one another, just as our elders have taught us.”

Comedian Joey Clift: ‘We are all in this together’

Comedian Joey Clift says that one of the most positive things about the COVID-19 situation is the Native community, as well as all communities, coming together. He also says this is an opportunity for people to share each other’s efforts on social media.

“Something that I've seen a lot in Native country and in the industry in general, we're all checking in on each other. Whenever anybody goes to the store, they always text a bunch of people to see if anybody needs anything picked up. I think, at least for now, we're all in this together.”

“Native people, we are resilient. I'm seeing a lot of jokes on Native Twitter that say ‘this isn't the first time we survived through a foreign-born illness.’ So you know, Natives have been through so much, We're resilient. We'll get through this,” says Clift.

“Native artists are resilient. We'll get through this.”

Resources for Independent Artists

Currently there is a site dedicated to providing resources for freelance artists affected by COVID-19

Visit it here: https://covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com


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