Eye on Design Op-ed: Why Can’t the U.S. Decolonize Its Design Education?

Mobile screenshot of the Eye on Design website, featuring a banner design by Sadie Red Wing. Courtesy of Sadie Red Wing.

Back in October, I participated long-distance in the panel “Respectful Design: Decolonization as an Urgent Imperative” as part of the Culture of Criticism Symposium at the national AIGA Conference. Panel organizer Dori Tunstall, Lakota designer Sadie Red Wing, and I were co-creators of a video presented at the panel, and I was streamed in for the Q&A portion. After the conference, writer Margaret Andersen contacted Dori, Sadie, and me for an article she was writing for AIGA’s blog Eye on Design. Her op-ed, Why Can’t the U.S. Decolonize Its Design Education? What truly diverse + inclusive international programs can teach Americans brings attention to the need to include Indigenous visual cultures and voices in design curriculums. A big thanks to Margaret and AIGA for addressing this important subject and bringing it to a wider audience! Dori, Sadie, and I are all quoted in the article, and they included work by some of the designers I mentioned as well: Angel De Cora (1871-1919), Rico Worl, and Chad Earles. Sadie has some beautiful designs featured also. Check it out!

Given the limitations of space and scope, the article wasn’t able to include some of the comments I submitted, so I wanted to be sure to credit the important ways my design professors nurtured my education. Thank you for giving me the freedom to creatively and intellectually explore, which laid the foundation for the work I am doing today. Further comments are below:

Overall, my professors and instructors cared deeply about design and were dedicated to the education and creative development of the students, regardless of background. They emphasized a focus on conceptualization and critical thinking and pushed us to work hard and care about our work. Throughout the program, there was also a consistent thread of the importance of being socially responsible as designers. Through the art department’s visiting artist and scholar lecture series, I had the chance to meet two prominent, socially engaged designers — Luba Lukova and Yossi Lemel. The parameters of many of our class projects gave us room to pursue personal interests; several of my own design projects involved Native subject matter. While at Oregon State, I first began exploring the subject of design as it relates to Indigenous peoples. When I was working on my senior project, the teachers and other students didn’t necessarily have the background to give more involved feedback on what I was doing, but in general, they were supportive. Despite the competitive atmosphere of the design program, my classmates and I helped each other tremendously throughout our time together.

A problem that many schools have, including my alma mater, is that the educational foundation of art and design students overwhelmingly leans toward European art and design history and the work of white artists and designers. Typically, most centers of education in the Americas have Eurocentric curriculums. While most educators inherit this situation with absolutely no ill intent, the truth is, the situation is historically rooted in some very ugly things: white supremacism, genocide, displacement, cultural suppression, and forced assimilation. It’s important to acknowledge this truth and make changes where we can. My school did have a class on Native art history that was occasionally offered, but I would like to see Native histories more fundamentally included in higher education. We are living in the Americas. It’s absurd to leave out the histories, perspectives, and visual cultures of the many diverse groups of people that have been here for thousands of years.

Another subject that I think is important for design educators to explore further is the responsibility involved in using designs from another culture. In the creative industries, while pursuing inspiration, it’s very common to sample ideas and visuals. I know many balk at the subject of misappropriation out of fear of killing creativity, but I don’t think we need to be afraid. I think people could potentially explore designs from another culture, with the caveat that they make the effort to understand what they are using and have the willingness to step back when ethical issues arise. We have to be aware of how imbalances of power can be at play when an individual or group feels entitled to use the creative work of another. It’s important to acknowledge that indigenous peoples have their own legitimate design conventions, where symbols communicate more than just a pretty pattern. Even within a  cultural group, members of that community may observe restrictions in the usage of particular imagery. Not everything is up for grabs. I frequently come across work that is a stereotypical notion of what people think Native art is. I’ve seen questionable “Native” design by both non-Native and Native people. It’s not good design to have misinformed work that isn’t actually communicating anything. If we as designers believe in the importance of content over style, we need to dig deeper. Developing cultural competency will lead to better, more informed work.

