Bird Man Heals His Heart, 14"x16", watercolor on canvas with glue, November 2013

Bird Man Heals His Heart, 14″x16″, watercolor on canvas with glue, November 2013

Recently, I heard one of my relatives say “Native people are mean, [so I am mean.]” This is similar to “Natives are stoic – non-emotional, alcoholics – drunks, in gangs, violent, abusers, swear, mean teasers, bullies, poor – on commodities, uneducated, etc.” This thought practice is used where a young person chooses to define their Nativeness by the negative actions they see around them…actions affected by the disconnected behavior of other Native people. I, too, was mean for a long time and I thought it meant I was powerful. 

What I now know is that this disconnection is at the very core of Colonized thought and assimilation – behaviors that were NEVER viewed as traditional historically become community personality patterns that are then viewed as “how to be Indian.” It arises from not being connected to Creation. It comes from being taught not to respect oneself.

The late Audrey Lazore Shenandoah “Gonwaiani”, Eel Clan and life resident of the Onondaga Nation who cared for position of Deer Clan Mother, spoke about how to answer this dilemma in the book WisdomKeepers: Meetings with Native American Spiritual Elders, 2006. She states, “My Creator, let me look at nature today and let me have the highest respect for all the things I see. All the two legged, the four legged, the winged ones, the plants, the water, the air, the Mother Earth. Let me have respect for myself.”

In this painting, Bird Man begins to heal his heart through gratitude and connection to Creation. Both of these behaviors allow him access back into the circle of life and teach him respect for himself, others and all of the Earth. This connection to Creation automatically begins to heal Bird Man. Over time, he loses interest in trying to access power through his meanness. He starts out as a young plant needing daily connection, daily gratitudes – thanks giving prayers morning and evening, daily respectful actions internally and externally. It appears to be a difficult path because of a lack of practice. Through gaining connection to Creation, Bird Man knows his own place and worth in the entire universe. Bird Man then becomes more aware of where real power resides.

Mike Tarbell, Mohawk, works at Iroquois Indian Museum as an Educator. He talks about taking a sketchbook out into nature as a way to start connection to Creation and to change one’s thinking in this Youtube.

Red Bird is Finally Able to Fly Free with His True Wife,12"x12" monoprint, water based inks on heavy paper, November 2013

Red Bird is Finally Able to Fly Free with His True Wife,12″x12″ monoprint, water based inks on heavy paper, November 2013

I had a really hard time making my vamps for the artist collaborative project “Walking With Our Sisters.” I finally mailed them the exact last day they were due to be put in the mail, arriving at the post office breathless and a little shaky.

I had followed the Facebook community for months, learning deep emotional stories about fellow artists and watching the healing momentum grow and grow. To be honest, I had made/started at least 4 different designs. One was very traditional raised beadwork, two were a composite of contemporary and floral, and the last pair introduced appliqued cloth. Through all of the frustration, I finally came to the conclusion that I had to figure out what I wanted/needed  to say.

First of all, I wanted to be a true support to Christi Belcourt’s vision and to all of the people that were making vamps and posting pics of their incredible love-filled creations. Second, I wanted to add something to the topic of lost/stolen women, girls, babies – something that might grant as much compassion as possible to the hearts of all members of the families. Third, I wanted to hopefully add a healing viewpoint that would be helpful to others, perhaps aid thinking and action.

Walking With Our Sisters Mocassin Vamps 2013 - Kayeri AkweksWhen the idea for my vamps finally came, they had both male and female red birds heading to the sky together, equally strong, equally brilliant in flight.

I had been seeing red birds, mated pairs for months. They flew together. They harvested food together, called out warnings and love messages across the same tree. They relied on the other and yet did their own responsibilities fully.

I wanted to say something about how broken our society is for our men too. I wanted to say that our women will never be safe until our men heal – Not just Native men, all men. Oren Lyons, Longhouse Faithkeeper, in “Putting Power in its Place: Create Community Control!” edited by Christopher Plant & Judith Plant, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, PA and Gabriola Island, BC. 1992, pages 70-73, talks about how afraid Haudenosaunee women were of their own men before the Peacemaker came.

A great war of attrition engulfed the lands, and women and children cowered in fear of their own men. The leaders were fierce and merciless. They were fighting in a blind rage. Nations, homes, and families were destroyed, and the people were scattered. It was a dismal world of dark disasters where there seemed to be no hope. It was raging proof of what inhumanity man is capable of when the laws and principles of life are thrown away.

