Normally there would be some ranty text from me sounding off like an old man complaining about hipsters in headdresses here but hold up. This is an entry of a new kind. My friend Jeffrey Veregge (Port Gamble S'Klallam) who was recently down my way visiting Portland shared with me a concern about someone gaining recognition for merging Northwest Coast Native art with Modern iconography. This is Jeffs background and what has defined his work which was not easy to establish. To boot this guy's work took on one of my friends whom I've had great respect for for many years, Kwakwaka’wakw/Comox artist Andy Everson. I consider Andy a pioneer in artists breaking ground in the digital arts and subject matter. These two come from Native communities and have established themselves with experiences much like my own with statements from people of not doing things the Indian way and so forth. When I once spoke to Andy about this over the phone I always remember him saying
"They love to bring up how we didn't use computers etc. but if I'm drawing with a pencil, they forget there was a time when we didn't have those either so why not go all out and say that too"
I guess my point here is that Native artists face different expectations on how we should be doing things, keeping in tradition. This has been a sore spot with me for years as a sculptor and one who loves to utilize technology in all kinds of ways from initial design to installation or site plan layouts. My point is, Native culture has been one of adaptation. We do not live in the world our ancestors did before certain technologies were brought in. It's a false romantic notion that our ancestors would be ashamed of us now for using chain saws or computers. Had that been true our earliest trades would have never called to trade our goods for tools steel and the like for it's those imports that made the sculptures people stand in awe of came from. I say this as a Native artist knowing where I come from and the culture I am still part of today thriving in song and dance and legend.
This movement that has been active in waves for years of people taking interest in Native culture is and I believe will always be ongoing. The latest wave of hipsters donning headdresses claiming one tribe and to not judge. Well as a Native American I can say, there is no One tribe, there are many. Being part of a tribe doesn't grant you privilege by birth or adoption to do whatever you want and 'live free'. Had this been true tribes would never have survived. One of our most inaccurate but reocurring stereotypes is of our people whoop calling and dancing around a fire in chaos. There is order and there is a way to do things. One can go there whole life without having a role in certain aspect of ceremonial practices but they are just as well off as anyone else. Being Indian isn't about dancing around a fire or being wild, to me it's about being part of something and respecting your place in the bigger picture.
I preface all this because I feel it's important to know. The designer in question Scott Erickson has gotten some praise for his Northwest Coast Native 'style' of work married with pop culture, specifically Sci-fi creations. It came to my attention and it was immediately bothersome to know people have no boundaries. As I stated above, I have great respect for Andy and when speaking in public share how he was quite influential in me making the move to do digital work early on. I believe when an artist even one who steals, has to acknowledge the inspiration behind something, but when I read titles like "Great Sun Bear" and "Grey Eagle Wolf" it sounds like a mockery of Native culture. It motivated me to compile the side by side in this post. That's all I have to say for now. Please share if you like. Know that his prints are selling on his website but to support the true creators of the content and concepts.
Andy's site is www.andyeverson.com
Jeff's site is www.jeffreyveregge.com