Laura Heit Youngbird


Big White, Oil

I saw this silly commercial that stated "You can not live without water but you can live without art?" ( I always say NO.) [And that is their point...but, I imagine that there are people who say yes, just because art is not a huge priority in the dominant society.] We didn't have a word for art long ago. Art and life were one and the same.

I can not live without art or making art. There are times when I am not actually producing physical articles. I am however, always in process. 'My Work' is how I communicate things that simply can not be put into words. My work documents my observations, my responses to injustices -- my outrage at crimes committed in the past and continue to play out their brutal legacy. What began as an investigation has become a burning obsession.

Early investigations began when I began responding to images of my grandmother. I inherited several photographs when my great aunt Lucy passed on. My grandmother violently scratched her face out of every photograph that existed of her. There were pictures of Lucy that were scratched out as well... I remember doing the same thing to my own pictures in a high school year book.

Those pictures of my grandmother haunted me. Both my grandmother, my mother and countless others grew up in Indian boarding schools. I heard horrible stories. It was important to my mother that my sisters and brothers went to 'regular' schools. My parents did not move back to the reservation until my youngest brother graduated from high school. I wanted to know more about my grandmother and our heritage. My mother told me to go look in a book because she didn't know anything...

I decided to go back to school, after eliminating the chemical that numbed my life, I was hungry for answers. Before I knew it, I was done with my classes but I didn't feel done. I still had and have questions. I discovered that my mother knew more than she thought she did. I have discovered that there is so much more to learn. Making art creates more questions for me. I am grateful for the little insights I gain from time to time. I tell the kids I work with I wish I could go to school forever... They are amazing teachers.

I started working at the Circle of Nations School in 1997 as a cultural counselor and art instructor. Circle of Nations is a therapeutic American Indian residential boarding school. It seems ironic that I am working in the very type of institution that emotionally and spiritually crippled generations of Indian people. The mission has changed and now we foster and encourage our students to embrace their heritage. The people have been ravaged. The children are wounded. The scars are intergenerational. Art is healing. This exhibit was made possible with support of the North Dakota Council on the Arts and the North Dakota Art Gallery Association through the Memorial Union Gallery at North Dakota State University.