Our times are often the same as that time. We have been in this place before because of an ongoing lack of connection to the Good Mind. I have many stories of hatred between men and women that have come to me over the years. What I need are more stories of how peace is created between men and women. I need stories of how minds are changed from violence to respectful compassion.

Gender war solves nothing and brings none of us the peace we truly crave from our dis-ease. Dominance smashes the souls of both the dominated and the dominator.

Red Bird and his Red Wife know how to live free, as equals, with deep respect for the other. I want the relief of that peace for our sons, daughters, parents, old ones, grandchildren, community and for each one of all of ourselves. I want all to feel and be truly safe.

Walking with Our Sisters FB page and exhibit tours listed -

double hawk web

Double Hawks Getting Ready to Dance is about the excitement and fun the People have preparing for a social dance. People think about the coming dance for months, then weeks, then days.  As the time gets closer, food gets prepared, songs are practiced, repairs on moccasins are made, and new outfits are readied, rattles are tested, and the water drum is re-stretched. Everyone wants to be together and DANCE!

The People love the feeling of being together dancing on the wooden floor of the Longhouse. Everyone loves hearing their favorite songs, the old songs and the new songs. Various groups of singers travel long distances to take their turn. There is tons of food for everyone. The People laugh and make jokes. Everywhere chatting and catching up conversations happen inside and outside the Longhouse. There are lots and lots of smiles. The entire world feels good.

Water drum and rattle info at

Mothers and Daughters

Women are highly respected in Haudenosaunee society because of the roles they have played in the creation (Sky Woman) and in the formation of the Great Law (Jigonsaseh, the Mother of Nations). The earth itself is seen as a woman from which all things are born, creating new life that allows all of the living things on earth to continue into the future. In Haudenosaunee society, clan, national/tribal identity, and property rights are all determined through the maternal line; this is in keeping with the Six Nations’Great Law, which emphasizes a balance of male and female roles.

To the Haudenosaunee, the female is the gateway to producing life and is therefore traditionally to be held in the highest of regard. When my baby daughter arrived on the scene, I was amazed to have the great blessing of being given the tremendous gift of a daughter. This little person who is now a grown woman has changed my life and throughout her journey she continues to teach me.

I cherish all of my children and have taught them that “traditional Haudenosaunee society (and all other First Native Nations that I know of) maintains an intricate balance of gender roles” and not to involve themselves in gender war or the gender power struggles of others. While I have not always been able to enact this teaching, we work to remind each other and we are all getting better at it over time.

The practice of honoring the givers of life now includes cherishing my son’s wives.  They are strong, vibrant and valiant women who bless all of our families together. Again, I learn so much.

A few weeks ago I wrote this poem for my daughter and emailed it to her. She wrote back, in her gratitude, that the poem had made her cry.

My Daughter

There is a woman known for her quiet strength

Once she was a big orange basketball
bouncing all over the court
Trying to get in the hoop.

She had a daughter -
A tiny oh so delicate and lovely baby girl
With black as night sticky-up hair
And jet eyes.

That child was born with the same quiet strength
Her mother came to possess.
Everywhere they went together
Others would remark about the beams
Of light
Surrounding her little baby.

That light made her calm down.
That light made her work to remember to see.
That light made her become.

Because even if she was willing to be
a bright orange basketball for herself.
She was not willing to continue bouncing all over
someone else’s court
looping into someone else’s hoop
When she had this pure
treasure of a pure beam of light
That came to her

as her daughter.

May we all truly love ourselves, so that we may fully love our children as Creation intends and strengthen our Nations forever.

Double Beavers web 2

Double Animals and Our Homes We Live In -

At the first of December, my dad told me that I needed to do all of the clans as double animals. I had thought of this before, but because he requested it, I decided that it was a go. Double Beavers Make a Home is my first attempt at working through that request even though I have done herons and bears before.

When thinking about beavers for this art piece,  I naturally began to think about how beavers make their homes. Beavers are one of a few animals who change the landscape to build their family homes. Humans are another.

Beaver lodges are made in the middle of streams and marshes that then become ponds and small lakes because of the beaver’s dams. The underwater entries make the beaver lodge safer from predators. Inside the lodge, it is warm and dry with a store of fresh water and collected edibles. The beavers home is made in anticipation of new life.

As I am working to make a new home, I have been thinking about how each time any of us changes our location  - that new home is never the same as the original home. We do not reproduce our homes, we make new homes each and every time we move, each and every time we spring clean, each and every time we redecorate, reorganize, have a birth or a death. But where is the heart of these evolving homes and does that change?

