It’s apparent there is, and always has been, a level of neglect for the rights and privileges of the Native American population. Indigenous cultures that sacrificed for our modern society are often overlooked, so their modern day descendants are fighting, for their rights, enforcement of treaties and to advance their communities.
That is the purpose of the non-profit organization the Global Initiative for Indigenous Advancement (GIIA). The non-profit organization strives to advance the social, health, education, and economic status of Indigenous communities all across the globe. They work towards providing indigenous people access to improved health care, college funding, educational workshops, business training, and many other initiatives that will help them gain some footing in today’s modern society.
GIIA’s currently is sponsoring an art installation entitled the “Red Dress Lodge Project,” an art exhibit that aims to raise awareness of the epidemic known as missing and murdered Indigenous womxn (MMIW). The group is working together with artist Lilly E. ManyColors, and the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), which has provided funding to create the art installation and decolonize a space on Boston Commons.
A traditional sweat lodge, covered with decorated red dresses, is prominently displayed in this art installation project. Each red dress represents MMIW and aims to invoke an emotional response from audiences about the fact; Native American women are more than twice as likely to experience violence than any other demographic. One in three Native women is sexually assaulted during her life, and 67% of these assaults are perpetrated by non-Natives . The exhibit was installed on July 5th in the Boston Commons, by artist and project visionary Lilly E. ManyColors. Lilly is of mixed Choctaw (descendant) and an interdisciplinary artist, who is known for artworks and performances that evoke strong emotions from her audiences.
Lilly feels a deep connection to her Choctaw traditions and Anishinaabe teachings. And much of it is prominent through her work, which represents her journey, culture, and background. Lilly hopes that her art will allow for a safe space for intimate connections, decolonial dialogues, and new ways of being.
The Red Dress Lodge exhibit will run until August 2, 2020. It is an attempt to unite people from all races in unity to call out the atrocious acts that take place against Indigenous women and communities.
GIIA has made great moves toward the inclusion of Indigenous people in the global conversation since 2000. The organization continues to perform its duties and raise awareness through various events, workshops, and summits. Daniel StrongWalker Thomas, who is the Keeper of the Fire for GIIA, acknowledges “The topic of missing murdered indigenous women is one that brings with it lots of emotion for the indigenous community. It is a subject that deserves deep thought, care and action. We are humbled and grateful to the Massachuset-Ponkapoag Tribal Council for granting Lilly permission for this project to take place on their lands. ”
Daniel StrongWalker is a member of the Delaware Nation, Lenni Lenape people out of Anadarko, Ok and a descendant of the Oneida people of Green Bay, WI. He is currently the President of the Board and Chief Servant Leader for GIIA. He attended Salem State University, where he received the Charlotte Forten Distinguished Scholar award. He became a member of the honors society and received an appointment to the Trustees of Salem State College.
Within the professional industry, Daniel is an accomplished entrepreneur who has led at a C-level for ten different entities. Currently, Daniel is a Fellow with The Partnership, Inc a leadership development program that works with organizations in all sectors to build racially and ethnically diverse leadership pipelines.
Serving alongside Daniel is the Cultural Steward and Vice President of the Board of Directors, Andre StrongBearHeart Gaines Jr., who is of the Nipmuc people. He is a poet, educator, traditional dancer, and public speaker and carpenter by profession.
Through GIIA, Daniel and Andre have brought about many opportunities for Indigenous people to be heard and acknowledged. They have brought hope in one way or another, and they continue to do so despite the many challenges they face in this modern age. Find out more about the GIIA by visiting their official website.