Contemporary Native art

Keeping Alaska Native culture vibrant and thriving takes work. Young Native artists are meeting that challenge in exciting ways through music, visual art and online media. How do Native artists honor their heritage while stretching themselves creatively?

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HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Shyanne Beatty, Visionary Awards Founder
  • Samuel John, artist
Since January Samuel John has traveled to over a dozen communities around Alaska to speak to the youth about living a drug and alcohol free lifestyle. Photo courtesy Samuel John.
Since January Samuel John has traveled to over a dozen communities around Alaska to speak to the youth about living a drug and alcohol free lifestyle. Photo courtesy Samuel John.


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2015 Alaska Native Visionary Award Recipients:

  • Holly Mititquq Nordlum is an Inupiaq artist, born in Kotzebue, Alaska. Throughout her childhood Holly developed an appreciation for her culture, arts, and life in the arctic. Her mother, Lucy, is also an artist and led her by example. Holly attended the University of Alaska, Anchorage and completed a Bachelor of Fine Art Degree in Graphic Design and Photography. While in school she also explored jewelry making, printmaking and sculpture. Holly opened Naniq Design soon after graduation in 2004. She works full-time as a graphic and web designer and artist in Anchorage.
  • Erin Tripp, Xáalnook Tlingit actor and drummer, was born and raised in Juneau, is a Tlingit of the Deisheetaan. She graduated from The University of Alaska Southeast in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in Theatre and Tlingit language, having the distinction of being named the Outstanding Graduate of the Liberal Arts. She is a dancer with the Tlingit dance group, Woosh.ji.een. This experience led her to form her own dance group, Haa Shagoon Yatx’i. This group’s mission has been to write new songs and give voice to the younger generation of Tlingit dancers. Her main passion has been bringing Alaska Native voices to the stage as an actor. Most recently, she played the role of Titania in the Gwich’in language touring production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre. Soon she will start rehearsals on the world premiere of Our Voices Will Be Heard by Vera Starbard. The production will be the first play by an Alaska Native playwright produced on the mainstage at Perseverance Theatre. You can follow Erin on YouTube at ShkaaShkaaFilms for future videos and her website at Nothing she does would be possible without her community, friends, and family. Gunalchéesh!
  • Samuel Johns, better known to some as AK REBEL, is a community activist, motivational speaker and hip hop artist. Using hip hop as a tool to create awareness for some of the issues that Alaskans face, he got the opportunity to premier his music video about Domestic Violence at the AFN’s Quayana Night. Since January he has traveled to over a dozen communities around Alaska to speak to the youth about living a drug and alcohol free lifestyle. On June 10th, he created a Facebook Group called Forget Me Not to help reconnect the homeless community to their families that are living in rural Alaska. His goal is to inspire the youth everywhere to make a difference in there Community.”
  • Byron Nicholai is 17-year-old Yup’ik drummer and dancer from Toksook Bay, Alaska. He started drumming in 6th grade and 4 years later became the leader of the Nelson Island High School drum group. “I Sing, You Dance” came about. It was a way to share his singing with Alaska Native kids while encouraging them to get involved in cultural traditions.
  • Allison Warden is an Iñupiaq interdisciplinary artist born in Fairbanks, Alaska with close ties to Kaktovik, Alaska. She is also known by her rap persona, AKU-MATU. Her most recent show, “Let Glow” debuted at the Bunnell Street Art Center as part of an artistic residency in March 2014. “Let Glow” is an interactive interdisciplinary piece that explores a man’s process towards love and the push to drill for oil on the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. In 2015, she received a State of Alaska Governor’s Award in the Arts and Humanities. In 2013, she received a Connie Boochever fellowship in performance art from the Alaska State Council of the Arts and a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award for performance art in 2012. Her one-woman show, “Calling All Polar Bears” debuted at Pangea Theatre with Intermedia Arts in 2011 as part of a National Performance Network (NPN) residency. “Calling All Polar Bears” brings the audience virtually to the village of Kaktovik, where they hear about the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and the push for resource extraction from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It has since toured to Berlin, London and the communities of Anchorage and Homer in Alaska. In 2009, she created an interactive interdisciplinary piece at MTS Gallery in Anchorage, Alaska titled, “virtual subsistence”. It incorporated video projection, the smell of polar bear cooking and a herd of caribou being hunted in the gallery to look at land issues and subsistence rights in Alaska.

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Samuel Johns (AK REBEL) is a community activist, motivational speaker and hip hop artist. Photo courtesy Samuel John.
Samuel Johns (AK REBEL) is a community activist, motivational speaker and hip hop artist. Photo courtesy Samuel John.
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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori