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Arts Midwest's Living Commitment to Native Nations: 2023 Update

by Arts Midwest

A group of musicians on stage interact with a group of students.
Photo Credit: Grace Richardson
Pamyua, an Inuit band from Alaska, leads a workshop in Oskaloosa, Iowa as part of World Fest.

An update on the actions we made to activate our living commitment to Native Nations last year, and what's still in progress.

In December 2022, Arts Midwest launched our Living Commitment to Native Nations along with an action plan for the year to come. This commitment was the culmination of a year-long collaboration among Arts Midwest staff.

In the final months of 2023, we reflected on the actions that accompany our Living Commitment statement and discussed how we continue to hold ourselves accountable to this work. We would like to thank and uplift our partners who supported these actions in 2023.  

What took place in 2023?

Ongoing Education

  • We partnered with Dr. Craig Howe, founder and director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS), citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and current Arts Midwest board member, to compile information on the current and historical background of the 42 Native Nations in our region and begin on-going education efforts for Arts Midwest staff about reservations, treaties, and nuances regarding Off Reservation Trust Land.
    • CAIRNS will hold a staff learning session at the 2024 Arts Midwest retreat, and we plan to share more about our learnings later this year
  • We worked on building relationships with and learning more about tribal communities in the Midwest region by being present (as appropriate) at Native-led community events across our region.
Two people pound a tree to remove a layer of bark for basketmaking as their instructor looks on
Photo Credit: Alana Horton
Black ash basket maker and artist April Stone Dahl (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe) leads a presentation at the 2023 Arts Midwest staff retreat

Governance and Leadership

  • We welcomed two new members to our Board of Directors, Joe Williams (Waȟpéthuŋwaŋ Dakota) and Christina Woods (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe)
  • The Arts Midwest Board of Directors visited South Dakota, engaging in an all-day bus seminar in the Pine Ridge Reservation with a team from CAIRNS.
    • The seminar included stops at the Badlands National Park South Unit Visitor Center, Oglala Lakota Artspace, Red Cloud Indian School, and Wounded Knee.


  • We set a goal that stories covering Native communities would comprise at least 20% of our story commissions for the year.
    • In total, we commissioned 17 stories on Native communities through the Creativity News Desk, representing 28% of all stories created in 2023.
  • We set a goal to center future episodes of our podcast Filling the Well, on Native creatives. Season Two was co-hosted by Leah Lemm, member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
    • In the Centering Culture & Relationships As Arts Entrepreneurs episode, Ojibwe artist entrepreneurs Khayman Goodsky (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe) and Chi Ma’iingan (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) shared their paths to establishing themselves as independent creatives. They talked about the importance of supportive relationships, challenging the norm, and being guided by their values as Native artists.
    • In the Digging Into The Indian Arts And Crafts Act episode, Christina Woods (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe) and Graci Horne (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and Hunkpapa Lakota and Dakota) dug into the intricacies of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. This landmark truth-in-advertising law prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian arts and crafts, but many say that the legislation doesn’t go far enough to protect Native artists. 
    • In the Art & The Land episode, Birchbark and quill artist Pat Kruse (Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe) and water walker Sharon Day (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe), shared their perspectives on the importance of having a reciprocal relationship with the natural environment and caring for community.

Explore 2023 Stories From the Creativity News Desk


  • We published our first ever list of Folk and Traditional Art resources, which calls out resources specific to Native Nations.
  • We partnered with Sacred Pipe Resource Center, a North Dakota nonprofit dedicated to supporting the needs of Native people of all Tribes in Bismarck-Mandan through our We the Many residency program.
  • We worked with Pamyua, a Yup’ik musical group from Anchorage in Alaska, in our 2022-2023 cycle of World Fest. Pamyua toured through the Midwest for week-long educational residencies, and created a four-part video series featuring Yup’ik food, games, masks, and music commissioned by Arts Midwest


  • We updated our grants system to allow applicants to list their Native Nation as their location when applying for grants.
  • We featured books by Native authors as part of the NEA Big Read, including:
    • There, There by Tommy Orange, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
    • Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz, enrolled member of the Gila River Indian community.
  • We partnered with Western Arts Alliance on their Advancing Indigenous Performance Program, which promotes the touring and engagement of Indigenous performing artists.
  • We funded Native artists through our GIG Fund grant program. 12 communities toured Native artists in our 2023 GIG cycle, totaling a grant pool of $48,000.


  • We updated our vendor list, which now includes more Native artists, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.  
  • We contracted black ash basket maker and artist April Stone Dahl (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe), as a lead presenter at our 2023 staff retreat in Northern Wisconsin. 
  • We purchased new art for our office, including pieces from these Native artists:
    • Dakota Wind Goodhouse (Standing Rock Sioux)
    • Henry Payer (Ho-Chunk)
    • Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota)
    • Jason Wesaw (Potawatomi)
    • John Hitchcock (Kiowa/Comanche)
    • Pat Kruse (Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians)
    • Gene Swallow (Oglala Lakota).

What is still in progress?

Goals for 6 months – 2 years

  • Completing an analysis of our grantmaking to identify gaps in our support and understand the impact our grants/programs have had in Native communities by the end of 2023.
    • The timeline for this work shifted, but we expect to make progress in 2024 and to report out on our findings by the end of the year.
  • We will include more Native artists and/or community leaders on our grant review panels, with a goal of having at least 10% of panel participants identify as Native by the end of 2024.
    • In 2023, 6% of our panel participants identified as Native American. We are working towards increasing this percentage to at least 10% by the end of 2024.
  • We will increase awareness of our funding opportunities within Native communities by conducting outreach to Native organizations and Native Nations in our region.
    • We began this work by conducting outreach to Native organizations and Native-led radio stations in the region to raise awareness about the ArtsHERE grant opportunity. We will continue these efforts in 2024.
    • To enhance awareness of our programs and grant opportunities, we will participate in relevant regional Native-led events and conferences.

Goals for 2-5 years

We continue to work towards these longer-term goals for Arts Midwest:

  • We will pivot our overall support portfolio so that at minimum 10% of our funding and programs will benefit Native organizations and/or artists by 2026.
  • We will develop resources for the Ideas Hub in partnership with Native-led organizations.
  • We will seek new funding streams to support individuals and Native organizations, expanding beyond 501c3s and federally recognized tribes.
  • We will develop an arts-based grant or program in partnership with Native Nations/organizations in the Midwest.
A man stands in front of a colorful van that reads Rolling Rez Arts
Photo Credit: Anne Romens
Dr. Craig Howe, Arts Midwest Board Member and founder and director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies, gestures towards Rolling Rez Arts, a state-of-the-art mobile arts space, business training center, and mobile bank serving the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

What’s next?

Arts Midwest understands this work requires a constant state of learning and growth. It is a journey we are on both collectively and individually across the organization.

Stepping beyond words, Arts Midwest is continually striving towards actions. We are currently working on an Equity Action Plan that will encompass our commitments to Native Nations, our commitments to accessibility, and our commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion. We will update our community with this action plan in the summer of 2024.

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