The symbol of the arch with the circle underneath is the symbol of the beaver’s home in this image. It is a symbol that I have used since the 1970s. This symbol came to me as a very pregnant, young mother looking down at my very round belly. It has become a symbol of making new homes, of new life traveling to this earth, of expectations for expanding the joy of life in a new way. And while new life coming to the planet repeats itself as an action, it is never repeated exactly the same. Each time it is unique. Each time it is wonderous. This is one of the great mysteries of creation.

The arch symbol is also akin to the Haudenosaunee dome of heaven symbol. The dome of heaven is beaded into the skirts of Haudenosaunee women as a repetitive border. Here, on our great mother the earth, we all create under the dome of heaven – instructed to make homes that allow life to flourish.

Jim Denomie is known for his surrealistic painting style with cartoonish, “revisionist” depictions of Native American history. His body of work includes the socio-political renegade series, intuitive erotic landscapes, and his psychological paintings featuring the dream rabbit. He has received numerous awards and honors for his work, including a 2009 Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art and a 2008 Bush Artist Fellowship. Denomie received his BFA degree from the University of Minnesota in 1995 and has since shown extensively in both Europe and the United States. He has work in the permanent collections of the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.

Denomie describes his narrative painting style as “metaphorical surrealism.” His paintings frequently examine historical and contemporary events in American and Native American history, as well as aspects of pop-culture, art history and Anglo-Indian relations.

Jim Denomie is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe in northern Wisconsin. He was born in Hayward, Wisconsin in 1955 and currently lives in Franconia, MN. Denomie lived on the reservation until the age of four when his family moved to Chicago, Illinois due to forced government relocation programs taking place within Native communities in the 1960s.

I love the close-up photo of his brush work in this painting, titled Man and Woman, 11″x14″, oil on canvas.

Gail Tremblay, faculty at The Evergreen State College, described Denomie’s work as that which both “sings and stings.” “To penetrate Jim Denomie’s work and to engage with its imagery, one has to let go of all stereotypes one has about American Indians and their art,” Tremblay writes in the Eiteljorg published book Art Quantum. “Indeed, few artists poke fun at stereotypes or at the romanticized images of ‘Noble Savages’ or primitive Indians with Denomie’s vigor. He holds his mirror up to Indigenous people as surely as he does to Americans and American culture. Denomie’s art addresses everyone with equal rigor and has important lessons for all viewers.”

Jim Denomie as rabbit

In 2011, Denomie attended a 2 week printmaking residency at Crows Shadow on the Umatilla reservation in Oregon. “Regarding my residency at Crow Shadow, I am really looking forward to visiting the Northwest area again, seeing some old friends and meeting new ones, working with a master printer and making art. Although I have experience in monoprints and linoleum cuts, and recently took a print class at the [University of Minnesota] in lithography and etching, I would not call myself an experienced printer.”

Denomie wrapped up his time in the studio with an amazing body of 72 signed prints, spanning five monotype and monoprint series. Jim worked on a colorful monotype series titled “Blue Mountain Portraits” and a series of monochromatic monotypes using dark brown burnt umber ink. “It’s a variety of imagery, but mostly they’re all some sort of portraiture,” Denomie said.

“Originally, I thought maybe I would do a solid color background, but as I was inking up these plates I decided to go with three colors and just randomly develop a pattern,” Denomie said. “And so laying portraits over the tops of these random patterns would feed into the final project, where you’d get this unexpected juxtaposition of colors that wouldn’t have come if I’d have started with a blank palette.”

“My experience at Crow’s Shadow and my visit to Pendleton has been phenomenal. … I’ve met a lot of great people, very nice people,” Denomie said. “The art has been phenomenal too. I don’t believe I’ve ever created so much art in a two-week period as I have here.”

Wabooz Studio, Denomie’s studio is named for the Ojibwe word for rabbit representative of the Ojibwe trickster figure Nanaboujou. As an alter ego for Denomie, Wabooz makes multiple appearances in the art Jim creates. - And you know how I like rabbits!

Denomie’s point of view cross-cultivates art history with popular culture and Native American histories. The artist’s aesthetic perspective is a proactive platform, a truth articulated in a past/present commingling intended for liberation and understanding. Denomie acts as a social visionary with distinct referential tools.

Denomie’s monumentally scaled painting, Eminent Domain, a Brief History of America is a coast-to-coast extravaganza of Manifest Destiny in the twenty-first century that includes a naked Statue of Liberty and the Long Ranger and Tonto. Tonto says, “You lied to me!” to which the Lone Ranger responds, “Get used to it.”