AIGA Design Journeys: Angel DeCora

Portrait of Angel DeCora
Angel De Cora, portrait accompanying her essay “Native Indian Art” in Proceedings of the First Conference of the Society of American Indians, 1911. Her buckskin dress is Great Plains-style, not of her own Winnebago culture. (Photo by Gustave Hensel at the Carlisle Indian School, 1907)

Check out AIGA’s Design Journey’s article on early Winnebago (Ho-chunk) graphic designer, illustrator, and educator Angel De Cora, which I wrote: http://www.aiga.org/diversity-inclusion-design-journeys-essay-angel-decora

The full, final version of the article, which AIGA opted to not post, appears as below, with footnotes included:

Angel De Cora
by Neebinnaukzhik Southall

Angel De Cora was an artist, illustrator, graphic designer, and educator, born in a wigwam in Nebraska on the Winnebago Indian reservation in approximately 1868.(i) She was of Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) and French Canadian heritage on both sides of her family, the granddaughter of Winnebago chief Little Decora and the great-grand-daughter of chief Old Grey-Headed Decorah (White War Eagle) on her father’s side.(ii) Her Winnebago name was Hinook-Mahiwi-Kalinaka (Fleecy Cloud Floating in Space), and she was a member of the Thunderbird clan.

In 1883, Angel was kidnapped from her family and taken thousands of miles away to the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which had instated a boarding school for Native Americans.(iii) As official United States government policy, Indian boarding schools were created to “civilize” Native American children, with the goal of stripping them of their cultures, severing their family and tribal connections, and assimilating them into Euro-American society. These schools were often rampant with abuse. Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the first off-reservation boarding school, the Carlisle Indian School, is infamous for his guiding principle, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” Despite being educated to devalue Indigenous cultures, Angel De Cora created sympathetic, humanizing depictions of Native peoples throughout her life’s work and advocated for the value and respect of Native American art and design.

At Hampton, Angel De Cora performed well and was generally liked.(iv) After five years, she returned home briefly as part of government regulations, but came back to Hampton in Fall 1888, graduating in 1891.(v) She was then sponsored to attend the Burnham Classical School for Girls in Northampton, Massachusetts.(vi) However, she become uncomfortable with the elitist atmosphere and left the school to attend the School of Art at Smith College in 1892,(vii,viii) also in Northampton, where she was one of their first Native students.(ix) At Smith, she studied under Dwight William Tryon, a well-known tonalist landscape painter.(x, xi)  She also worked at the college’s Hillyer Art Gallery, earning her tuition as a custodian.(xii) She received several awards for her work upon her graduation in 1896.(xiii)

After Smith, she was admitted to the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry in Philadelphia, in September 1896.(xiv) Here, she studied illustration under the famous American illustrator Howard Pyle, who produced many well-known illustrators(xv) and considered her a genius.(xvi) In 1897, the summer after her first year, Angel went to Fort Berthold, North Dakota, following Pyle’s encouragement to paint and draw Native people.(xvii) The following summer, she attended a special course of his as the recipient of a competitive scholarship.(xviii) Due to his connections, she wrote and illustrated two stories for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, “The Sick Child” in the February 1899 issue, and “Grey Wolf’s Daughter” in the November 1899 issue, both featuring Native American girls as the protagonists.(xix)

In 1899, she briefly studied at the Cowles Art School in Boston with Joseph DeCamp, then attended the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School in February 1900, studying under Frank Benson and Edmund C. Tarbell, where she “was awarded an honorable mention in the Concours Scholarships for 1900 and 1901.”(xx)

In her short autobiography, Angel discusses her transition from fine art to commercial art, beginning at the Drexel Institute; she also expressed her belief in the in-born creative talent of Native people (xxi):

While at this Institute I used to hear a great deal of discussion among the students, and instructors as well, on the sentiments of “Commercial” art and “Art for art’s sake.” I was swayed back and forth by the conflicting views, and finally I left Philadelphia and went to Boston. I had heard of Joseph DeCamp as a great teacher, so I entered the Cowles Art School, where he was the instructor in life drawing. Within a year, however, he gave up his teaching there but he recommended me to the Museum of Fine Arts in the same city, where Frank Benson and Edmund C. Tarbell are instructors, and for two years I studied with them.

