For many native artists, nature is a major inspiration, but sometimes you have to reconcile with living in a city. I grew up on the rural Nooksack reservation, but I always visualized myself in a city. My first designs were on Vans sneakers. The art in the store reveals influences from both nature and the urban environment. That’s why it looks and feels different from other “native art” stores. Our focus is to be honest and challenge stereotypes.
I’m Nooksack, Chinese, French and Scottish. All my work is about identity. If you watch hummingbirds, you know they’re territorial—they’re proxies for people. In this design there’s a bully, a victim, and a hero. I think we can revisit these roles—have new conversations about identity and race—with a lighter tone through the artwork.
Make sure the artist’s name is attached. There is a market for this cultural art, and native artists have been kept out of the profit loop. Avoid “native-inspired” art, which means native people weren’t involved. In our store we use the term “inspired native,” because native artists are creating the work.
I want people to know that the native art of Seattle area is Coast Salish. It’s distinct from Northwest Coast peoples, who stretch from Northern California to Alaska. Traditionally, Coast Salish art was utilitarian, carved into things people actually used. That’s why our art is on phone cases and tote bags. It’s more accurate.
It’s really worth a trip to the Suquamish Museum, which you can get to by the Bainbridge ferry. It’s tribally run, so native people are in control of the story. Or the Hibulb Cultural Center in Tulalip—that’s another really beautiful, authentic museum.
I’m perpetually kicking myself for not spending more time in nature. But when I do get out, I like to go to Seward Park. The International District has so much great food—I go to Eastern Café for breakfast, Hoho Seafood for Chinese, and Phnom Penh Noodle House. The Wing Luke Museum is another favorite spot, especially the Bruce Lee exhibit.
Interview by Brangien Davis.
Photo taken in his studio at the INSCAPE Arts & Cultural Center.