Our annual symposium brought together artists from various disciplines to explore, through artistic presentations and provocative discussions, a theme of urgent relevance. The theme of this year’s symposium was Untold Stories: Native American Voices. The topic was meant to open a broader discussion about history and identity and how these can be addressed and expressed in both the artistic and daily life.  The discussion served not only to make our students more grounded in their art and in the application of their passionate pursuits, but also to be more responsible global citizens.

Gerald Clarke, Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside moderated the discussion. Professor Clarke is an enrolled member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians and has served on the Cahuilla Tribal Council as Vice President. A visual artist, his work examines issues related to contemporary Native America existence.

The event opened with a welcoming ceremony by the Cahuilla Bird Singers.

The Native American artists who joined us came from a wide range of backgrounds, and brought to the panel a wealth of artistic experience.

Barbara Teller Ornelas – Navajo Master Weaver. 

“My work, my ideas, my processes and weaving materials are ever evolving but staying true to the standards set by my elders. I take the responsibility of carrying on our family’s tradition by teaching my family and mentoring others to help preserve this cultural legacy. ”

Sidney Freeland – Navajo Filmmaker

Writer and director Sydney Freeland was born and raised on a Navajo reservation in Gallup, New Mexico—dubbed “Drunktown.” The disconnect between her experiences and the media’s portrayal of reservation life compelled her to create last year’s Sundance success, Drunktown’s Finest. The narrative feature offers not one, but three harrowing interwoven tales of loss and triumph at or around a reservation in Drunktown. Freeland is a Fulbright scholar with an MFA in film.

Manuelito Wheeler – Director of Navajo Nation Museum

Wheeler is deeply concerned with language and culture. Determined to have a popular film translated into Navajo, he set out on a three-year quest to make it happen. He approached the Navajo Nation and Lucasfilm, and as a result Starwars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) was translated into its fortieth language, Diné.

“We needed a way to preserve our culture…Language is at the core of a culture. And I felt we needed a more contemporary way to reach not just young people but the population in general. And so, that’s when the idea of translating a major movie into the Navajo language came up.”

Quinton Maldonado – Lakota Visual Artist

Quinton’s great-great-great-grandfather was Woptuha, Horned Chips, the medicine man and brother of Crazy Horse. This background, with a close association to an older generation is reflected in Quinton’s ledger art.

His contributions to the Lakota art scene include assisting in the compilation of a Lakota language book as an illustrator. More recently, Quinton illustrated a book with text in both Lakota and English

Jamie Okuma – Luiseño – Fashion Design

As a child, Jamie Okuma created her own beaded dance regalia for powwows near her home on the La Jolla Luiseño Reservation in California. Today, historical accuracy, exemplary workmanship, and keen attention to detail are the hallmarks of her work.

After taking classes at the Palomar College and Institute of American Indian Arts, Okuma began creating her own fashion works. Her work has been displayed in a wide range of museums and exhibits, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her art is currently on display in permanent collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian. At the age of 22, Okuma was the youngest artist (to date) to win the Best of Show at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Cannupa Hanska Luger – Lakota –Visual Artist

Cannupa Hanska in his studio

Born in North Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation, multi-disciplinary artist Cannupa Hanska Luger comes from Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, and Norwegian descent. His work communicates stories of complex Indigenous identities coming up against 21st century challenges, including human alienation from and destruction of the land to which we all belong.

Hanska Luger has been exhibited at Radiator Gallery New York,  the Art Show, Los Angeles, La Bienalle di Venezia Verona, the Art Mur Montreal, the Museum of Northern Arizona, Rochester Art Center, Navy Pier Chicago, University of Alaska, National Center for Civil and Human Rights/Atlanta, Blue Rain Gallery/Santa Fe, among others. Hanska Luger is also in the permanent collections of The North America Native Museum Zürich, The Denver Art Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts of Santa Fe, and The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma.

You can watch the panel at:


After the panel, students and guests artists broke out into groups where they turned what they learned into art. Here is a sampling of their work: