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Red Shadows Brings MMIR “Artivism” to Lafayette

Red Shadows Brings MMIR “Artivism” to Lafayette


Art brings attention to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people across North America

If you’re in old-town Lafayette this month, allow the hand-lettered fabric swaying in The Collective’s tall front windows to catch your eye, and let its poetry and statistics sink in. It’s a work of art by Tanaya Winder, one of more than a dozen Indigenous artists exhibiting in “Red Shadows: The Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives” until May 19. Walk inside and immerse yourself in the array of media—from sound art to paintings, photography to digital prints, and more. The beauty and power of Native American contemporary art may transform your awareness of Colorado’s past and present. The exhibit’s careful balance of sorrow and celebration may inspire you to take action.

Curated by noted Denver-based artist Danielle SeeWalker, (a Húnkpapha Lakhóta — Lakota woman) of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, “Red Shadows” raises awareness and catalyzes community through the heart and all of the senses as well.

The opening reception on March 22 was catered with Native American cuisine from Denver’s Tocabe American Indian Eatery.

On April 4, The Collective hosted a screening of Who She Is,” an award-winning documentary by Jordan Dresser and Sophie Barksdale about missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States.

The screening was followed by a panel with Colorado-based Indigenous activist Raven Payment. In response to questions from non-Indigenous attendees, the candid discussion included strategies for non-Indigenous people to avoid cultural appropriation in favor of respectful appreciation.

“Viewing Sing Our Rivers Red, by Danielle SeeWalker, at the opening of Red Shadows, The Collective, Lafayette, CO.” Photo by Danielle SeeWalker.

On Saturday, May 11, from 1–3 pm, “Red Shadows” will feature an evening of music and discussion with internationally known classical musicians Josh Halpern and Yannick Rafalimanana of Cultural Caravan. The topics of conversation will include resisting cultural erasure, specifically in music.

SeeWalker is one of several Native women leading the nonprofit Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives Task Force of Colorado, also found here, which shapes policy and organizes searches and aid. The acronym MMIR — rather than MMIW — reflects how this widespread violence affects Native Americans of all genders, not only women.

SeeWalker said, “We spend hours upon hours volunteering our time on the ground searching for missing people, putting our money together to help buy bus tickets to get families here to help search for their loved ones that are missing, help put together food packets.” The Task Force has also set up a missing Indigenous person alert. You can sign up here: [email protected].

The MMIR crisis exists throughout North America and, as SeeWalker explained, these issues aren’t confined to “the reservation or remote areas. In fact, over 70 percent of Native American people live in urban areas, including Denver. Denver has a huge population of Native people. Within the Native community, we call Denver the Crossroads of Indian Country. We’re in the middle of a lot of tribes and reservations, so Denver is that center crossroads point.”

One piece in “Red Shadows” may already be familiar to Boulder County’s arts and social justice communities. In 2021, SeeWalker’s piece “Sing Our Rivers Red” was featured at the Dairy Arts Center. It included a collection of thousands of single earrings and accompanying notes donated by the loved ones of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman, girl, Two Spirit person, or man.

The collection has continued to grow. Many of the earrings exemplify ancient handcraft traditions, especially beading using natural materials. Each uniquely exquisite handmade earring is an irreplaceable reminder of someone who is missed. Madelaine Vargas, program manager of Arts & Cultural Resources for the City of Lafayette, pointed out: “These are maybe a fifth of what the Task Force brought in. That’s all that they could fit on there. I don’t know that anyone yet has gone through all of these letters or these messages without having a breakdown or needing a tissue or just not being able to finish the messages.”

Like much of SeeWalker’s artwork, “Red Shadows” foregrounds many different media of the past and present, a statement on the ongoing existence of Indigenous people. SeeWalker calls her curatorial approach “artivism: art and activism.” Raising awareness, she said, can be more efficient through art: “I can go to the state capitol and talk to legislators all day long and yell at them about what needs to be changed. I can go out on the frontline and stand up for what’s right, with signs and protesting. But art has some sort of different appeal, and it reaches a much broader audience.”

Art as activism, art as healing

“Artivism” animates the entire exhibit. Artist Lynette GreyBull (Húnkphapha Lakhóta, Northern Arapaho) of Wind River, Wyoming, is the founder and executive director of Not Our Native Daughters, an organization fighting the violence and exploitation of Indigenous people, particularly women and girls. “Dancing Thunder,” an example of her multimedia digital artwork on display in “Red Shadows,” collages conventional Native geometric patterns with photography evoking multiple eras and techniques.

Boulder County–based artist Jaylyn Gough (Diné/Navajo) is the founder of Native Women’s Wilderness, an organization committed to supporting Indigenous women’s access to and enjoyment of the outdoors. Her photo prints on metal in “Red Shadows” feature girls wearing beadwork, ribbon skirts, and other Native handcrafts, a merging of materials that carries tradition into the ever-changing present.

Jaylyn Gough, Danielle SeeWalker, and Lynette GreyBull with painting by SeeWalker at the opening of Red Shadows, The Collective, Lafayette, CO. Photographer unknown.

Artist Mercedes Archuleta (@show_mercyy), whose Native name is Punachine, which means Little Bird, will soon graduate from CU Boulder. She is from the Anishinaabe of Turtle Mountain in North Dakota. Archuleta described how her work blends tradition with the present and the future by incorporating techniques like beading and natural materials, “pieces of art from our Mother Earth.” “Her”, a sold piece in “Red Shadows”, incorporates dried blue Hopi corn, sinew, a hawk feather, ledger pages Archuleta found in an antique store, and acrylic paint.

For Archuleta, “it’s a very heart-touching piece, something that I used to express emotion and feelings that I didn’t even realize were there. A lot of our people use art for healing, and I had done this piece in honor of my mother. My mom was actually an active missing person in the state of California, in Los Angeles, and I had to go out and find her and do an active person search, work with LAPD. I barely, barely found her—by the skin of my teeth, on the full moon — homeless, no clothes, shaved head.” The dark blue corn of the woman figure’s long hair in “Her” is a testament to Archuleta’s mother, representing “that strength that my mom always had. Now, my mom is healthy and alive, and she lives with me.”

Vargas points out that MMIR is “a difficult topic. It brings up difficult conversations about our genealogy and our paths. With this exhibit, we’ve had to provide people with background information.” Visitors have mentioned feeling shocked that, despite faithfully following the news, they were uninformed about MMIR. That’s why, Vargas said, “we think it’s important to have this exhibit. It’s highlighting something affecting a very specific community, our neighbors. It’s a crisis. It’s a topic that’s not getting a lot of mainstream acknowledgment in comparison to how alarming the statistics are.”

Visitors to “Red Shadows” often ask what they can do to help. SeeWalker said: “Write your senators. We’re constantly having to go back to the drawing board and revise some of these bills. And we need support. We need allyship as Native people. We’re under 2 percent of the entire population of the US. Even if all of us shout at the top of our lungs together, we’re still not loud enough. Also, locally, you can support the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives Task Force. We’re all women who volunteer time because we’re passionate about this, and most of us have been personally affected by this crisis. We could definitely use support.”

Native Americans should not have to face this crisis of violence alone, and hopefully, thanks to artists and activists like those in “Red Shadows,” they will not have to any longer. Non-Indigenous people are learning more, not only about celebrating Native people and their culture but also about how to help.

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