Interview with Votan Ik on MMIW mural

Interview with Votan Ik on MMIW mural

The mural (Located in Duluth, MN on the American Indian Housing Organization's building) represents several different images - a water protector, Native American women in general, and missing and murdered indigenous women, said Votan Ik, who also has an art business called Nsrgnts. Ik notes in his artist's statement that the mural is intended to put the issue of oil on a large platform, as well as advocate for renewable energy, education and empowerment.

When Native Americans protect their sacred sites, defend the land and protect their traditional way of life, they "usually suffer attacks," Ik said.

The issues of the protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near North Dakota's Standing Rock Reservation, and missing and murdered Native American women, are connected - but the protest didn't address the women, who are represented in the mural with the red jingle dress, Ik said.

When he visited family in North Dakota, he saw one of the "man camps" that have sprung up because of the Bakken oil field. His family explained "some of the women there were being trafficked off the reservation, many vanished and others raped. That was the first I heard about it, and that was before Standing Rock, so when I got to Standing Rock, I was still piecing things together."

He said he fully understood when he heard stories of Native American women directly affected by abuse when he arrived in Duluth.

"It's one thing to hear it, a different thing to experience it because we experience it as a group, collectively - like I fully understand how important this is. We've had many people come and many with tears in their eyes, so thankful for addressing this issue."

It was also important to represent women in the mural because of the policies and views expressed by the administration of President Donald Trump, Ik said. He added, "We felt that women have been or were disrespected by the commander in chief, the person who is supposed to represent the country and the people, so we felt like we also needed to address that."

In the mural, the jingle dress dancer's face is partially covered by a bandana. Votan Ik said he felt strongly about using a bandana in the mural because with it, she can be any woman.

The bandana also is a reference to the Zapatista movement in Mexico, he said, in which Mayans rose up in 1994 against the Mexican government. They opposed globalization - including the North American Free Trade Agreement - that threatened indigenous communities' land rights and way of life.

The Zapatistas wore bandanas and ski masks, and were labeled by the Mexican government and some media as cowards because they were "hiding" behind the masks, Ik said.

The Zapatistas responded that the individuals behind the masks didn't matter, but rather, what mattered was that there were humans behind the masks, he said. The message behind the bandana is "it's not me as an individual that will take credit for what is happening here, but it's us as human beings collectively coming together to change what is happening to us," Ik said. "In a way, I felt that it reflected tradition as indigenous people to where you're being considerate about your community and not just yourself."

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