I opened a studio in Boston and did some illustrative work for Small & Maynard Company, and for Ginn & Company. I also did some designing although while in art schools I had never taken any special interest in that branch of art. Perhaps it was well that I had not over studied the prescribed methods of European decoration, for then my aboriginal qualities could never have asserted themselves.

I left Boston and went to New York City, and while I did some illustrating, portrait and landscape work, I found designing a more lucrative branch of art.

Although at times I yearn to express myself in landscape art, I feel that designing is the best channel in which to convey the native qualities of the Indian’s decorative talent.

As a commercial artist, Angel was involved with a number of book projects. She worked on Old Indian Legends, first published in 1901 by Ginn & Company, featuring Dakota stories retold by her friend Zitkala-Ša (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), a Yankton writer, musician, and activist. Angel produced a cover design reminiscent of Plains beaded blanket strips, and she painted many illustrations to accompany the stories. Angel designed the cover The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School, published by Small, Maynard & Company in 1901. The author was Francis LaFlesche, who was of Omaha, Ponca and French heritage; the son of Omaha chief Joseph LaFlesche; and the first Native American ethnologist. The book captured his time at a mission school. The cover features a stylized scene of two tipis, with a bow and several arrows as border motifs. Angel also produced an illustration for the frontispiece, an emotionally charged painting depicting a Native American boy in a school uniform comforting another boy, a recent arrival in Native dress, who covers his face while he weeps. For Mary Catherine Judd’s book Wigwam Stories Told by North American Indians, published in 1904 by Ginn & Company, she designed the cover and the title page, and produced a number of illustrations as well as a plethora of charming initial letters, many of which conceptually match the stories.

Angel produced a number of designs for The Indian’s Book, published in 1907 by Harper and Brothers Publishers, which features a collection of songs and stories from diverse Native American ethnic groups across the continent, gathered by Natalie Curtis. The book received national attention, and included an introductory note from president Theodore Roosevelt. Angel designed the main title page with stylized eagles as a way to collectively represent the broad content of the book, the concept of which is described in the book:

The title-page, by Angel De Cora, (Hinook Mahiwi Kilinaka), has for the motive of its design an adaption of an old Indian design which represents in highly conventionalized form the Eagle, and the Eagle’s Song. The soaring eagle is seen in the grey figure whose points are the two out-spread wings, with the tail in the centre. The paler spot at the top of the figure is the eagle’s head; from the beak rises the song – waving lines which broaden out as the song floats on the air. The whole symbol is used in decorative form throughout the page, two eagles being joined together by the tips of wings and tails to form a symmetrical design. In the centre of the page, at the top and bottom, and at the sides, is seen the eagle-symbol, while the page is framed, as it were, in the symbol of the song.

The eagle is loved and revered by the Indians. He is the strongest of all birds. He soars aloft, and he may look upon the sun, the giver of life, the celestial emblem of divine force. Therefore has the symbol of the Eagle and the Eagle’s Song been chosen for the title-page of “The Indians’ Book.”

Angel also created lettering and borders for the title pages of the book, which complemented the drawings of other contributing Native artists and referenced the diverse design conventions of their respective tribes. At the time, the publishers had not seen this sort of inspired lettering before.(xxii) She also presumably designed the cover, which clearly draws from the abstract, geometric designs created on parfleche bags by Plains Indians.

In 1906, she was offered a position to teach Native American art at the Carlisle Indian School by Francis E. Leupp, Commissioner of Indian Affairs.(xxiii) This appointment represented a major policy shift for the institution.(xxiv,xxv) At Carlisle, she developed a program to teach the students characteristic designs from a variety of North American Indigenous cultures. An important function of her program was to build the self-esteem of the students and instill pride in their heritage.(xxvi)

Angel frequently traveled, giving talks and presenting papers at conferences on Native American art and design. The Arts and Crafts movement gave Angel a vehicle to promote the value of Native American art and design, as she expressed in her speech for the Twenty-fifth Annual Meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian and other Dependent Peoples in 1907:

The art department of Carlisle has taken a departure from the regular routine work of public schools. We do not study any of the European classics in art. We take the old symbolic figures and forms which we find on beadwork, pottery, and baskets for the basis of our study. We are familiarizing ourselves with the different styles and methods; then we create designs according to these old established methods and apply them to the products of the workshops of the school in such ways as wood-carving, printer’s borders, metal work, wall decoration, weaving and needlework.

