My work engages with Native stories, in which the animals are seen as beings, not as a commodity. These characters have a presence, they have intent; they speak, they can make decisions.
In my paintings and prints, animals are a vehicle to investigate what it means to be from two cultures, biracial. I am exploring an idea of inadequacy, an idea of not-Indian-enough. I have often portrayed animals in opposition to one another as a means of expressing the internal conflict that exists within someone like myself, navigating cultures.
My tribe, the Ponca, were originally from northern Nebraska, and in 1876 were forcibly removed at gunpoint to Oklahoma. Throughout my work, themes of conflict and injury are evident. In some cases animals are missing horns, reflecting the feeling of missing a part of oneself, and the ambiguities that exist for a biracial person living today in the United States.
To many Native peoples, coyotes are trickster figures, supernatural beings that encompass a range of contradictory traits—foolish, irresponsible, gluttonous, but also sympathetic, creative, cultural heroes. The coyote character has played a central role in my work since the beginning. I am drawn to it because it embraces these contradictions, and offers a reminder that all creatures are infallible.
A Little Medicine and Magic and Six Pack Colonialism, the first two paintings shown below, were made specifically for an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. For this project, I set out to find a means of representing the nature of each of the Ponca tribe’s seven clans. Each clan has its own specific privileges, taboos, and tribal boundaries. I belong to the Deer clan, represented in Six-Pack Colonialism. Traditionally, members of the clan held the special honor of being guardians of, or responsible for, the deer for all of the people, so they treated deer skin, antlers, and any part of the deer as taboo to touch.
A Little Medicine and Magic is for the Medicine clan, whose animal representative is the skunk. In it, I depict a stack of skunks being disciplined by a trickster coyote / mother figure in a garish flared dress. The skunks have taken her lipstick and adorned themselves with a mark of honor.