Mural: Indigenous wealth

Indigenous Wealth mural by Marlena Myles

Indigenous Wealth

2020, 10′ height x 34′ width
Mural commissioned for the City of Minneapolis Public Service Center by Art in Public Places program.
Location: 6th floor of the Minneapolis Public Service Building, 505 S 4th Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55415 
(I also have murals located on the skyway level)

The City of Minneapolis developed its foundational economic wealth in the area around Saint Anthony Falls during its early days. Those same falls are featured in the Seal of the City located in the lobby of the new Public Works building. To Dakota people, whose homelands Minneapolis resides upon, those same sacred falls known as Owámniyomni (“three whirlpools”) represent a different economic meaning. As stated in one oral tradition, the Horse Nation met the Dakota/Lakota at “great whirlpools” and those horses would bring great economic benefits to the people.

Within the tribes’ thiyóšpaye (community), everyone had kinship roles to maintain — one must be a good relative to one another and to the natural and supernatural worlds. Men often provided security, women provided clothing and housing for their families and together they would carefully raise the children. When a newborn arrived, the infant was happily welcomed into the community with a cradleboard which featured sacred designs that represented love, protection, and hope for that child’s future. This piece brings those traditional meanings of the importance of serving one’s community as well as the Dakota historical and cultural connections to the area, so that we may act as better stewards of the city for future generations.

The Indigenous Wealth mural is divided between two conference rooms and showcases the different kinds of “wealth” and values Dakota people have through connections with nature and the social structure of Dakota traditional society. The mural features two different works which compare and contrast Dakota values and stories of Bde Óta Othúŋwe (Minneapolis, city of many lakes) with the history of the city’s birth. The location is modern-day, set near the Dakota sacred site of Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls). Owámniyomni means the three whirlpools, therefore when viewing the divided mural as one connected piece, there are a total of three horses to represent those whirlpools.

Indigenous Wealth – Double sided vinyl mural

The side that features two horses rushing forth from the Mississippi river compares the wealth
that Dakota and the city of Minneapolis gained from the Dakota sacred site of Owámniyomni
(St. Anthony Falls). According to one Lakota oral tradition, when they left their homelands in
Minnesota with the arrival of the horse in the 1700s and moved outwards to the Dakotas, they
mentioned the first meeting of the horse taking place at the “great whirlpools”. Artistic license
was invoked to tie that specifically to the now-destroyed whirlpools at St Anthony Falls to
showcase that horses were a great technological/economic tool for the Oceti Sakowin
(Dakota/Lakota nations as a whole) to expand their nations. In comparison to the city of
Minneapolis, Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) is the birthplace of the city, as well as the source
of economic power of the milling industry in the early days, which allowed Minneapolis to
become the largest city in the state. In this work, the two cultures prospered with connections
to Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls).

Indigenous Wealth – Double sided vinyl mural

The other side of the mural, there are three figures (father, mother, child) to represent traditional Dakota society as well as the departments on the floor assignment (IT, Finance). Traditionally, men would provide security for the people; in this work, he represents the IT department, which also provides security for the technological parts of the city government. Women traditionally were the source of economic and financial resources; she would tan the hides, prepare the food, build the homes and sew clothing for her family and when it came to trading with Europeans, she produced many of the goods for sale/trade. She represents the finance department of my floor. Throughout the piece, water is significant and this represents the importance of the water department also on the floor. The child represents the parents working together for the greater good of the future just as folks in these departments work for a better Minneapolis.

In the middle of both murals is a willow tree. If one examines the branches closely, they would discover many of the community messages gathered during the community engagement phase — this method of needing to look closely to see the messages represents how the government should listen closely to the citizens so voices and concerns are heard by their representatives.

Community Engagement 

The concept for my piece comes from the values and traditional roles in our (former) Dakota society.

In my culture, Dakota mothers traditionally created a cradleboard that would protect their babies (future generations) as they worked and lived in their villages. They would decorate the cradleboards with symbols that represented love, protection and hope for their infant. I created a physical cradleboard (traditional Dakota method of caring for a baby) that community members in Minneapolis designed stickers with messages and images that were to be added to the cradleboard. In traditional Dakota society, our artwork would help tell our oral traditions and histories, so I used the same method of creating art to gather community data for my mural instead of something like a standard quiz or survey. I first stopped in Powwow Grounds Coffee shop on Franklin Ave for a few hours to talk with various customers about my project to begin gathering community members’ input. Later, I set up at the Indigenous Peoples Day event on October 14th, 2019 at the Minneapolis American Indian Center where thousands of people attended. I gathered the majority of my messages during this event. The physical cradle board is the same as in the mural.

Many of the messages contained people’s stories of living in South Minneapolis, their work in the community as well as their hopes for the future of Native people in Minneapolis. I heard a number of shared ideas from different people. For long term thinking of the city, folks were concerned with climate change, equality, immigration, Indigenous homeland reclamation, overcoming addiction and gang violence. They were also thinking of ways to have direct interaction with the government officials who make the decisions in the community, elder voices being heard, the quality of natural resources (parks, rivers and Indigenous land rights and spiritual rights to sacred places), reclaiming Indigenous ways for the health and wealth of the community as well as peace and brother/sisterhood among different groups of citizens. I placed these messages within the tree of my murals.

I met with the departments who will be using the floors that will host my murals, finance, IT and water departments in May 2019. We discussed the kind of work they did in their current location and looked at how the employees decorated their personal spaces. Some of the things they wanted to see were nature, water, and vibrancy. The work they contribute to the city is tied to the symbolism of the Dakota family in my artwork: water is significant throughout (represents the work of the water department) and there are three figures (father, mother, child) to represent traditional Dakota society as well as the other departments on the floor assignment (IT, Finance).  The symbolism shows how the departments work for a better Minneapolis.

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