There is a general revival throughout the country of the old handicrafts and skilled hands are in demand. Let me tell you that the Indian is an apt pupil for any sort of handicraft. The basket and textile weavers, pottery and metal workers are already well established. Each of these industries can be expanded in various directions both for utility and ornament. The simple dignity of Indian design lends itself well to ways of conventional art and I think the day has come when the American people must pause and give recognition to another phase of the Indian’s nature which is his art.(xxvii)

Angel was a member of the Society of American Indians, one of the first Native-led Native American rights organizations, and she also designed a logo for the Society.(xxviii) At the First Annual Conference of the Society of American Indians in 1912, she gave a presentation, “Native Indian Art,” speaking of Native peoples collectively, which included her aesthetic philosophies, the value of Native American designs as equal to any other tradition, the design characteristics of various tribes, discussion of her work with students at Carlisle, and the potential for wide commercial application of these designs:

The nature of Indian art is formed on a purely conventional and geometric basis, and our endeavors at the Carlisle Indian School have been to treat it as a conventional system of designing.… By this development all the page ornamentations of the Carlisle school magazine, the Red Man, were made by the pupils. We have made stencil designs for the friezes and draperies, designs for rugs, embroideries, applique, wood carving, tiles, and metal work. We not only have produced the designs, but they have been applied whenever we had the material at hand. Rugs, draperies, sofa cushion covers and smaller articles were designed and made by the girls of the Art Department and the boys of the Art Department under Mr. Dietz, who is also a trained artist, have done all the pen and ink decorations for the Red Man, such as the page borders, initial letters and other page ornaments. In the metal work Indian designs were wrought in silver jewelry, copper and brass trays in all the novelty shapes.

The Indian designs modified and applied to interior house decoration are especially in harmony with the so-called “mission” style, the geometric designs lend themselves well to the simple and straight lines of mission furniture.… By careful study and close application many hundred designs have been evolved. Many of these designs have been thrown upon the market of the country and each one has brought its financial reward, but more than that, from these small and unassuming ventures, we have drawn the attention of artists and manufacturers to the fact that the Indian of North America possessed a distinctive art which promises to be of great value in a country which heretofore has been obliged to draw its models from the countries of the eastern hemisphere.… Manufacturers are now employing Indian designs in deteriorated forms. If this system of decoration was better understood by the designers, how much more popular their products would be in the general market.

An Indian with the technical training of a good art school would readily find employment with establishments that employ designers.… As all peoples have treasured the history of their wanderings in some form, so has the American Indian had his pictograph and symbolic records, and with the progress of time he has evolved it into a system of designing, drawing his inspiration from the whole breadth of his native land.

Angel participated in several exhibitions throughout the years, including the 1901 Buffalo Pan-American Exhibition (for which she produced designs for furniture), the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, and the Jamestown Tercentennial in 1907, which showed her student’s work.(xxx,xxxi)

At the end of December 1907 in New Jersey, Angel married the younger William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, a student at Carlisle who presented himself as a Native American.(xxxii) He became her assistant at the school soon after.(xxxiii) Together, they collaborated on a number of projects. They illustrated Yellow Star: A Story of East and West, published in 1911 by Little, Brown, and Company and written by Elaine Goodale Eastman, the wife of Dr. Charles Eastman (Ohíye S’a), a Santee-Sioux physician. They also collaborated on The Little Buffalo Robe, written by Ruth Everett Beck and published in 1911. Dietz became involved with the school’s publications, including The Indian Craftsman, later renamed The Red Man, which was launched February 1909.(xxxiv) Notably, this publication was printed by Native students, and many of the designs and illustrations in the magazine were produced by students in Angel’s program. While Dietz illustrated the bulk of the covers, Angel created the September 1913 cover illustration of The Red Man (Vol 6., No. 1), entitled “Indian Nurse.” She also modeled for a photograph which her husband used in his cover illustration of the November 1912 issue of The Red Man (Vol. 5, No. 3). (xxxv)

Following the dissolution of the Indian art department and an investigation that engulfed the school, Angel left Carlisle in 1915 to further pursue her career as an artist. In 1918, she and Dietz divorced.(xxxvii) The same year, she illustrated Devonian fauna for the New York State Museum.(xxxviii) While Angel had artistic ambitions yet, she became ill and died of pneumonia and influenza in February 1919.

