I work with indigenous people. Their art, culture, and customs are the reasons of why I can do what I do as an artist. They are my inspiration and I work to make sure that their joyful stories are told in the pieces I create.
But I also know their struggles.
Despite the fact that America is a nation of immigrants – a beautiful nation of diverse people and cultures – I cannot help but be pained by this nation’s tremendous misunderstanding of the colorful threads woven into its very fabric. Because without people of color, you are left with nothing but a pile of fabric scraps.
And, to say that this unfortunate reality is a malignant cancer in our culture is not a concession I am willing to make. The malignancy is ignorance and fear. And its recent spread into national politics is alarming.
What some people fail to understand is the daily reality of people of color, immigrants, and indigenous people in this country (and countries around the world). I can recall a time when my dear friend Catarina needed money in Guatemala. When I sent it to her, she had issues retrieving it from the bank and time and time again, making 4 trips in one week, she was still unable to get the money released to her. In the end, it took an international phone call from a non-indigenous person (myself) to finally “convince” the bank to give her her money! This may seem like a small example but if this is something that you have never experienced, I am asking you to imagine if it did.
I heard about the Standing Rock tribe and their fight against the Dakota Pipeline a few months ago and the story infuriated me. Here was another cancerous example of the United States government and American corporate interests overriding any respect for this nation’s indigenous people. And the more I learned, the less the story could be cleaned up.
After reading that the Dakota Pipeline had originally been routed through the town of Bismarck (88.6% white*) only to be met with resistance and rerouted through sacred lands of the indigenous Sioux tribe, I was had to do something to stand in solidarity with this beautiful people and culture.
So, I turned to my community and on Thanksgiving weekend I, along with almost a hundred artists/designers, hosted an online auction in support of the Standing Rock tribe. We each donated pieces of our art and over the course of the week, we raised over $10,000! And, 100% of the money was sent to support the Standing Rock tribe as a symbol of our solidarity.
I thank every person that was part of that auction from the bottom of my heart!
And just the other day, we received the news that the pipeline will be rerouted! What a victory! But the battle for recognition of the sacred land and this nation’s indigenous people is not over. And I know that this event has been an eye opener for many artists and people alike.
Today and always, I stand with Standing Rock, people of color, and indigenous people in the world. And, I do so with all my heart. It is time that our modern and Western societies acknowledge and truly respect all cultures – not just their own. It is important that those of us with a voice speak up and show respect to the native people of this land and, more importantly, to our mother earth. It is time to be heard. Mni Wiconi – water is life!
I stand up for unity, equality, and respect of all beings. Power to the people!
Merijam Roelofs is the founder and creator of Folk Project. She finds inspiration in the material culture of people still living in a traditional way. Her work focuses on ancient textiles, like “boutis” from Provence, as well as recycled fabrics.