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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT

The latest: An Indigenous designer is featured in The Met, a video game based on an Alaskan tale wins a prestigious award, and an art exhibition casts a spotlight on the Everglades

FASHION: Indigenous designs exhibited at Metropolitan

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Costume Institute exhibition, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” now features a stunning floor-length, beige-and-black dress designed by Jamie Okuma, Luiseño and Shoshone-Bannock.

Okuma, who is based on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley, California, said she is “still in disbelief” that her work has been included in the exhibition, she told Vogue.

“I’m incredibly thankful to The Met for including me,” she said. “The feedback so far has been really great.”

The year-long exhibition will remain open through Sept. 5, 2022, according to the museum website.

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Okuma said she made the dress by hand and shot the photos at the Mesa Grande Indian reservation where her niece, Neshay Linton, a model, lives.

Her work has also been shown in the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Denver Art Museum, and she is a regular at the fashion show during Indian Market in Santa Fe. But the Met is a breakthrough - contemporary Indigenous fashion design has been largely overlooked in mainstream art and fashion spaces.

“It’s amazing to me when my fashion art is acquired by distinguished institutions such as these,” she said. “It was 17 years into my professional career when my work was finally purchased by a museum. Now, it happens a little more frequently. But every time, it still gives me butterflies.”

Okuma told Vogue she grew up in the powwow world and drew from those designs.

“I wanted to carry that aesthetic into this piece while having almost the whole piece created in sheer fabric,” she said.

The exhibition also includes a sweater design, made with a digital image from a painting by her mother, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

VIDEO GAME: Alaska tribe’s ‘Never Alone’ wins Peabody Award

The first video game ever developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat people of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council Alaska has won a Peabody Award.

The game, “Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna),” was developed with the input of 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members. The video game honors Alaska Native storytelling and is based on a traditional Inupiaq story (Kunuuksaayuka) about a young person who fights a blizzard that threatens the community’s survival.

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The designers wanted an authentic game true to their culture and people.

The video game, "Never Alone, the first video game developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat people of the Cook Inlet Tribal, won a 2022 Peabody Award for digital storytelling.  The game honors Alaska Native storytelling and is based on a traditional Inupiaq story about a young person who fights a blizzard that threatens the community’s survival. (Photo courtesy of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council)

Revenue from “Never Alone” helps fund programs for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. It is the first indigenous- owned commercial game company in the United States that supports Alaska Native people. CITC serves more than 13,000 people per year with services ranging from workforce development, family support, treatment and justice services.

“Never Alone” has a list of successes: Featured in more than 1,500 publications, the game has been downloaded an estimated 10 million times. It has been selected for nearly 100 “Best of Year” game lists, won a 2015 BAFTA (British Academy Award) and Game of the Year at Games for Change.

It now has also won the 2022 Peabody Digital and Interactive Storytelling Award. The Peabody Awards honor excellence in storytelling that reflect social issues and emerging voices. This year marks an expansion into recognizing digital interactive storytelling.

“We are inspired byNever Alone’s’ Peabody Award,” said CITC President and CEO Gloria O’Neill in a statement. “‘Never Alone’ was made from the heart, and we’re pleased to see it inspire worldwide audiences.

“‘Never Alone’ is about community and culture,” she continued. “It is about facing adversity together. It sends a message that through our culture and our relationships, we truly are never alone.”

ENVIRONMENTAL ART: Art duo creates Everglades ‘portal kiosk’

Rev. Houston R. Cypress, Miccosukee, and Jean Sarmiento from Costa Rica, met in a communications class in 2005 at the Art Institute in downtown Miami.

The Rev. Houston Cypress, Miccosukee, shown here in 2022, created a exhibition, "Return to Sender," on display at the Oolite Art Center in Miami Beach as part of the "Lean-To" exhibit. Cypress and a friend, Jean Sarmiento of Costa Rica, formed an organization to support the Everglades. (Photo by Sandra Schulman for ICT)

The pair became friends, formed a bond over their love for the Everglades and began collaborating. Cypress is from the Otter Clan of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and grew up on the reservation in the Everglades next to Shark Valley. Sarmiento was raised in Miami and has fond memories of fishing with his dad in the Tamiami Trail Canal.

They formed the Love The Everglades Movement in 2012, an organization devoted to platforms and initiatives for environmental protection and cultural preservation. They provide the interfaith, LGBTQ and communities of color, among other groups, with resources and access to connect with the Greater Everglades.

They are now exhibiting “Return to Sender,” a so-called “portal kiosk” at Oolite Arts in Miami Beach as part of the “Lean-To” exhibition. The kiosk was inspired by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the American journalist, author, women's suffrage advocate and conservationist known for her defense of the Everglades.

Jean Sarmiento of Costa Rica, shown here in 2022, and his friend, Houston Cypress, Miccosukee, created a exhibit, "Return to Sender," on display at the Oolite Art Center in Miami Beach as part of the "Lean-To" exhibition. (Photo by Sandra Schulman for ICT)

The kiosk holds objects unique to the Everglades – a large python snakeskin, a turtle rattle and bundles of grasses, along with vintage photos of Stoneman Douglas protesting. There is also a silver, gift-boxed care package that includes a packet of native plant seeds, a braided bracelet and a survival kit for those who may get lost in nature.

“We're a big fan of helping the ecosystem and to bring the Everglades back by reintroducing a lot of our native species,” Cypress said.

“It's such a vast area, but I don't think people really realize how fragile it is,” Sarmiento said.

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