In the Summer 1919 issue (Vol. 7, No. 2) of The American Indian Magazine, produced by the Society of American Indians, her friend Zitkala-Ša, the editor, recognized Angel for her gift of $3,000 to the Society of American Indians in her will and expressed gratitude: “Angel DeCora Dietz, living and dying, has left us a noble example of devotion to our people. Let us take heed. Let us prove our worth even as she has done.”(xxxix) The same issue features illustrations of Angel’s accompanying an article written by Dr. Charles Eastman, “The American Eagle: An Indian Symbol,” discussing the significance and symbology of the eagle and its feathers, a subject which is just as timely today, in the light of the still-present issue of cultural appropriation. The illustrations include a number of eagle feathers and a full-page portrait of a Native man wearing a headdress.

Following her death, a number of eulogies recognized Angel and her work. Throughout her career, Angel was frequently mentioned in the press, though unfortunately, as the result of being a Native woman, she was often romanticized and stereotyped. Though forgotten for many years, Angel De Cora is now receiving the serious attention and discussion she deserves. As scholar Yvonne N. Tiger concludes in her master’s thesis, Angel de Cora: Her Career as an Art Instructor and Her Racialized Perspectives While Employed at Carlisle, 1906-1915:

De Cora left behind a wonderful legacy for Indian people. In her art, one can see the difficult path that she walked; De Cora had both feet and mind firmly planted in the white world, while her heart struggled with what it meant to be an Indian. This struggle played itself out in her ideas on teaching Indian art.  Her art and illustrations are an important part of Indian and art history.” In one of her speeches, Angel de Cora said, “There is no reason why the Indian workman should not have his own artistic mark on what he produces.” As an assimilated Indian artist and educator, De Cora left her indelible mark on her work. Her pioneering efforts resulted in the implementation of art programs in Indian boarding schools across the country, and, many years later, led to a renaissance in Indian art. Angel de Cora was responsible for the earliest efforts geared towards the preservation of Indian art.(xxxx)

Indeed, a hundred years later, much of her work and intellectual explorations are relevant to graphic designers today.

Recommended Reading:

  • Fire Light: The Life of Angel De Cora, Winnebago artist, by Linda M. Waggoner
  • “Angel DeCora’s Cultural Politics,” The Indian Craze: Primitivism, Modernism, and Transculturation in American Art, 1890-1915, by Elizabeth Hutchinson
  • “Angel DeCora: American Artist and Educator” by Sarah McAnulty, in Nebraska History Volume 57, No. 2 (Summer 1976), pp. 143-199.
  • American Indian Artist Angel DeCora: Aesthetics, Power, and Transcultural Pedagogy in the Progressive Era, by Suzanne Alene Shope, (2009). Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers. Paper 113.
  • Angel de Cora: her assimilation, philosophies, and career as an art instructor while employed at Carlisle, 1906-1915 (Unpublished master’s thesis) by Yvonne N. Tiger (2008), University of Oklahoma, Bizzell Memorial Library, Peggy V. Helmerich Reading Room.

