Ganawenjiige Onigam (She watches over Duluth)
This NSRGNTS mural depicts a larger than life Ojibwe jingle dress dancer painted to look over Onigamiinsign, or what is now called Duluth. She will stand, watch over and protect Ojibwe homelands occupied by the state of Minnesota. The town has been a space devoid of indigenous representation by indigenous people since its inception as an American city; although the Native community in Duluth draws its population from diverse tribes across North America, a formal and contemporary acknowledgement of this demographic has yet to be included in the city’s public, creative landscape. The mural will attest to the resilience of indigenous people, despite a lack of equitable representation. It’s a collaborative project initiated by nonprofits Hone The Earth and the American Indian Housing Organization. Artists from the group NSRGNTS painted the 30×25-foot mural on the side of AICHO’s main building and described it as one of their best works to date. Votan Ik (Maya/Nahua), his partner Leah 'Povi' Marie (Pueblo/Hopi/Diné), and Derek Brown (Diné), all artists and project leads, worked almost every day for over a month in summer of 2017 to complete the mural and were given a warm welcome by the community at large. The weeks leading up to its completion, families and community members flocked to the rooftop to meet with the artists and share food and stories, adding their own brushstrokes to help the artists along the way.
The mural itself is representative of many things, and I think everyone takes something different away from it, depending on their background and connection to indigenous cultures. It depicts a native woman fulfilling her role as a water protector, a dancer, a healer — she wears a bandana covering her face, a symbol reminiscent of both the collectivist ideologies of the Zapatista movement and the resistance and resilience of protectors at Standing Rock. The face covering also alludes to the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women in our community; as rampant of an issue it is in the Twin Ports, it’s a topic that still doesn’t get talked about in mainstream conversations. Alone, as a water protector, she reminds of the dangers of big oil and the importance of our lake. These issues all come to a boiling point in the woman’s eyes as she gazes intently at passersby.