The United States Artists (USA) fellowship announced winners last week, which included six Indigenous artists from across the country. 

Sixty artists across ten creative disciplines and 22 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, were each awarded a $50,000 fellowship. 

Artists were awarded fellowships in the following disciplines: Architecture & Design, Craft, Dance, Film, Media, Music, Theater & Performance, Traditional Arts, Visual Art, and Writing.

Four of the Indigenous artists were featured in the Traditional Arts section, and one each was awarded in the Craft and Dance sections, respectively. 

Nathan Paul Jackson (Chilkoot-Tlingit) earned a fellowship in Traditional Arts for his woodcarving and sculptural art. He was raised in southeastern Alaska near the Haines area and is part of the Sockeye Clan on the Raven side of the tribe and is now based in Ketchikan, Alaska. He has worked as a freelance artist and woodcarver as well as a woodcarving and design instructor at the Alaska State Museum, Sheldon Jackson College, the Totem Heritage Center, and the University of Alaska. He participates in the Native Apprenticeship Program and has several apprentices working under him, and is currently working on a totem project in Saxman, a Native village two miles south of Ketchikan. To date, he has carved more than 50 totem poles, some of which can be found in museums and private collections, and smaller items such as masks. 

Delina White (Minnesota Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) is a Walker, Minn.-based Anishinaabe apparel designer and beadwork artist featured in the Traditional Arts category. She has been making heirloom beadwork and apparel to celebrate traditional ceremonies for “as long as she can remember,” and is interested in the intersection of “color, texture, composition, and construction of fabric” based in her culture with today’s contemporary fashion, such as dresses, bags and footwear. “White approaches art as a way to wear the pride, dignity, and distinction of the original Great Lakes and Woodlands people,” her USA profile page says. 

Kawika Lum-Nelmida (Hawaiian) is a hulu (feather) artist from Pūpūkea, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, based in Honolulu. He was awarded a fellowship in the Traditional Arts category. Lum-Nelmida started learning about feather adornments in 1997 during his Bachelor of Arts in Natural Environment and Fiber Arts at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Since 2012, he has been a participant in MAMo: Maoli Arts Movement, a program of the PAʻI Foundation. In 2013, Lum-Nelmida was awarded an apprenticeship with Kahalepuna (recipient of 2014 MAMo and ʻŌʻō awards) through the Hawaiʻi State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, which he used to study Hawaiian feather work in the forms of lei (adornment), kāhili (feather standard), ahuʻula (cape), and mahiʻole (helmets), and how to use, cultivate, and preserve traditional materials. He has also used modern materials to create contemporary art and worked on clothing design. Lum-Nelmida’s work was featured in the annual MAMo Wearable Art Show.

Geo Soctomah Neptune (Passamaquoddy) is a basketmaker based in Motahkomikuk, Maine. They are a “drag queen, activist, educator, and two-spirit — an Indigenous cultural, spiritual, and gender role that holds the sacred space between masculine and feminine energies,” their USA profile says. They earned a fellowship in the Traditional Arts category. Neptune has been weaving since they were four years old, learning under their grandmother, Molly Neptune Parker, and began teaching with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance at 11 years old. At 20, Neptune became the youngest person to receive the title Master Basketmaker. “After graduating from Dartmouth College in 2010, they returned home and began developing their individual artistic style of whimsical and historically informed basketry and woven jewelry. With their grandmother’s influence clearly visible in their work, Neptune shows the closeness that the two shared and the lifelong education they received through her teachings,” their USA profile says. Neptune has worked with Wabanaki communities towards cultural preservation, and also statewide with Maine schools to educate about Indigenous history. 

Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Glorieta, N.M. He was awarded the USA fellowship in the Craft category. Luger was raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. His projects take many forms and incorporate ceramics, video, sound, fiber, steel, and repurposed materials with the aim “to communicate stories about twenty-first-century Indigeneity” and provoke “audiences to engage with Indigenous peoples and values apart from the lens of colonial social structuring and often presents a call to action to protect land from capitalist exploits.” Luger is a 2020 Creative Capital Fellow, a 2020 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow, and the recipient of the Center for Craft’s inaugural Craft Research Fund Artist Fellowship (2020), a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant (2019), and the Museum of Arts and Design’s inaugural Burke Prize (2018). He has exhibited internationally at venues such as the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Art Mûr in Quebec, Kunsthal KAdE in Amersfoort, Netherlands, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Luger holds a BFA in Studio Arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts and is represented by Garth Greenan Gallery in New York. 

Emily Johnson (Yu’pik) is a New York-based dancer who was awarded a USA fellowship in the Dance category. Johnson is also a Bessie Award-winning choreographer, Guggenheim Fellow and recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award, and “since 1998 has created work that considers the experience of sensing and seeing performance,” her USA profile says. “Her dances function as portals and care processions; they engage audienceship within and through space, time, and environment — interacting with a place’s architecture, peoples, history and role in building futures. She is trying to make a world where performance is part of life, where performance is an integral connection to each other, our environment, our stories, our past, present, and future.” Johnson is also a land and water protector and hosts monthly ceremonial fires on Mannahatta in partnership with Abrons Arts Center and Karyn Recollet. She is part of an advisory group developing a First Nations Performing Arts Network. 

"We are grateful for every artist whose artmaking, music, writing, and more is helping us to navigate and cope through this harrowing time in our country," said United States Artists President and CEO Deana Haggag in a statement. “The 2021 USA Fellows are a testament to the power of art in shaping the world around us and navigating its complexities. Artists do so much for our communities, and we are grateful to be able to support these 60 incredible practitioners and welcome them into the United States Artists fellowship.”

The $50,000 fellowships can be used without restrictions and are supplemented by financial advising programs to help the winners “maximize the benefit of this prize,” USA said in a press release.

“Since 2006, the USA Fellowship has provided direct support to artists across the country. With this unrestricted award, Fellows decide for themselves how to best use the money — whether it is creating new work, paying rent, reducing debt, getting healthcare, or supporting their families,” USA said. 

“Artists are at the core of their communities, and as the difficulties of the past year have demonstrated, it is more important than ever that we continue to support individual artists,” said Ed Henry, USA Board Chair, in a statement. “And as we continue to meet the challenges 2021 will bring, it is also clear that USA must remain nimble and responsive to the needs of the field, which is why we are honored to be able to support the largest cohort in our history with 60 artists this year.”

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