November is National Native American Heritage Month—a time to celebrate the cultures and histories of people who have called these lands home since time immemorial. And yet, Native American heritage is not solely historical. Millions of Native people continue to live, grow, and carry forward their culture and community across what we now call the United States of America. Because we believe in the generative, transformative possibility of imagining a more equitable, sustainable, compassionate future, we also recognize that those future visions must be rooted in the vision and power of historically excluded communities, including Indigenous peoples.
So we asked asked three Indigenous illustrators: While we observe the historical side of the culture, what do you imagine for Indigenous futures? The responses are as striking, powerful, and thoughtful as the artists themselves.
An Indigenous dream is one where my people’s way of life was uninterrupted. Where we lived in unison among our relatives and with the land. Where our languages are spoken and our culture is every breath inhaled and exhaled. It is where music beats like the heart and sounds birds onto one’s hand. It is where we communicate to all that lives, with respect and where we give back. It is a place where industrialized cities that spread like fungus are remediated to their natural state. It is where our ceremonial dances are not a commodity but an embodiment of the spirits and protect the community from diseases and enemies.
An Indigenous future is a future that once was before colonization. It is one where we look toward the East and bring anew as the Sun does. Where the deer come to us and eat out of our hands and guide us. We honor them. My wish is for all Land to be returned back into Native hands. One who knows and has a relationship with the land, in order for it to be restored and maintained for the sake of our future.
Mer Young is a descendant of Chichimeca and Apache Tribe (Ndé). She resides and creates on Tongva lands (Long Beach, California). Young founded Mausi Murals and is a published multidisciplinary artist who has created a body of artwork manifested in collages, drawings, and paintings. She is a BIPOC activist, steward of land and water, and environmental justice advocate. Young’s artworks aim to inspire, celebrate, and elevate Indigenous and Native cultures and help bring about change within Brown and Black communities.
Aly McKnight, “My Dream for an Indigenous Future”
We create the world we live in. In the grand scheme of things, we are more influential than capitalist society tries to make us believe. We have the power to manipulate and configure the future of our dreams. And I dream of a future grounded in Indigenous healing, rituals, and knowledge.
This painting is an ode and a manifestation of the dreams I have for an Indigenous future. The protagonist, which in this case is a version of myself, is stitching together a world that is untainted by colonization and celebrates Indigenous knowledge, values, and community. This ideal world is filled with a landscape of thriving relatives, human and animal, that stand resilient and without fear. We look to each other, acknowledging that our identity is inextricably tied and that together we will continue to carry each other forward, as a community.
The skies are made up of a geometric design that reaches out to touch everything and everyone in this world. The design of repeating diamonds are symbolic of the patterns and healing practices we have used and will continue to use as Indigenous Peoples, while also representing our ancestors and the ancestral ways that reverberate deep within our bodies and through all living things. This is my dream for us: a future overflowing with community care and environmental justice.
Aly McKnight is a Native American artist and illustrator based in Reno, Nevada, whose art features vibrant colors and Indigenous stories. Aly is an enrolled member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and grew up in a small farming community in northern Nevada. She is the second-youngest of eight children, and she is now based out of Utah with her husband, Brockton, of Hawaiian/Samoan descent, their daughter, Paoakalani, and their Pomeranian dog, Bella.
Cheanie Noai, “Spirits at Sundown”
This year’s Día de Muertos ceremony brought about a lot of questions from my 3-year-old. With genuine curiosity, he asked: What is death? Do spirits live in the stars? When people die, can they come back? Will I die? Will you die?! Why?
As I sat with these questions, I held space for knowing that my child was learning of death for the first time. How I responded could build an authentic connection with death and grief.
When I look back on my own childhood, I realize that my relationship with death has been overwhelmed by fear and a lack of practice with cultural traditions of honoring the dying and dead that existed pre-colonization. My mother, a survivor of the 36-year genocide in the Maya highlands, raised me as no stranger to grief and loss. I come from a culture of deep mourning, born at the hands of mountain folk bred on the backs of survival amid generations of terror. In the aftermath of systemic disruptions to culture and erasure of tradition, the values I instill in my child remain a stranger to me.
When I imagine the future for my son and all Indigenous children who will come, I dream that they will know peace and ease wedged into the folds of the deep pain that comes after the death of those we love. I envision little hands placed on big hearts, being told, “Remember, mijx, I will always be with you, just as all the ancestors that came before you are with you. Even when I die, you will not have to live this life without me.” I envision them sitting in a meadow, watching the sun setting as the stars rise, calling out names of those who came before us; flying kites to build a bridge; burning candles to light the way home; telling stories and singing songs; honoring life, death, and everything that surrounds it.
Cheanie Noai is a Kaqchikel Maya multidisciplinary creative. Together, her family stewards a 100-acre conservation easement in northwest Arkansas, where Cheanie works as the graphic design and brand manager for her local regional theatre. Additionally, Cheanie offers consultations for artistic direction and branding and has been a featured artist for Bitch Media, Life As Ceremony, and Latinx Parenting, among others.