When asked when he decided a painting was completed, Denomie stated:

…a painting is done when the artist dies. Previously, I felt that a painting was done when I have taken it as far as I could, at that point in time, and signed it. Now, if the painting is still in my possession and I am not impressed with it, I may rework it. A painting is like a motion picture, always evolving. We hit pause when it looks good to us and then we sign it. But we may come back to it sometime later and look at it again with a perspective enhanced by experience and development and say, “this painting needs more work.”

Denomie’s preferred creation time is in the evening while listening to music. He starts with an initial sketch which serves as a rough draft and continually refines it until it is ready to be transferred into a painting. At times Denomie mixes his paints directly on the canvas when working quickly. His large-scale works receive a ground layer of paint which lays out a basic composition. He describes his painting process as a “chess game”, derived from the many decisions he makes when placing, layering and constructing his detailed works.

In 2005, Denomie completed the task of painting at least one painting a day, for one year. Much of this work was showcased in the exhibition “New Skins” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2007.

During the year that Denomie painted a painting a day, he made himself paint at least one small canvas per day. These paintings were of a face, more or less of a Native person—sometimes a woman with two sets of concentric circles for breasts, more often a man with a headband and feather—with an open, toothy mouth, facing straight ahead. The faces were not large (5″x7″ or 8″x10″) and Denomie covered the surface area with wide strokes in bright colors, finishing each within fifteen or thirty minutes.
He did not try to create a perfect work of art; instead he let himself play with the paint. He used the colors already on the palette or added new ones based on his mood.

Jim Denomie - untitled 14x11 oilDaily surges of emotion affected the work—one day’s face grinning, another sour, one yelling—but more often the faces evolved their own personalities, their own neutral but suggestive expressions. When the face was done, Denomie signed the back and named it, if it happens to have reminded him of anyone.


Why did Denomie do the daily painting project? Denomie began the project because he found painting too often pushed to the side. Between work, family, and the rest of a normal life, he wasn’t getting time in his studio every day. When he did paint, he would feel “like a foreigner” to his own work. He wanted to develop a new habit of painting consistently.

Halfway through the project, Denomie was thrilled with his discoveries—all accidental, all not possible without the daily painting. He tells the story of one particularly difficult day when he thought he might not go out to the studio at all. Instead he decided to go out, take whatever color was on the palette, and just paint a circle with three lines through it. The resulting face—abstract, essential—so excited him that he stayed to paint another.

As the project went on, he found the faces becoming more raw, more askew, more independent of him. He worked towards balancing deliberation—since the painting time is brief, he made each stroke is important—intuitively tracing the desire that arose between himself, the paint, and the canvas. Denomie proved to himself that the project let him get his “head into the oven” of creativity.

To hear Mr. Denomie in his own words, folks can give a listen to his radio interview conducted by’s Marya Morstad.
Audio Interview with Jim Denomie (MP3)

Non-Negotiable from SMM Media Design on Vimeo.

I am currently at the Art en Capital, Grand Palais, Paris, France November 27th through December 2nd. So much art to see and absorb. Beautiful foods to smell and taste. Love hearing the French language all through the streets, metro and cafes. Everywhere you go there is something beautiful to take in. See

I have 2 pieces in the show with the Native American and First Peoples delegation. A third piece is being shown at Dorothy’s Gallery, Paris with a reception on Friday evening. My large work “The Greatest Strength is Gentleness” is included in the reputable French art magazine Univers des Arts. It is in the October-November issue 2012 Nº 166, on page 55. All of the artist’s images are available in the Art En Capital 2012 Salon Du Dessin Et De La Peinture A L’eau Paris Grand Palais 304 page show catalog.

The show is magnificent with 2500 artist from around the world. People were waiting in long lines (going around the building) outside the show on opening night. It was in-your-face obvious that the French people are dedicated to their great love of art.

From our group of Native artists, Roy Boney, of the Cherokee Nation, told about his piece and the fun of the Cherokee booger masks. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

Russell Tall Chief and Ginette Adamson are the hardworking and dedicated organizers of our delegation and showing. Big gratitudes to both!! Each day promises to hold a grand new adventure for our crew of Native artists in Paris!

Below April White, myself, Russ Tall Chief and Candace Curr prepare to perform 2 dances for the art show. Big THANKYOU to Chantal Viellard for taking such beautiful photos!

At Grand Palais 2012 - April White Kayeri Akweks Russ Tall Chief Candace Curr

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