i)  Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light: The Life of Angel De Cora, Winnebago Artist (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 3
ii) Ibid., 3-6.
iii) Ibid., 24-27.
iv) Ibid., 30.
v) Sarah McAnulty, “Angel de Cora: American Indian Artist and Educator,” Nebraska History 57, no. 2 (1976): 143-199. Accessed at http://www.tfaoi.org/aa/4aa/4aa27.htm
vi) Ibid
vii) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 58-58.
viii) Sarah McAnulty, “Angel de Cora.”
ix) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 68.
x) Sarah McAnulty, “Angel de Cora.”
xi) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 60-62.
xii) Ibid., 59.
xiii) Ibid., 68.
xiv) Ibid., 69-70.
xv) Ibid., 69.
xvi) Ibid., 79.
xvii) Sarah McAnulty, “Angel de Cora.”
xviii)  Linda M. Waggoner, M. Fire Light, 76.
xix) Ibid., 75-82.
xx) Sarah McAnulty, “Angel de Cora.”
xxi) Angel DeCora, “Angel DeCora – An Autobiography,” The Red Man, March 1911, 280-285.
xxii) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 129.
xxiii) Angel DeCora, “Angel DeCora – An Autobiography.”
xxiv) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 132-133.
xxv) Elizabeth Hutchinson, The Indian Craze. Primitivism, Modernism, and the Transculturation in American Art (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 202-203.
xxvi) Ibid., 203-204.
xxvii) Proceedings of the Twenty-fifth Annual Meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian and other Dependent Peoples, Lake Mohonk Conference, 1907, 16-18
xxviii) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 194-195.
xxix) Angel DeCora, “Native Indian Art,” Report of the Executive on the Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of the Society of American Indians Held at the University of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio – October 12-17, 1911, I (Washington, D.C.: Society of American Indians, 1912), 85-87.
xxx) Elizabeth Hutchinson, The Indian Craze, 200-202.
xxxi) Sarah McAnulty, “Angel de Cora.”
xxxii) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 153-154.
xxxiii)  Ibid., 159.
xxxiv) Ibid., 164-175.
xxxv) Tom Benjey, Keep A-goin’: The Life of Lone Star Dietz (Carlisle, PA: Tuxedo Press, 2006), 72-75
xxxvi) Linda M. Waggoner, Fire Light, 210-236.
xxxvii) Sarah McAnulty, “Angel de Cora.”
xxxviii)  Ibid.
xxxix) Society of American Indians. The American Indian Magazine. (Washington, D.C.: Society of American Indians, 1919), 62
xxxx) Yvonne N. Tiger, (2008). Angel de Cora: her assimilation, philosophies, and career as an art instructor while employed at Carlisle, 1906-1915 (Unpublished master’s thesis), 30. University of Oklahoma, Bizzell Memorial Library, Peggy V. Helmerich Reading Room.

Designer Profiles

I’m looking to feature more Native designers on this blog, and to facilitate that, I’ve put together a questionnaire. I’m asking that designers submit images of their work, 3-7 pieces (typography, layouts, posters, t-shirt designs, logos, etc), along with their answers to the questions. (Please feel free to give me feedback on the questions themselves as well! Let me know if anything should be added.) Email me at neeb at neebin.com with your answers and images. Thanks, you awesome, talented designers! People need to know about us and what we do!


  • Name:
  • Website(s):
  • What is/are your tribal affiliation(s), and where are you from?
  • What do you do/what are your areas of expertise?
  • How would you describe your style? What are your influences?
  • How/when did you first become aware of graphic design as a field?
  • Where did you go to school to study (or how did you begin practicing graphic design)?
  • Who are some of your clients and/or where have you worked in a creative capacity?
  • What are your favorite kinds of design projects to work on? Tell us about a project you are particularly proud of.
  • What sorts of projects do you want to work on in the future?
  • Have any design pet peeves?
  • Do you have any creative heros or projects you admire?
  • How does your ethnicity factor into your work or experience as a designer (if it does)?
  • When it comes to Native Americans and graphic design, is there anything you would like to see? (Be as broad or specific as you like!)
  • Are there any particular challenges you have encountered as a designer that you would like addressed?
  • What would you say to young Natives who are interested in pursuing graphic design or are just beginning their design careers?
  • Optional question: How can more Natives be encouraged/enabled to enter the field?
  • Anything else you would like people to know about you?

Tumblr account yields awesome Native design finds.

I decided to start a tumblr account just to see what Natives are up to on the site, and to keep track of graphic design finds. And as luck would have it, there’s quite a bit going on! So much so that it would be an overload to repost it all here. Check out neebinator.tumblr.com to see all the visual finds I have amassed!

Seven Grandfather Teachings Poster by Ashley Fairbanks

Throughout my research, I’ve been coming across a lot of really cool design projects, and while I originally was striving to go in depth on every post, I think I need to change up my style and just share what I find as I find it! So here goes! While browsing tumblr, I came across this awesome poster highlighting the Seven Grandfather Teachings, designed by Ashley Fairbanks, an Anishinaabe from Minnesota. (yay peeps!)

