Thanks everyone for your thoughtful posts on my note about art and community. :) I had a wonderful time responding!
I wanted to share an art project that our readings, conversations, and my own studies for this semester has inspired. It is a prayer stick, in the tradition of the Hopis (who, interesting, are the people that the Navajos learned to weave from, so it makes sense for me to learn from them too!). I was inspired by the idea of a prayer stick because if you seek to create change in the world, the best place to start is to first make space for constructive change at home.
Here is the story and symbolism behind the stick's creation and the items that became part of the project.
I gathered the stick from a dead small tree near the edge of the forest behind my tapestry studio (a 16-foot diameter yurt), thanking the tree spirits. I am not a carver, so my ornamentation was with fibers (yarns) and found objects. The collection and process of assembling and dedicating the prayer stick was very meditative and mind-clearing.
Prayer sticks are often decorated with feathers. Native Americans (American Indians, First Nation peoples...whichever is your preference) can use any feathers they find, but Euro-Americans are restricted to domestic fowel and game birds. It is actually illegal for me to have, say, a feather from a bald eagle or even a blue jay in my posession. But this morning while we were out moving the animals in the pasture, I found the tail feather of a wild turkey, and that was like a message to me that today was the day for making a prayer stick.
To this feather I added two collected tail feathers from my own heritage breed turkeys--a black one and a white one (both with brown tips). It somehow felt right that the domestic and the wild should be brought together--just as the young white woman was following Native traditions in that moment. Then, sorting through the house, I found some other items to add to the prayer stick for symbolic and real value.
At the top is a round piece of clear glass, held by some thin wire. The glass faces south-eastward, reflecting the light of the sun--the bringer of life and energy and the true time keeper for both Native and agrarian cultures. Then there is a polished stone, also held in wire, which is a symbol of this great blessing--the Earth--on which we all walk and breathe, a place to be nurtured and shared. There also is an arrowhead of polymer clay that I had made back in gradeschool. It is a symbol of my question of what it means for a non-Native artist to produce Native-inspired art. How does one follow this path with respct and constructive conversation amongst cultures? Below is a spiny seed pod, in remembrance of all the hurt inflicted by Euro-Americans over hundreds of years of occupation. And the shell is to remind us of the gifts we have to share with one another. The six butterfly beads (even numbers being sacred to Native cultures) are there because butterflies--like birds--are spirit messengers. the yarns are in the colors of the earth, left to float in the air and twist and braid as they so desire.
And so I dedicated this prayer stick today, planted in the corner of the herb garden by my studio, in the hopes that this study may bring greater cultural reconciliation, even if it is only in a small way. We start by starting at home. :)