Reservation of the Mind: Curating the Indigenous Experience

Misty Lynn Ellingburg

When I was a kid, I started writing, scribbles in pink-bound notebooks, sonnets in sky-shaped clouds, and, squatting down in the country-side, I scrawled some unknown quantity like Jesus of Nazareth writing in the sand. Other Tribal artists were probably doing the same thing, carving sticks with sticks, painting underneath their eyelids and mixing strength and sinew to form something wild and new.

Native art has always been there, secreted away in museums and exhibits, or tucked in the pages of a journal, but oftentimes, unless explicitly stated, Indigenous art can enter the public sphere without being recognized as such, and non-Tribal people, with their "spiritual" designs and Arizona chevron patterns, can pull a believable facade, deigning to speak for the American Indian, as though we were unable to speak for ourselves. Indeed, publishing art as an Indigenous woman can feel like writing in the sand, or like whispering into the wind, some sudden stray dog freedom followed by mildly exhibitionist disappointment. For whom am I writing? To whom do I speak?

Although it can be very important for non-Native people to experience our work - to be given the chance to hear what we would say, finally drowning out the Urban Outfitters Navajo panties scandal, or the drunk white girls in headdresses smoking cigarettes in an empty bathtub, or the sexy Pocahontas costumes their teenage daughters want to wear - I don’t believe the impetus is on us to educate outsiders.

True, maybe Christina Fallin, of Pink Pony, could put aside her appropriative “appreciation” of our culture if she had the chance to hear our stories, and maybe every hipster with faux-leather moccasins could begin to understand who we are through this medium - if they were willing to listen. But that’s not what this is about.

First and foremost, Four Winds is for us. I believe it is worthwhile for Indigenous artists to share their work and to benefit from Inter-tribal stories, patterns, and styles, in the same way we might at a powwow, when we all come together to form friendships, and appreciate each other’s backgrounds, diverse though they may be.

Yet, until July of this year, there was no singular literary journal or magazine dedicated to showcasing the art of the Indigenous People of North America. Yellow Medicine Review probably comes the closest, as it accepts submissions from Indigenous artists the world round. As/Us accepts submissions from (primarily) Native American women, and all women of color. But if you wanted to find a journal curated and edited by Native American authors, with exclusively Tribally-affiliated contributors, you wouldn't have been able to find one - until now.

Four Winds Literary Magazine is a kind of solution I thought up one day. I was simultaneously going through lists of literary journals, chatting with friends on Facebook, texting, and checking Instagram notifications (I am a woman of my generation) when it occurred to me - where is this magazine? I'd heard tales of a certain publication with (maybe?) Medicine Wheel in the title, but internet searches showed nothing. The more deeply I dug, the further the gap between what I was looking for, and what existed. There was some kind of "Indian" story on the internet, but it came so awfully close to the Noble-Savage-My-Great-Grandmother-Was-A-Medicine-Woman crap we've all seen before, which begs the question: who is curating the Indigenous experience, packaging it, and sending it into the deep realms of the internet? Who designs the so-called "Indian" patterns; who splashes purple-winged Native women on mugs and calls it authentic?

The answer: we don't know, but it's about time we started telling our own story. Four Winds Literary Magazine showcases exclusively Canadian and American Indigenous stories, artwork, carvings, poetry, stories, essays, and lyrics. So far, submissions have included Comanche, Kalispel, Shoalwater Bay, Coeur D'Alene, Cree, Abenaki, and Yaqui Indians. Our stories and voices are diverse - but they are beautiful, and unexpected, and they are loud and hushed and they move through every note on the scale and they mix paints to create colors we've never seen or heard before. Compiled in a single, if upstart, magazine, we're choosing to utilize our agency, and to speak with our own voices, found slow and somehow also suddenly, like Moses in the reeves.

Misty Lynn Ellingburg is the editor-In-chief of Four Winds magazine, which is currently accepting submissions for our fall 2014 issue, themed "Reservation of the Mind." If you would like to get involved with the magazine, be advised that we are looking for a graphic designer, a logo design, and a public outreach coordinator. Send a brief bio paragraph and a sample of your work to Attn: Editors, fourwindslitmag@gmail.com.

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bullbear's picture
I support what you are seeking to achieve and in doing so fill the void where first-person representation is sorely needed. However, I also feel that as Native Americans, we are also missing the boat on teaching and inspiring our youth. Where is their magazine, journal, films and music from a native-origin spring? The age that we can magically influence our youth, as all western civilization knows, is during the formative or adolescence age. We could certainly use a quasi-Sherman Alexie creative writer who can capture their attention and steer them in an ideal direction that unfolds and opens pathways, begging your pardon for the godawful phrase, "think outside the box." These my friends, are the next source of huge retailers and not to mention, will be taking care of their elders. Could that elder be you? Native art sustains traditions, but the fact is, it falls well within the category of feast-or-famine. Perhaps a solid career in health, law, agriculture, or whatever is a priority and art could be a second source of expression and continued link to the traditions. Best wishes in all that Four Winds Literary Magazine endeavors.
whiteclay's picture
Check you First American Art Magazine, it's been in publication for over a year.