Native Strong Home Art Kits

Abby Sunde

This winter, Springboard for the Arts launched Artists Respond: Combating Social Isolation. With support from Springboard through funding from the Kresge Foundation and the Blandin Foundation, 89 artists from around Minnesota created projects that connect those most vulnerable in the pandemic. Minnesota Women’s Press spoke with four of these creatives about the inspiration behind their projects, and how they are hoping to transform a difficult situation with art and community.

The 50 Native Strong Home Art Kits are for Saint Paul Native youth in third through sixth grades. The Department of Indian Work, a program of Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, was kind enough to work with me and help distribute the kits to families they serve through their Native American food shelf and Native after-school program.

There are two lessons and two projects within the kit. One project is to make a Native Strong keychain, which includes a lesson on resilience and to serve as a reminder of who we are and who we come from.

One of the ways to deal with tough times is to grow the resilience that we all have inside of us. In the kits, I include a few points [about] things we can do and remember that are important. Especially in Native culture, trying to find the funny side of situations can help us cope. Humor is a very large part of Native culture, and that connection to culture is so important.

The second project is making a Medicine Wheel — a symbol that is common in a lot of Native American tribes. The teachings of it vary from nation to nation. I do not dive into all of the potential teachings of the Medicine Wheel, because the youth that are receiving these kits come from various tribes and nations. The Medicine Wheel serves as a reminder that we are all connected, we are all related, and that we all have some of these teachings. [The youth] know that their art kit is the same as 49 others and that they are all doing this project together, creating a sense of community while apart.

I used to work at the Department of Indian Work (DIW). A number of the families that are going to be receiving the kits are ones I know personally. When I saw a [Springboard Center for the Arts] call for art, I thought, “I need to make something for the families at DIW.”

Making art is often a personal and vulnerable practice, even if it is doodling on the side of a notebook. The experiences of 2020, from the pandemic to George Floyd, have brought up so many raw emotions. It has made art feel more necessary than ever as a means of connection and processing.