Piece by Natalie Ball, titled "I Bind You, Nancy"

Piece by Natalie Ball, titled "I Bind You, Nancy"

courtesy of Natalie Ball

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The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation has been awarded a multi-million dollar gift to support its mission of equity and cultural knowledge. We hear more about what that will mean for the organization and its work from Lulani Arquette, President and CEO of NACF. We also meet Natalie Ball, one of the organization’s fellows. Ball’s art focuses on her Klamath and Modoc tribal heritage and contemporary culture.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. It’s been a busy few months for the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, which is based in Portland. Last month, the nonprofit announced it had received a multimillion dollar grant from MacKenzie Scott. The NACF said the money will help it to further its mission to advance equity and cultural knowledge. Earlier this month, the organization announced its first cohort for its new LIFT program. Twenty early career artists from around the country will receive financial support, and back in May, the Chiloquin-based and internationally known multidisciplinary artist Natalie Ball was named the 2021 Oregon Native Artist Fellow. Natalie Ball joins us now along with Lulani Arquette, who is the President and CEO of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Welcome to you both.

Natalie Ball and Lulani Arquette: Thank you.

Miller: Natalie Ball first. You’ve won a lot of awards and fellowships over the last 10 years or so. What did it mean to you to get this one?

Ball: Oh, it meant a lot, actually. I feel like it’s been hard to place my practice within the Native American Contemporary Art realm. Because of that I went to Yale and I put my practice where I’d have a broader audience. And it was good. It’s good to be recognized in my community by the Native American Contemporary Art world. It means a lot. It’s good to be back, on my own terms. The work that I’ll be doing for the NACF Fellowship is completely on my own terms. So, it’s good to be back.

Miller: What are you going to be doing? What have you been doing? And what do you plan to do for this Fellowship?

Ball: This is my first body of work, or series that it’s like strictly focusing on what’s happening on my homeland, with the water wars. Everything…. it’s just there, and I am just about raising awareness. Whose territory it is and what we’re facing, environmentally. I’ll be, of course, producing a body of work in the studio, 2-D and 3-D, sculpture and textiles that will speak to that. Also I feel like it’s important now, that we have representation on the homeland. So I’m working on them. I’m building an app that will… her name is Stina Hamlin. She’s about... sonically occupying areas. She worked on Blood Memory. It’s a project. You should check it out. It’s really awesome. I’m working with her to figure out how to occupy space on the homelands, that will tell tourists how to be better tourists, and allow tourists to stand in solidarity for what’s happening on the homeland.

Miller: This is for tourists, for example, who might go to Crater Lake.

Ball: Yeah, we get almost a million tourists coming through this corridor through the homelands and they’re going to the bathroom in these places where we gather our water from. There’s garbage everywhere. Crater Lake, our Giiwa is the name, is one of our most sacred sites.

Miller: What do you want do you want non-native visitors to know? It seems like there’s some very practical things like don’t poop in our sacred land...,

Ball: Right, don’t... just, period.

Miller: So that seems very practical information that seems like a vital thing, but what else do you want them to know?

Ball: I want them to know that it’s our territory. That it’s stolen land and we’re still here. I want them to know that I’m there, and my children are there, and that our food sources are going extinct because of agriculture and white supremacy. I want them to know that. Also, it’s a lot of labor, so I want to really be clever in the way that I’m curating this app, to where I’m not having to expel so much energy and labor. [So] that I can be present without having to physically be there. I want everyone to know whose territory this is. We’ve been there since time immemorial and we have a lot to offer and share and we have a lot to protect.

Miller: You’ve lived in a lot of places. You grew up in Portland. You went to the University of Oregon. You got two different graduate degrees, one in New Zealand one at Yale as you mentioned. But you’ve chosen to live in your father’s ancestral homeland in Chiloquin outside of what is now called Klamath Falls. Why did you move there?

Ball: I live in Chiloquin. It’s really practical. At first, I was a mama. I was pregnant with my second baby and Portland became really expensive with them. It became gentrified. Actually, at that time, I was pregnant with my second baby. It was a cheaper place to live. Also, it was an opportunity to connect to our first foods, to create this relationship with my children, to our homelands. Absolutely, I’m in love with it. This is why I choose to keep my studio practice there. But as of right now it’s really hard because of the wildfires and I’m not able to produce work during summers anymore.

Miller: Lulani Arquette, I want to bring you into this. As I mentioned, you’re the President and CEO of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Why did your organization choose Natalie Ball for this Fellowship?

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Arquette: Well, you just heard from her. She’s exactly the kind of artist and culture producer that we are looking to support, particularly in our new programming and emphasis over the next five to 10 years. Certainly, we supported a lot of artists similarly in the last 10 years, that are really addressing issues of importance in their Native communities related to a social and environmental justice and cultural equity. Through this artistic and creative lens and voice that they have, that helped to change situations, helped to change minds, helped to change hearts, helped to change policy. So, Natalie’s awesome. We’re very honored and grateful to have her for this foundation-supported Fellowship through NACF.

Miller: As I mentioned, you recently started a new program. You have this first cohort from the LIFT program... early career support for Native Artists. 20 artists from around the country, each got grants. I imagine that a program like that, and your job in general, puts you in contact with a huge diversity of Native artistic and cultural producers and production. What do you see right now from the 30,000 foot level amidst this enormous diversity?

