REFLECTIONS ON INDIGENEITY
I value aesthetics, critical thought and concept in my work, but above all I seek connection. Connection to others, to the earth, connection to my own identity and the history of my ancestors. My brother and I are the first in my mom’s family to be denied enrollment in the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe because of the blood quantum regulation. Like many other mixed race Indigenous people, we have grown up faced with emotional confusion and identity questions raised by the current debate surrounding the concept of authenticity, and the qualifications for federal recognition. I have gravitated towards making artwork to sort through my personal thoughts regarding the matter, and hope to raise awareness of an issue that has shaped my identity, and continues to shape the future of indigenous communities across the United States and Canada.
Some of the imagery that I use is drawn from tradition, and some I developed to speak to my own experiences with navigating the world as an indigenous woman. I often incorporate imagery of elk teeth in my work. They are important to the Crow tribe, and have personal significance to me as a holder of childhood memories and a symbol of my family.
Baby Stella (me) + brother Tom at the Crow Fair
I am wearing my first elk-tooth dress, handmade by my Mum (Anita Moore-Nall)
Resin replica of Elk tooth
1/8: I am Afraid, Cyanotype, Acrylic + Beadwork, 19 x 25 in, 2020.
This work is featured as the cover of Cutbank Literary Magazine: Edition 93
Elk Tooth Study 2
Acrylic, Graphite, Ground Glass + Beadwork
6 x 8 in, 2020.
Elk Tooth Study 1
Acrylic, Graphite + Screen Print
6 x 8 in, 2020.
One of the symbols that frequents my work is the bird with hands for wings. The hand-bird emerged as a way to speak about my experiences as a mixed race Crow woman and the pressures that I feel under our tribe's current enrollment policy. The Crow word for ourselves is Apsáalooke, which means children of the large-beaked birds.
From Where?, Beaded Screen Print, 7.5 x 11 in, 2020.
To Where?, Beaded Screen Print, 11.5 x 15 in, 2020.
Split, Screen Print, 36 x 48 in, 2020.
In some pieces I depict the hand birds flying towards a larger, inaccessible beak; which is symbolic both of the blood quantum required for me to be enrolled in my tribe, and the internalized standards and stereotypes perpetuated by society which dictate what a Native American should look and act like. At times in my life, especially as a young person, I have experienced significant feelings of inadequacy that come from constantly being asked to prove myself, by both my own community and those outside it.
Xuahchee, Carved acrylic painting on reclaimed wooden door, 28 x 68 1/4 inches, 2020.
Please, Mixed media on wood panel, 12 x 12 in, 2019.
In other pieces, the hand bird appears without chasing a larger beak. In these instances, it is symbolic of my efforts to accept myself as I am, and let my connection to my family, our traditions and the history of our people be enough. It is symbolic of claiming my Indigeneity, in spite of the many forces which urge me to forget it.
Self Portrait, Digital Illustration, 2020
First Descendant: Sterile Hybridity is the first piece
that I created about my identity, and the largest woodblock print that I have made to date. It is an edition of 8.
In 2019, The Montana Museum of Art and Culture purchased one of the prints (edition A.P.) for their permanent collection.
In 2020, The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian purchased a print (edition 1/8) for their permanent collection.
Another symbol which I employ in my work is the yellow mule with an empty center. A mix of two animals, mules are genetically unable to produce offspring. While I am granted first descendant status by the Crow tribe, were I to have children with someone outside of the tribe, they would not have any legal claim to Crow identity under the current policy. Another reason that I use the mule in my work because some of my relatives have the last name Yellowmule (likely referencing a mule deer), but as a young child I pictured this type of mule in my mind and have grown to associate myself with the creature.
First Descendant: Sterile Hybridity, Woodblock Print, 48 x 36 inches, 2019.
Balaake, Dalaake (My Children, Your Children), Acrylic Paint and Beadwork on Vinyl Wallpaper, 24 1/4 x 33 1/2 inches, 2020
Not all of my work surrounding Indigeneity centers around difficult aspects of my identity, and not all of my emotions and thoughts surrounding it are confusing.
My connection to my family is clear and strong, and many positive memories of my culture are influential to my work as well. My first exposure to art and making as a child was through my mother's beadwork, and the colors and patterns which she uses often influence my own palette.
Me at 23, in regalia made by my Mom Anita Moore-Nall
Photo taken by Lane Iverson at Lake McDonald, St Ignatius, MT, 2021
Moccasins by Anita Moore-Nall
Photo taken at the MSU Powwow in 2019
Emergence, Ink and Beadwork, 4 x 6 inches, 2021
Belly of Beast (Land honoring illustration for Aporta Textiles), Ink and Beadwork, 4 x 6 inches, 2021
When I combine the traditional process of beadwork with other forms of art-making, it feels symbolic of my mixed heritage. I have learned techniques from my mother, and am informed by her work and that of other Indigenous artists, but my experiences outside of my culture are influential to my work as well. It can be difficult to exist in this liminal space, and making art has helped me to feel more at home in my identity.