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Re-Indigenizing Land

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

From Brooke Smiley's Dances of Forgiveness-Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, to protect the water of the Cannonball River from the Dakota Access Pipeline. ND, USA.

Where we gather has value. Why we gather has meaning. How we welcome and are welcomed here makes a difference - not just for all present, not just for generations to come - but for the relationships we build locally empowers, deepens, and heals globally.

Where are you? What are your relationships here? How is the land and its people responding to how you are here? How does this way of relating shape each of us in our days, our meals, our health, our joy?

Committing to re-building relationships with Native, Indigenous and First Nation communities is the work of our generation. Re-Indigenization a return. Hiring, commissioning, and uplifting Native artists uniquely forges an opportunity to welcome a deeper history of the land, and the messages and people that live here. Bringing forward stories, perspectives, and life ways can benefit our evolving culture, encouraging and opening a path to rebuild safety, trust and belonging across ages, abilities, and cultures. This step is easily chosen; Hire Native.

Still Life from Life Lines-a dance film and improvisational score directed by Brooke Smiley seeking body’s connection with land.

What is Re-Indigenization? “Re-“ symbolizes the direction “back” and “towards.” For some, this may introduce a movement of perspective as American Indian and Indigenous people and our allies in how we gather. This work and the community process it begins, our respect for the knowledge and wisdom of all our relations, from children to elders — all forms more than human — their wisdom and agency, honors each member's voice, that decisions are reached through consensus, and we lead as a circle, not a hierarchy. To be whole within and in relation to Western society, institutions, arts organizations, and government agencies, to be both present and inside new futures, it is integral that all people identify beyond the language and structure of "senior," and “junior." There is acknowledgement of all who came before and all who will come after.

Body Mind Centering Association Opening Circle-lead as a collaboration between Brooke Smiley and Carmen Sandoval of Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. People coming from all over the world first gathered here and were welcomed by experiencing the movement, songs and langauge of the people of this land.

Saying Decolonization, “de-“ means “from” or “again,” repeats the cause of harm, a value system led through language. Speaking from actions of violence can be retraumatizing and confusing. It can be exhausting and deeply disconcerting, unsupportive of where to start in the rebuild.

How can we catalyze a shift in our collective experiences with the land? Hiring Native artists brings relationships with organizations and communities in dialogue with truths carried by bodies, carried by land, over space and time, stories and dances. When Native artists are present there is an investment in community repair, there is an invitation to learn and experience through difference. One cannot heal the land without healing the people - in order to take care of the land, including performing arts centers, educational spaces, and especially wild lands including National Parks, people of the land are integral.

How are steps taken? Relationship building becomes a line in the budget. It becomes a priority to commit. Acknowledging repair does not create a finish line for progress; It invests in the process of how to be in relationship with land and community by Re-indigenizing cultural centers of art. It invests in making space for all bodies to feel, touch, express, and hopefully relax.

Tarahumara Eco Dome-With support from the Municipality of Guachochi, Mexico, this three “bedwomb” EcoDome was built as a sanctuary space for the Tarahumara (“Raramurie” local Indigenous) women to recover from birth in. Brooke Smiley worked with a team of local Mexican and Tarahumara men, building an “Eco Dome” from plans developed by Cal Earth founder and lead architect Nader Khalili.

I recently attended the Friends Summit hosted by Conservation Lands Foundation to learn about the process of how our public lands are protected at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was hired to lead somatic movement education at the start of each day, creating space for meeting our bodies first, in relation to our passion and work, with the greater communities we serve and the collective histories we bring. Native or Indigenous people were present but missing from most circles of leadership. Why? Is this also true for your organization? There is learning yet to do, for us all.

Hiring Native is investing in a relationship with the land across generations. It’s an investment in repair. Valuing the birthright of expression within the complexity and generational map of this relationship is the task of arts presenters. Invest in all of our belonging.

When communities connect we share stories, histories, and the poetry of feeling something new. Land has the ability to inform us, teach us about something greater than ourselves. How to invite the family of all things? Hire Native.

Check out the inspiring work of these Native artists creating work in public spaces:

Diné (Navajo) artist Delbert Andersen of D’DAT Productions recently embarked on the first ever Bureau of Land Management Artist in Residence tour of five National Conservation Land sites:

Leilehua Lanzilotti is a Kanaka Maoli composer and sound artist who recently shared Sky Gate, in the City & County of Honolulu Civic Center:

*This language was developed in collaboration with the American Indian and Indigenous Collective Academic Council at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) in holding dialogues with the Deans to support an emerging American Indian and Indigenous Studies Major, interdisciplinary Department, and in bridging relations with local Coastal, Santa Ynez and Barbareño Bands of Chumash Indians.

Brooke smiley is a 𐓷𐓘𐓺𐓘𐓺𐓣 𐓣𐓟 Osage earth

artist, dancer and somatic movement educator who uniquely make works in relation with land. For commissions or consultation visit:


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