Arquette: Ironically, those 20 LIFT artists and Fellows that you just mentioned are meeting today and tomorrow. We have a training and orientation within a Zoom training orientation, literally right after this session, and tomorrow, that the program is conducting. Very excited about that. It is a really diverse range of artists. Just as a reminder, the LIFT Program is early career support for Native Artists. So It’s really, it’s about an award that is helping to advance the careers for artists that have been practicing for less than 10 years. They’re in the newer stages of their development. [The program] helps them not only have the financial awards, [but] create a cohort in a Fellowship between each other. This has happened. It happened with our National Artist Fellowships in the past, where they really begin learning and connecting with one another and that leads to advancing their careers. [It’s] mentoring and coaching one another, learning whatever each other is doing, along with what NACF has to provide for them. So, I encourage you to go to our website and look at them: nativeartsandcultures.org. You can see the bios and the work that they’re all involved in. I think this diversity across the nation helps create more of a movement-building and a collective of artists, cultural producers and creatives that are that are really working for what I was talking about earlier... really working to uplift Native and Tribal communities across this nation, Hawaii and Alaska and really to make change.

Miller: Natalie Ball…

Arquette: We’re in times that we need change….

Miller: Natalie Ball, we just spent, for this show, all of last week in the Klamath Basin talking to members of the Klamath Tribes, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, to farmers and ranchers, to environmentalists. One of the people who is in charge of the dam removal project, the largest dam project in U.S. History. We didn’t talk to any artists though during that time. I know we have you now though, which I’m thrilled about. What role do you think arts can play in a resource conflict like the one going on right now in the Klamath Basin?

Ball: Huge, huge part. If we all do our part including art, we can make change. I believe art helps to change the way you see things. It helps your perspective. It can hit people harder than policies can sometimes. [Harder] than an article can, sometimes. We need art. We have a whole spectrum of artists from my tribe that we can just utilize to further push to save our homelands. It’s a national saving of the homeland right now. Even though I don’t feel like my art can do it alone, I feel like it can assist and they can help. It can it can stick in your mind that we’re here. And why our C’waam, our Koptu, our Yen, which is our suckerfish, are so important. They’re going extinct. I can show you why we need to save it.

Miller: Is there a distinction in your mind, in your practice, between art and activism?

Ball: No, and I’ve been grappling with that all summer. There really isn’t. I just never considered myself an activist with my work, my studio practice. But as a matriarch and a mama, and as a citizen of the Klamath Tribes, that’s exactly what I am. But I don’t lead with that foot… the activism foot. But that’s exactly who I am.

Miller: You’ve written this: “Through auto-ethnography, I attempt to move ‘Indian’” and you put Indian in quotes, “outside of governing discourses.” That sounds like a sentence from somebody who got an MFA at Yale.

Ball: I have that language before you.

Miller: Ok well then, but high, high level academic language. What does it mean?

Ball: I’m thinking about blood quantum. I’m thinking about the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. I’m thinking about termination and these things that are policy and that are implemented. They’re about genocide and how we navigate them. How they curate and dictate how we see ‘Indian.’ I use ‘Indian.’ I use ‘Native American.’ I use these terms interchangeably because I feel like these terms have power and they’re dated. So that’s what I’m thinking about when I’m saying that it’s not just gibberish. It’s not just academic jargon. I’m really looking at these things that dictate what is ‘Indian’ and how we see ‘Indian’ because I’m not in there. I’m, ‘hello Black’ and I’m ‘hello Indian.’ My Blackness doesn’t compromise my Indigeneity. A lot of times these policies make it so. I’m holding this kind of space that calls these things out. But it’s not telling you whether it’s right or wrong. I’m just showing you how I’m navigating it. How it’s affecting me and my children and ancestors. It’s not new.

Miller: Lulani Arquette, the last time we talked was almost exactly a year ago. That was when the Board of the Yale Union, an art space and arts organization in Southeast Portland, announced that they were going to give you, your organization, their building, their land. Where does that stand right now?

Arquette: We have it. But we look at this in a really interesting way. Certainly, legally, with title. NACF has it. But we also are really going to position this as a community asset, so that Native artists and Tribal artists and cultural producers and communities in the Oregon area really have access to the building and input into the vision for the building and whatnot. We’re gonna be doing a series of community development meetings in the late fall and early 2022 to complement some of the vision work we’ve already done, as to the use of the building. We have moved our offices in there. There is a current exhibition there from Marianne Nicolson. She’s an Indigenous Canadian Visual Artist. That was the last hurrah for the YUA Contemporary Art Center, because with the pandemic, it got cancelled. They were working with them, let them use the space now of course, and to present that exhibition through August. I encourage everybody to go down and look at that exhibition. We’re scaling up and we’re in a stage of transformation and tremendous growth as an organization. So we will be scaling up our operations, our development, staffing and programs, of course, over the next five years. The building right now is in ‘as is’ condition. We’ll be planning a series of exhibitions, presentations, performances and symposiums, particularly late in 2022. Programs and community, being informed by the community, will have that more solidified in the fall. So we’re starting to work.

Miller: And, Natalie Ball, most people I talked to last week, I asked them the same question that I’ll ask you now. What is giving you hope right now for the future of the Klamath Basin?

Ball: My babies, my kids, period. They want it. They want a future. So, I’ll fight for that.

Miller: Natalie Ball and Lulani Arquette, thanks very much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Ball / Arquette: Thank you.

Miller: Natalie Ball is a Multidisciplinary Artist based in Chiloquin, who is the 2021 Oregon Native Artist Fellow. Lulani Arquette is the President and CEO of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation..

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