Seven grandfather teachings poster by Ashley Fairbanks, Anishinaabe, Minnesota.
Seven grandfather teachings poster by Ashley Fairbanks, an Anishinaabe from Minnesota.

See more of Ashley’s work:
Behance Profile
Ashley Fairbanks on LinkedIn

Indigenous Familia – Migration is Natural

I recently came across an article about a fantastic project/art movement engaged in by West Coast artists Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza (Melanie and Jesus collaborate under Dignidad Rebelde), Cesar Maxit, Ernesto Yerena, Julio Salgado and Favianna Rodriguez. The art movement utilizes the beautiful monarch butterfly to symbolize the movements of undocumented peoples across North America, which is akin to the extraordinary journey of the monarch butterfly itself.

Butterfly Crossing design by John Carr and Favianna Rodriguez
Butterfly Crossing design by John Carr and Favianna Rodriguez

The article, Hopeful,’Unapologetic’ Art Rebrands the Immigration Movement, encapsulates the art movement’s intentions:

“Every year, during their mating season, millions of monarch butterflies make the journey from Canada and the U.S. to a small town in Mexico called Angangueo where they coat branches and leaves like gobs of black and orange paint. Migration is built into the monarch’s DNA. For that very reason, the creature has played a central role in the rebranding of the undocumented movement. The choice in symbol is simple: Migration is natural, borders are not.” – Ingrid Rojas, ABC News

(Be sure to read the full article – there’s more art!)

While in this blog, I attempt to have a North American Native focus, historically speaking, there hasn’t been a clear boundary between North American and Mesoamerican Native peoples – if anything, it’s more of a spectrum and intermingling of experiences and even ancestry. Indigenous trade and travel across the continent is something that has existed here long before the political formations of Mexico, the United States, or Canada, and the establishment of their arbitrary borders. In fact, corn was developed in Mesoamerica, and since spread across North and South America, becoming a food staple and important part of the mythos of many Indigenous peoples. For my Ojibwe people, who are more than a thousand miles away from Mexico, our word for corn is Mandaamin, “wonder/mystery seed.” (There’s a cool story about the Corn spirit and our cultural hero Nanabozho wrestling each other – not unlike the Bible story where Jacob wrestles an angel.) Macaw feathers have also been known to have been traded up the continent, and other various Mesoamerican art, customs, and materials spread upwards as well.

In any case, we have a lot of links, and have certainly all struggled under colonial oppression, discrimination, and reprogramming. And again, while I strive to highlight Natives with ancestry hailing from particular parts of North America, I do want to mention that Natives with Latin American or Mesoamerican backgrounds have been very active producers of artwork, posters, and other graphic design work – it’s a full subject unto itself. And of course, a number of Natives today hold mixed ancestries from both regions, as has likely long been the case.

While sneaky, dehumanizing words like “aliens” or “illegals” obscure the issue and the racial dynamics involved (even the usage of of the word “immigrant” is strange for what are largely indigenous peoples), immigration reform is truly an Indigenous issue. I am proud to say that back in 2010 at my school, I and other Natives participated in a protest against Arizona’s racist SB 1070 law and HB 2281 bill. Love and solidarity for my Native brothers and sisters!

Idle No More poster by Jesus Barraza Dignidad Rebelde
Idle No More poster by Jesus Barraza of Dignidad Rebelde

(Also, be sure to check out Dignidad Rebelde, whose “art is grounded in Third World and indigenous movements that build people’s power to transform the conditions of fragmentation, displacement and loss of culture that result from this history.”)

Graphic Design in the Arctic: Featuring Thomassie Mangiok!

Some time ago, I decided to look up Inuit graphic design and came across work on the Pirnoma Technologies Inc  website. Pirnoma Technologies is an Inuit-run company that offers IT support, webdesign, and graphic design in Nunavik, a region in the northernmost reaches of Quebec, Canada. That’s right, it’s in the Arctic!  Nunavik means “great land” in Inuktitut, an Inuit language, and is mostly inhabited by Inuit people. If you’re not sure where Nunavik is here is a map (It’s way up there!):


(Map from www.nunavik-tourism.com/)

I was intrigued by the logos I encountered on the website and emailed Pirnoma Technologies for more information about the designs. The designer, Thomassie Mangiok, who is Inuit, graciously provided information on several of the designs, and even sent some additional work! What I really enjoy about Thomassie’s work is the simple elegance of the designs, as well as the distinct cultural and regional/environmental influences evident in the work. Awesomely, several of the logos incorporate a writing script for Inuit languages, as well as French. Anyhow, see for yourself! I’ve included his commentary on several of the designs as well. Enjoy!

