In the time of corporate responsibility and cultural growth, often, it’s easy to forget to appreciate the indigenous cultures that came before. In the United States, society often overlooks and ignores the rights and privileges granted by treaties to members of the Native American population. Groups of indigenous people refuse to make this the norm and are making waves with initiatives to raise awareness of indigenous culture and human rights issues.
One such group is the Global Initiative for Indigenous Advancement (GIIA). This 501c3 non-profit organization exists to advance the social, health, education, and economic status of Indigenous people worldwide. The group hopes to empower more indigenous communities by providing access to improved health care, business training, educational workshops, college funding, networking capabilities, and many other initiatives that would help indigenous people thrive.
One of GIIA’s latest initiatives is the sponsorship of an exhibit by artist Lilly E. ManyColors entitled the “Red Dress Lodge Project.” The art installment aims to raise awareness for the epidemic known as missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) and girls. The group is working with the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), which has provided the group and the artist with a grant to create the art installation on Boston Commons.
The Boston exhibit is the vision of Lilly E. ManyColors, a mixed Choctaw (descendant) interdisciplinary artist who is well-known for her emotionally-excavating artworks and performances. Lilly feels a deep connection to her Choctaw traditions and Anishinaabe teachings. Her work is a direct representation of her journeys, culture, and background. She hopes that her art and performances will allow for a safe space for decolonial dialogues, intimate connections, and new ways of being.
The art installation features a traditional sweat lodge covered with a tapestry made of sewn together red dresses created by women from local indigenous communities, which represent the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women. The installation took place on July 5th in Boston Commons and will run until August 2, 2020. The “Red Dress Lodge Project” is an attempt to unite people from all races together to call out the atrocious acts done against indigenous people.
GIIA’s efforts to include the indigenous community in various conversations goes back to 2000. The org continues to create workshops, summits, and events from the people and for the people. As Keeper of the Fire and initial frontrunner of GIIA Daniel StrongWalker Thomas puts it, “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 is of the Delaware Nation, Lenni Lenape people of Anadarko, Ok and a descendant of the Oneida people of Greenbay, Wi. He currently serves as President of the Board and Chief Servant Leader for GIIA. An entrepreneur by trade, Daniel has made a name for himself in the professional services, retail, publishing, and property management industries. He’s led as a C-level executive for ten different entities. Daniel attended Salem State University, where he received the Charlotte Forten Distinguished Scholar award. In his time at Salem State, he became a member of the honors society and received an appointment to the Board of Trustees.
Serving alongside Daniel in GIIA is Andre StrongBearHeart Gaines, Jr., of the Nipmuc people. He serves as Cultural Steward and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Global Initiative for Indigenous Advancement. Andre is a public speaker, traditional dancer, poet, educator and carpenter.
To both Daniel and Andre, life is all about family, culture, traditions, and creating opportunities for indigenous people, not just in the US but globally. They hope that through their initiatives, they can create a better reality for future generations.