New Native Voices, Rooted in Heritage

November 1, 2017


Native American Heritage Month recognizes the history and traditions of Native cultures. Audrey Jacobs, the Museum Educator at The Heritage Center, connects our Red Cloud students with concrete examples of this history— the rich pool of artifacts and art found in museum’s collection. Discover how, through Audrey’s work, students study methodologies to analyze Native art history and then, rooted in this appreciation, find their own voice for self-expression.

“To me, it seems like the arts are an open door. You can get a better relationship with a student if you’re doing something with them, like drawing or painting. It helps them come out easier to you.”

— Donald Montileaux

Red Cloud students are fortunate to have direct access to a remarkable collection of Native art, right here on campus. Can you tell us a bit about the collection?

We are so lucky to have a really large collection for a museum of this size. The collection contains over 10,000 pieces stretching from those created in the 1800’s to those completed only a couple of months ago. Being able to draw from that is a huge benefit to the school and to my work as a museum educator. Also, my work would be a different job, and a harder job, if the community didn’t have so many great culture bearers. From the artists to the people who know the Lakota language, to the people that know the plants and so on— I can bring folks into the classroom, and they can work directly with the students. That’s something that would be really hard at a different museum and I’m really, really lucky to be able to do that.

Why is it so important for our students to meet Native artists face to face?

As much as I might be a good teacher and know about art, bringing in artists who are community members is critical. It is important not just for certain art aspects, but also for students simply to see those artists— to see that they do this because it’s meaningful to them, or perhaps it’s how they make their living. I want students to see that making art can be an outlet for people in many different ways.

In addition, these adult artists, who have been steeped in the Native culture for longer, can offer the perspective of an eye toward environmentalism, plant life and animal life, to students who are bombarded with mainstream American 21st-century culture. For example, our traveling Horse Nation Exhibition explores how, for the Plains tribes, horses in art are not just common, but very important.

Keeping up the momentum of bringing in artists into the classroom is a goal of mine, especially for the 4th-grade documentary film project, Our Community Story.



Speaking of the Our Community Story documentary project, why is learning the filmmaking process an important piece of the curriculum for students?

Filmmaking with students not only builds their confidence, but it also gives them the skills they need to go out in the world and tell their own stories. One of the many lessons I have learned since coming here to Red Cloud is that there is a real problem with good, scholarly, well-meaning people, with their heads and hearts in the right places, telling a story of this community, but focusing only on the negative aspects of life here. It’s almost like the thought is that people here don’t have the capacity to tell their own story. So, our work in documentary filmmaking is part of building the capacity, the confidence, and the interest in telling the community’s story. Sometimes when you know your own story, you don’t see why it’s important to tell to other people. I would like this program to be part of spurring the students of Red Cloud to grow up and be able to talk about or make films about where they come from. 

“When I tell the students about my experiences throughout my lifetime, like going to Germany and Spain, how my art is internationally known, and how I’ve had a piece of artwork go up into the shuttlecraft Endeavor, they really think that’s cool. They see that an individual from here can accomplish great things.”

— Donald Montileaux

The students are taught all the technical skills, but then they decide everything about the project. I bring in the artists, but the students decide on the questions, how to set up the shot. They do all of the pushings of buttons and they edit their own clips on iMovie. I really want to take my voice out of the process as much as possible.

What are your future hopes for these efforts to empower Red Cloud students to connect with their cultural heritage through art?

I would like to teach myself out of a job. I’d like to inspire the students to go on to museum studies, art history, or other cultural studies, and then come back and intern here, and eventually take over my job. That’s my biggest goal.


Photos © Red Cloud Indian School/Willi White


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