The Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards Honors Native Artists This Weekend

Jody Naranjo Folwell-Turip

Jody Naranjo Folwell-Turip

The Twin Cities award season continues this weekend at the Cowles Center with the Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards, featuring a diverse range of American Indian artists practicing poetry, traditional dancing, music, hip hop, and more. Held at the Cowles Center for the second time, the celebration, presented by the First Peoples Fund has been going strong for 15 years, honoring Native artists, leaders, and teachers who work in their communities to preserve tradition. 

The honorees this year include Minnesota-based artists and leaders, as well as people from all around the country. Those familiar with the local art scene may recognize Douglas Limón, whose intricate beadworks, cradleboards and bandolier bags are frequently exhibited in galleries around town, including the Minnesota Museum of American Art's biennial this past summer. Also to be honored is singer, storyteller, and teacher Anton Treuer, the new executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University. The other honorees include singer, carver, and drummer Delbert Miller, from Shelton, Washington and Jody Naranjo Folwell-Turipa from Espanola, New Mexico. 

Unlike some of the other award shows in town, such as the Iveys and the Sage awards, the CSA let the honorees know beforehand if they will be getting an award. The organization even hosts a dinner the night before, which "takes the nerves down a few notches," says Lori Pourier, the executive director of First Peoples Fund. 

While some people think of the ceremony as a gala, "it is really a celebration performance," Pourier says. The Twin Cities' own Heid E. Erdrich will be reading poetry, plus there will be showcases from contemporary musician Wade Fernandez; the Oneida Smoke Dancers, which feature honoree Douglas Limón's son Gavino; and world music singer Jennifer Kreisberg, whose high acapella voice, according to Pourier, "moves through your soul." There will also be a performance by traditional hula dancers Pua Ali'I 'llima with Vicky Holt Takamine and Hawaiian folk guitarist Cyril Pahunui. 

It's a mix of traditional and contemporary performance, including hip hop artist Frank Waln. Waln left his tribal community after high school to complete his four-year degree in Chicago. In the middle of his studies, he switched his degree from pre-med to focusing on being an artist.

Wiln is one of the talents the First Peoples Fund has supported with a $5,000 business fellowship. Like other recipients, he had to define a one-year goal of what he wanted to accomplish. With that support, Wiln was able to tour over 30,000 miles over the period of a year, giving performances in New York, on the White House Lawn, at the Keystone pipeline, and with Neil Young. "He's an amazing young leader," Pourier says.

Anton Treuer

Anton Treuer

In addition to the performances, the event also includes an art auction with about 40 pieces from Native artists all over the country. The reception, as well as Friday night's dinner, are both catered by Sean Sherman, who has been getting buzz as of late for his pre-colonial dining concept, the Sioux Chef. 

The First Peoples Fund, which was founded by Jennifer Easton in 1995, first held the awards in 1999. In addition to the Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards, the nonprofit is involved in supporting artist entrepreneurship, offering professional development and business coaching programs. The Jennifer Easton awards themselves come with a cash fellowship, increased recently to $7,500. "I always call it the baby McArthur," Pourier says. "It's just missing a couple of zeroes." 

Part of the mission of First Peoples Fund includes honoring and paying tribute to those who are sustaining Native culture at a community level, and passing down ancestral knowledge. That could mean anything from birch bark weaving to preserving language. "We are honoring those who are reminding us of our roles and responsibilities to teach the next generation," Pourier says. 


2014 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards

Saturday, October 18

Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts

The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with an art auction, followed by the presentation at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the show-only are $25; tickets for the auction and VIP show seating for the show are $100 (proceeds benefit First Peoples Fund).

Tickets are available here or at 612-206-3600.