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Photo Story: Native American artists honor heritage through performance, art

Photo Story: Native American artists honor heritage through performance, art - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Members of United San Antonio Pow Wow listen as President of the organization, Erwin De Luna, gives the opening remarks at the Yanaguana Indian Arts Festival on Nov. 13 at the Briscoe Museum of Western Art. Photo by Amber Esparza

Native American artists and performers from across the country gathered at the Yanaguana Indian Arts Festival on Nov. 13 to share their work, culture and history in celebration of Native American Heritage Month at the Briscoe Museum of Western Art.

The day-long festival featured Native American drum and dance performances, indigenous artists displaying and vending their work, American Indian art workshops, flute performances, storytelling and arts and craft stations for all ages.

Among many performers was 78-year-old Milo Colton, a Cherokee tribal member and United San Antonio Pow Wow dance performer.

Colton grew up performing American Indian dances and said he recalls having held powwows in secret because of laws that once forbade tribal customs, ceremonies and dances.

“Now many of us are able to come out and do things like this and we’re not breaking the law,” Colton said.

Cherokee Indian and United San Antonio Pow Wow performer Milo Colton is dressed in “Old-Style Traditional” Native American clothing. “This is pretty much the way we looked before the Europeans came,” Colton said. Photo by Amber Esparza

Colton said one way he celebrates and honors his Native American heritage is through traditional dance and performances at public powwows.

“We’re the first people,” Colton said. “Our [American] Indian people were here thousands of years before the Europeans came and we don’t want to forget that.”

Also in attendance was 55-year-old Amy Bluemel, a Native American storyteller, stomp dancer, artist and registered member of the Chickasaw Nation. Bluemel has been a professional storyteller for over 10 years, educating others across the country about her people.

Chickasaw storyteller and stomp dancer Amy Bluemel tells a story to her visitors with handmade corn husk dolls at the Yanaguana Indian Arts Festival. Bluemel is pictured wearing her Native American regalia, which helps her educate others on indigenous history and culture. Photo by Amber Esparza

When storytelling, Bluemel wears her Native American regalia to educate people on what indigenous people like her wear on special occasions.

“It is regalia, not a costume,” Bluemel said. “A costume is what you wear when you’re pretending…this is what I wear when I’m representing my people.”

Bluemel also works to preserve the fast-fading Chickasaw language by incorporating the Native American dialect in her storytelling.

By swapping out a few popular English words in her stories for those in Chickasaw, Bluemel said she believes she can encourage others to help preserve the language of her people.

Chickasaw storyteller Amy Bluemel displays Native American artifacts when storytelling. Among the artifacts featured on her table are animal hides, tools and arrows, beadwork and literature intended to help preserve the Chickasaw language. Photo by Amber Esparza

50-year-old George Curtis Levi, who is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes with ties to the Oglala Lakota people, was another featured artist at the festival. Levi is a Native American fashion designer, rawhide and beadwork artist, painter and photographer, but is primarily known for his ledger art.

George Curtis Levi is pictured at the Yanaguana Indian Arts Festival discussing his work, culture and the history of his people on Nov. 13, 2021. “Our history is told orally,” Levi said. Photo by Amber Esparza

During the festival, Levi gave a workshop on ledger art where he discussed the history, meanings, techniques and tools used in this form of Native American art.

Ledger art was originally a way to document the fast-changing environment, customs and lives his people once lived. 

Today, ledger artists like Levi focus on creating pieces that depict indigenous life before and during European colonization, Native American regalia and designs and preserving the history of their people.

A few of Levi’s original works and prints are displayed on his table at the Yanaguana Indian Arts Festival. Levi aims to represent the Cheyenne people through his ledger art, among other things. “As indigenous people, this is where we come from, and we need to celebrate it because we’re still here,” Levi said. Photo by Amber Esparza

Colton, Bluemel and Levi all said they believe it is necessary to celebrate their indigenous culture year-round, not just during the month of November or on a few government holidays.

“We celebrate it [Native American heritage] every day when we wake up because we are still here,” Levi said.

About the Author

Amber Esparza
Photo Editor
Amber Esparza is a junior Communications major at Texas A&M University - San Antonio. She transferred from the Alamo Colleges with Associate degrees in Radio-Television-Broadcasting and Journalism. Amber loves all things media. After earning her BA in Journalism, Amber hopes to continue on to grad school to pursue her MFA in Film.

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