Terri Hansen
Bioneers Native Artist’s Voice panel in November 2013, left to right: Reuben Roqueni, Rulan Tangen, Kade Twist, Will Wilson, Tracy Rector.

Native Artists Use Works to Spark Environmental Awareness

Terri Hansen

Dance, photography, film and artwork may not immediately bring to mind the concept of environmentalism. But a number of indigenous artists and performers may very well change that.

Four incredibly talented Native multi-media artists and performers, representing different communities, use their contemporary art forms to create narratives and interpretations meant to usher an awareness of environmental and social issues into their performances.

These artists came together to create a dialogue about this concept at the Bioneers 24th Annual Conference in November 2013. Reuben Tomas Roqueni (Yaqui/Mexican), program director of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, fostered dialogues with dancer/choreographer Rulan Tangen (Métis), photographer William Wilson (Navajo), multidisciplinary artist Kade Twist (Cherokee), and filmmaker and producer Tracy Rector (Seminole/Choctaw).

“The arts stimulate civic dialogue and become focal points for community conversation, providing insight and context, and encouraging healthy exchange of ideas,” Roqueni told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Native artists act as translators and go betweens, providing a safe arena for exchange. Native artists act as nonconformists, revealing the complexities around Native natural resources, sovereignty, and historical injustice.”

Rulan Tangen, recipient of the first Native Arts & Cultures Foundation Dance Fellowship discussed her newest work as director of Dancing Earth, called “Walking at the Edge of Water.” It represents water’s vital element as a primal force of the earth and its life forms, from an indigenous perspective on ancient and current water issues. Each dancer speaks their languages word for water on stage.

Tangen’s dedication to environmental issues began seven years ago at the prodding of Native American grandmothers.

“With the sort of relevant issues happening right now for native peoples on their land, it’s important to get those out there as part of the score,” Tangen told ICTMN. “Dance has always been at the core of Indigenous Peoples’ culture.”

At their recent performances in New Zealand, “our water issues really touched their hearts,” Tangen said. “When they see it danced is when they can really feel it.”


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