Mr. Hudson was his name and he spent the night in my childhood home. He spoke about the Navajo in a way that captivated my 8 year old heart. He told stories of the desert and a people that were mysterious to most of the people in my world. When he left he presented me with an engraved copper bracelet tooled with Navajo symbols. I still have it … somewhere. But that encounter 45 years ago sparked something in me that is hard to describe. I have some sort of connection with Native Americans. It is beyond pure fascination or a romanticized appreciation of a time in history long forgotten. I choose to believe it is a spiritual connection. Something the Creator has forged into my being. I can’t help it and I don’t want to. I choose to work in harmony and in humble partnership with the Creator. This is who I am and what I was made to do.
I continued as a young boy to read historical biographies of famous Native Americans during social studies. Every book report was inspired by a book about Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Squanto and the list goes on. However, at the age of 14, I read Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” This book hurt to read. A group of people I had admired from a distance had been terribly abused, mistreated, and even massacred. My guts churned and tears often flowed from my eyes. Was this really true? How could this happen? Why? Questions without answers competed for attention in my heart and mind.
My interest broadened to include Native Alaskans. In the summer of 1982 I was able to spend a 10 week summer above the Arctic Circle. Places like Kotzebue, Ambler, Kiana, Selawick and Kobuk became my home. I lived among the Inuit people we call Eskimos. I had the time of my life fishing and sharing life with my dear brothers and sisters. But I also saw the devastating effects of alcohol, drugs, abuse, and family violence in the culture. Once again my heart was broken for a people I had come to love.
Fast forward to 2009. I am asked about where I want to go next year for my annual student mission trip. I said I wanted to do a trip to work with Native Americans. The next day, my staff gave me a copy of an article. This article entitled, “The Arrogance of Ignorance” would once again (I am seeing a pattern) break my heart. The statistical information documented the living conditions on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. At that time, and in most years, Pine Ridge is the poorest place in America. In the spring I take a group of students to Pine Ridge. We stay in a tipi shaped church building in the village of Wounded Knee. Each morning I visited the Wounded Knee Massacre site. I simple chain linked fence marks the boundary of the mass grave dug in haste to “bury” the Lakota dead. That place always moves me for it represents all that Native Americans have suffered. Wounded Knee was the last of the indian wars. But it was not the end of the suffering.
In the days ahead, I hope to share some experiences and things I have learned. You will also see that my art work is deeply rooted and inspired by these people I call my brothers and sisters. Art is a visual representation of what is in you. Native Americans in general, and specifically the Lakota and Inuit, are in my heart and spirit. This blog and all the artwork is connected to them and I stand grateful. My goal is to honor the people and the culture with books and art and to use my talents to advocate ( add my voice to…”) for them.