Bee in the Bonnet: Artsy Fartsy

By B.H. Bates

CartoonI’m not only a writer, I’m a cartoonist and, as such, I supplement my income by painting windows for different events and occasions. For example: annual
festivals and Christmas. And, on a regular basis I’m asked (by people who are watching me work), “Do you carve?”

I’m never asked questions like: “Do you (also) paint portraits?” or “Do you spin a mean potters wheel?”

No, it’s always a wood carver. Never a glass blower, a mural painter, a photographer, a jeweller or a water colorist, be it, scenic or nudes.

And the reason is simple: I have black hair, brown eyes and a year-round tan on my back side. Therefore, being native and an artist, I must carve totem poles!

The thing that kind of rubs me the wrong way is, let’s say, for instance, I was a person of Irish descent. Would I still be asked the same question? Not likely, but, more than likely I’d be asked, “Where’s a good place to hunt Leprechauns?”

And I am an artist! But, there’s more to me than that . . . I’m not only a cartoonist I’m also a writer, a poet and, among other things, I was also an advertising manager for a newspaper, a professional bull rider and I used to choreograph dance for a company called Knew York Productions! But, sadly, all they see are the feathers!

Seeing that I’m on the subject of, “things that rub me the wrong way!” Let’s take a look at the government’ support of “native art!”

I’ve tried for years and years and years to get funding so I could pursue my dreams of one day becoming a revered novelist, a witty humorist, an insightful playwright and a noted poet. And time and time again I was rejected (and as a writer I’m well aware that rejection is just part of the game).

But, the one thing that really put a stone in my moccasin is the fact that I was passed over (for funding), time and time again, in favor of other artists that were getting the wampum just so they could carve another #@%*ing eagle!

Now before I get a bunch of natives with sharp implements mad at me, I just want it to be known, that I’m very much in favor of the traditional crafts. I simply want the government to know that we natives have more to offer, creatively, than the same old bird!

Multi-talented we are!
We have mastered other venues in the World of art. We can spin a mean potters wheel, act, dance, write and sing as sweetly as anyone else on the Great Spirit’s planet! Some natives are even revered and considered every bit the professionals of our given fields and not just a bunch of ARTSY FARTSY goof offs! And we should be recognized and given credit for our efforts to further our people, in the eyes of the World!

In a way, the boys’ club of Ottawa, are once again trying to keep us down on the farm (Rez). And by that, I mean, the government is providing some natives with the resources to support the ever growing market for carved wood, yet they rarely support other natives with worthwhile endeavors.

As long as natives are willing to carve and sell at a loss to greedy shop owners, the Ottawa boys will just go on giving their support to the same old, same old!

I mean, come on, now! How many times can the same old Thunderbird be re-carved? It’s just regurgitation for the masses as far as I’m concerned!

Why not a playor a musical about the Thunderbird? Maybe even a Rap musical about the mighty Great Spirit! I’ll even give some native Rapper out-there the first few lines, just to get things started:
Brownish blues or war-hoops, you choose. Stop looking at your shoes and raise your eyes to the skies and sing, “I will not melt into your pot nor will I fade into your past. I am not the last. I am a child of the Great Spirit!”

Just ask yourself, how many great native actors do you read about in the STAR? How many writers of native heritage jump to mind when someone says the words “bestseller?” How many other professions can you think of, in which we’re not represented? We natives, as a people, are very talented when it comes to the arts. So why aren’t there more natives standing at podiums across this great land receiving trophies and kudos?

I do know this, if you want to grow a flower, you have to plant the seed in a fertile soil and nourish it as it grows. And the reward you get is not only in the beauty from that one flower, it’s also in the seeds you’ll receive from that flower to grow even more beautiful, fragrant and eye pleasing wonders of nature!