Indigenous artists share art forms in Zoom forum

  • Liz Coldwind Santana Kiser presents one of her hand-crafted bags during a Zoom panel on Indigenous arts on Thursday. Screenshot

  • Jennifer Lee speaks during a Zoom panel on Indigenous arts on Thursday. Screenshot

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2022 3:58:21 PM
Modified: 1/14/2022 3:57:28 PM

Indigenous artists of various mediums gathered virtually to keep social and ancestral connections alive during the “Indigenous Arts Mentorship in the Valley” Zoom panel Thursday evening.

The panel was hosted by Valley Arts Mentors, a resource networking organization for Connecticut River Valley creatives, and moderated by David Brule, president of the Nolumbeka Project, a cultural preservation organization for Indigenous peoples. Artists Jennifer Lee, Liz Coldwind Santana Kiser, Deborah Spears Moorehead and Dan Shears took turns telling stories about what inspired them to engage with their respective crafts, both technically and spiritually.

The panel was held in the context of waning heritage, beginning with a land acknowledgment and supplemented with recognition that Indigenous peoples have been persecuted throughout history.

“I hate to say it, but being here in the Northeast, a ton of our culture is gone and there’s no way of getting it back,” said Shears, a beadworker, traditional hide tanner, birchbark artisan and member of the Nulhegan Abenaki.

The artists collectively expressed that creating art has been a longstanding effort to keep in touch with their heritage. The practices they engage with stem from generations-old methods.

“When I was really young, I would always wonder, ‘Where are the people that look like me?’” said Spears Moorehead, a painter, sculptor and member of the Seaconke Pokanoket Wampanoag Nation. She noted that learning art was her introduction to her people.

“It’s really been my lifelong journey to educate myself,” said Lee, a bark basket maker, Metis Nation of North America enrollee, Northern Narragansett member and Nolumbeka Project member. “Like buffalo is to the Lakota people, bark is to the Northeastern Woodlands people.”

The artists’ stories of how they began their artistic endeavors stemmed largely from places of financial struggle or social alienation. Santana Kiser, for instance, recalled her family being unable to buy new furniture and other wares, leading her mother, grandmother and aunts to engage in furniture and clothes-making as her family had done for generations.

“These women were creative and were able to use whatever was available to them,” said Santana Kiser, a bag maker and tribal historic preservation officer for the Chaubunagungamaug band of Nipmuck Indians.

Spears Moorehead recalled feeling like a social outcast who was advised to do art as a way of keeping her from asking too many questions about her culture.

“Painting and drawing pictures brings me closest to the Creator,” she added.

Later in their lives, bestowing knowledge of their craft upon others not only became a career path, but a way of keeping their culture in the consciousness of a future generation.

“It’s been a real honor and pleasure to go to these tribal communities and teach basket making,” said Lee, who developed a community resource center for all ages after mastering her craft. “It’s just the happiest experience I could ever imagine doing.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or


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