Logo for Nunavik Parks
Logo for Nunavik Parks

Nunavik Parks

“Nunavik Parks logo was one of my earliest designs. It had to present the north. The animals and natural formations had to be equally presented, shapes and colors through the logo and text. The mountains, the moon, sea animals and birds are distinguishable in a very simple and effective image.”

I love it! Very bold. Thomassie also created some beautiful wall designs for Nunavik Parks. Check them out in the gallery below:


Uumajuit Warden

“The logo is meant to display the work domain of the client – the client is there to support the region and life in the location. The map was also included in respect to Kativik Regional Government’s logo (that I did not create, but it is involved). The animals visually fit around each other reflecting the circle of life.” (I really love the interconnecting of the animals and the color choice.)

Logo for Kangiqsujuaq Adventures

Aventures Kangiqsujuaq

“The image portrays with its bright colors and movement in an assembled fashion describing natural adventure through the client, anything is possible. The logo will stand out from a crowded environment.”

logo for Tamaani, Nunavik's Leading Internet Service Provider


Thomassie created this logo for Tamaani, Nunavik’s leading internet service provider.


Yoga courses in Nunavik

“A client requested to have text in Inuttitut to indicate their field of activity, Yoga classes in the north.” Check out how the yoga poses mirror the Inuttitut syllabics!


On the Right Path

Thomassie created the logo for On the Right Path, as well as the following poster which displays “youth, confidence and the north.”


Also, here are two digital posters, “created to show the possibility of an ongoing project, nipisi.”


Very cool, no? I hope you enjoyed this selection of work as much as I did! Thanks for sharing, Thomassie! I will be revisiting the Arctic in a future post, but first, I plan on going in the opposite direction and highlighting a few designers from the US Southwest next!

Indigenized Book Forms

067531 003

While browsing through the online collections on the National Museum of the American Indian, I came across this beautiful Anishinaabe (Chippewa/Ojibwa) Bible cover made sometime around 1880-1900. Now, as an Ojibway myself, I am particularly fond of it. Look at those colors!  The flowers are just beautiful. What is particularly interesting about the cover is that it uses birchbark, porcupine quills, and sweetgrass – all traditional, pre-contact Anishinaabe materials for making and decorating things. The floral motif is also a part of Ojibway art history and culture (and is very much part of our contemporary identity). Florals were developed/embraced by Native people, steeped in natural tradition/respect, and influenced Victorian florals, Persian rugs, and the like (which were contemporary to their time – the whole thing can get academic, but if you’re interested in ideas about the development of florals check out Ruth Phillips’ book Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900). Anyway, it’s a gorgeous, elegant example of Ojibway art. (See the NMAI entry for this quilled birchbark Anishinaabe (Chippewa/Ojibwa) Bible)

To think about this Bible cover further, the artist, whoever she may have been (I say she since women frequently primarily engaged in this type of birchbark/quillwork art), took an established form of a European Bible (which at that time would likely be leather-bound) and in essence, Indigenized it for an undeniably Ojibway result. I’m sure the Bible was very precious to her or whoever else it may have been made for. What else can be done when designing an object with Native cultural influences in mind?

I got to explore this idea myself, as related to books, while I was going to Oregon State University. At one point, I was taking a photography class at the same time that I was taking a packaging design course. The latter course really opened my mind to exploring and shaping the form of an object, and it ended up influencing the first class. I had taken some photographs at a pow wow and needed to figure out how to present them, so I decided to go in a hand-made book format. I ended up making the cover imitative of the fringed shawls of female fancy dancers – the cover was fringed in the same manner as a shawl I was working on for a friend. It was a fun experiment, and overall I’m happy with the result.

Got an example of a cool Native-styled book? Let me know!