A block party to celebrate Street Wise — Boulder’s first mural festival, organized by Leah Brenner Clack— may have taken place last Saturday, but one of the project’s works will receive a special dedication this Saturday. In conjunction with Indigenous Peoples Day, members of the Boulder community will gather in the parking lot of the Dairy Arts Center to take in the impressive work of Brooklyn-based creative Lopi LaRoe, who operates under the moniker Lmnopi.
“I have admired Lopi’s work for a long time,” said Sarah Ortegon, who is enrolled Eastern Shoshone and also of Northern Arapaho decent, whose likeness is captured in the large-scale portrait that graces the building’s exterior. “We were introduced by the pow wow committee I was on last year for Indigenous Peoples Day. Lopi found a reference photo from Metropolitan State University from a still portrait from Will Wilson I took a couple years ago.”
Ortegon, an actress, artist and dancer was born in Denver — number 10 in a family of a dozen kids. In 2013, she was crowned Miss Native American, USA and soon after went on to tour with the Native Pride Dancers, performing throughout the U.S., Europe and Guatemala.
In addition to capturing the essence of Ortegon within the mural, Lmnopi has rendered a topographical map of the Wind River Indian Reservation — a place that Ortegon, a member of the National Outdoor Leadership School, has led groups through.
Behind the detailed portraiture, lies a deeper message.
The piece, titled “Uncounted,” was painted to honor missing and murdered indigenous women. Upon closer inspection, viewers can see tallied hash marks that the artist incorporated into the piece to serve as a symbol of the many Indigenous women who are still unaccounted for and those whose lives have been lost.
“I want people to know that this is a legal issue,” Ortegon said. “Our women who go missing or who are murdered on reservations do not have the proper legal protections as someone off of a reservation does.”
Ortegon, who will attend Saturday’s dedication with her mother, sister and niece, plans to share the history that the Arapaho tribe has in Boulder. She will also speak about the nonprofit Winyan Wicayuonihan Oyanke – Where All Women Are Honored, founded by Norma Rendon. The organization, based in Rapid City, SD, runs a shelter for indigenous women who have experienced domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault.
“The message that is being told, the image that Lopi chose and the dedication is the reason why I agreed to be painted,” Ortegon said. “It’s an honor to be chosen. I admire all the indigenous people and ancestors that came before me, and because of them I accept the blessings that come into my life. They give me a platform to speak, to meet good people and to bring to light issues that are otherwise overlooked.”
For the Dairy, the opportunity to add a piece of art with such significance — done by a revered muralist and activist — came at just the right time.
“We had been searching for a muralist to help us celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day,” said Melissa Fathman, executive director of the Dairy Arts Center. “So the timing of the Street Wise Festival and Leah’s (Clack’s) suggestion of Lmnopi’s work was perfect for what we had in mind. Because murals are created in public spaces, her work generated all sorts of wonderful conversations and interactions with Dairy visitors on their way to see a play or movie.”
The dedication of the mural kicks off three days of activities throughout Boulder celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day.
Saturday’s event also marks the beginning of a series of partnerships between the Dairy Arts Center and numerous indigenous communities and artists that will develop over the years — a collaboration that Fathman said she feels is long overdue. Screenings of Indigenous films and a student mural project are among the eventual objectives.
“I look forward to announcing some of our plans for 2020,” Fathman said.
For Fathman, this new venture hits close to home.
“My great grandmother was part of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma,” Fathman said. “Because of my family connection, I grew up with an awareness of the history of suffering, betrayal and forced displacement of indigenous people — a tragic aspect of this country’s history that impacts people to this day and is almost never covered in school.”
The upcoming dedication is just the start of an effort to highlight the rich and layered culture of Indigenous people that Fathman hopes to explore year-round, not just annually.
“It’s important that we acknowledge the past and acknowledge who lived on the land where the Dairy now sits, long before Boulder was incorporated, but also maintain an awareness of the ongoing struggles that currently face indigenous communities,” Fathman said.
Light fare and refreshments will be served at Saturday’s dedication.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is a step in the right direction,” Ortegon added. “Words and days mean a lot. They speak life into our communities. So, to have this day acknowledged helps to stop the erasure of Native people. We are still here. We are thriving.”
If you go
What: Mural dedication for “Uncounted,” celebrating Indigenous Peoples DayWhen: 10 a.m. SaturdayWhere: Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St. (outside, in front of the mural, located on the west-facing wall in the parking lot)Cost: freeMore info: thedairy.org/2019/10/07/celebrating-indigenous-peoples-day/