Honor The Treaties delivers the message through art

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country

The power of art is in both its beauty and instant ability to tell a story. In the digital age, an image can be created and transmitted all over the world in seconds. Using this power is a group called Honor the Treaties, that was started in Seattle by National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey after spending seven years documenting life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

 Huey was so taken by the poverty and injustices he saw there, he collaborated with Los Angeles artist Shepard Fairey of Obey and Obama HOPE poster fame to design the first guerilla postering campaign for the organization, which focused on the protection of the Black Hills.

The organization now encompasses a roster of Native artists from around the country who have been asked to create art that explores Native issues that mean something to them personally.

One of those artists is Seattle based Cheyenne Randall, who has created striking murals as well as digital designs. He painted a huge wall mural overnight in Rapid City, SD’s “Art Alley” that went viral in part due to Randalls thousands of followers on Instagram through likes and shares.

“In today’s world, it’s cool when an image is striking enough to get in people’s faces and get them to take a look at deeper issues. It’s just really a chance to lend a voice and reach an audience that wouldn’t normally be exposed to the drama and issues going on in Indian country,” Randall said, “one of which is the occupation of the Black Hills.”

Honor the Treaties aims to amplify the concerns of Indigenous communities through art and advocacy. They do that by funding collaborations between Native artists and Native advocacy groups so that their messages can reach a wider audience.

Indigenous communities are fighting their most important battles in recent history—battles to protect the integrity of their land and water and traditions. The treaties are at the heart of these battles. These rights go deep into the U.S. Constitution known as the Supremacy Clause that lists these treaties as the “supreme law of the land.” These legally binding contracts hold promises that recognized tribes’ rights to live sovereign, self-governed and undisturbed on their own land, with religious freedom; to hunt, fish, and gather natural resources. Due to power and greed, these treaties, on a daily basis, are being violated.

Honor the Treaties provides distribution grants to artists so that their work can help make the causes they care for more visible on murals, posters, t-shirt designs, stickers and more.

“I think it’s just such a powerful piece,” Randall told the Seattle Weekly of his mural. “I think people are really drawn to Native issues, and that is such a big part of Honor the Treaties—doing that through art.”

Randall grew up in Minneapolis and was “really close” to the Lakota culture of his family until he moved to Seattle when he was 10. After the move, he says he lost touch with his culture, creating “a void in my spiritual growth” that he didn’t fill until much later, when he decided to give back to his community through art.  Now his “shopped tattoos” – where he adds tattoos onto celebrities - and images merging vintage and modern graphics are seen by thousands and exhibited in galleries.

Another collaboration Randall is involved in is a benefit vinyl single being released on November 28th through Rhino Records. One side of the single is The Doors “Ghost Song”, the flip side is Peter La Farge’s “Drums” featuring John Densmore of The Doors, Floyd Westerman, Keith Secola and Martha Redbone.

Randall designed the artwork for the La Farge side using an image of Lakota chief and education advocate Luther Standing Bear, while Shepard Fairey did The Doors song side, inspired by a photo of a child watching horses run by Aaron Huey. Fairey has been friends with Densmore for a few years and asked him to pull in some music as an added art form for Honor The Treaties.

The result is a powerful piece of work being made in a limited edition of 8,000 and distributed to indie record stores.

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