The annual Native American Arts Festival Week is a cultural gemstone in the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program offerings. This year’s theme is “Native American Art and Activism.” Tribal artists and speakers examine ways to foster change and raise awareness about social and political issues of particular importance to Native Americans.
Program Director Heather Companiott spoke glowingly about the wide diversity of offerings this summer. Each day, visiting guests will examine a range of topics on this theme — environmental, health, social and women’s issues that are in the process of changing in Native American communities.
“Activism is not about yelling,” said Companiott. “There are many ways artists can effect substantive change using their art and that is what this week is about. It’s about using art within your communities to educate those within and without about ways to make their lives better.”
One of the most interesting events is the one that opens the festival week on Sunday, June 25. “Ackia” is a 13-hour Homeric epic performance poem that begins at 9 a.m. and concludes at 10 p.m. Written by Lannie Hill and directed by Ivan Wong, the performance takes place in Bowman/IAF Theatre as an avant-garde sound and sight-immersive experience. Set in the Chickasaw War of 1736, “Akia” pits the agendas of French and English settlers against Native American society. It is an epic drama poem in five books, replete with phantoms rising from the past in a legend of gods and heroes, blood and glory, pride and folly, lust and absolute devotion. It is written in the tradition of Homer’s “Illiad” and Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene,” and features music and sound by Ivan Wong’s Plastic Products company, along with actors Kimberly Guerrero, Shyla Marlin, Ivan Wong and Lannie Hill.
Guerrero is an Oklahoma-born, Los Angeles-based actor who has been featured off Broadway, with Steppenwolf in Chicago and at the Old Globe in San Diego. Said Companiott about the “Ackia” piece, “We have a special connection to the Chickasaw. Ataloa, who is Chickasaw, was the first Native American teacher the Krones brought here to teach in 1950.”
On Monday, June 26, “Louder than Words: Indigenous American Art and Activism,” opens at the campus gallery featuring work of nine celebrated Native American artists. The opening reception is at 8 p.m. The Kabotie Lecture Series takes place from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday at the Krone Library. Featured presenters include Aldo Seoane on Tuesday, talking about the issues facing Native American women when thousands of oil workers moved into the area. His talk is called “Wake Up: Standing Rock is Everywhere.”
On Wednesday, Marty Two Bulls, political cartoonist, presents “Native American Art and Politics in the Digital Age.” Thursday is to be announced.
Friday is devoted to dance and multimedia events, featuring Rulan Tangen and Dancing Earth, and Frank Waln, Sampson Brothers and guests. There is a welcome by the Mountain Cahuilla Bird Singers.
The week concludes on Saturday at 8 a.m. with Hopi-Tewa Pottery Firing.
The festival week features daily food tastings prepared by Chef Freddie Bitsole, executive chef of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution.
All events are free and open to the public.
Sponsors include the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Chickasaw Nation, the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Nations and the Soboba Foundation.
For more information about Native American Arts Festival Week at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program, visit www.idyllwildarts.org/summer/nativearts.