EXPO Chicago 2022

Center for Native Futures at EXPO Chicago 2022




Le’Ana Asher is a Chicago-based artist; she holds a bachelor's degree in fine art from Eastern Michigan University. She is an enrolled tribal member at Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, a descendent of Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa Indians and of Scottish heritage. Asher spent her formative years oscillating between two starkly contrasting worlds; one world was with her Anishinaabe family on the L'Anse Indian reservation on the shores of Lake Superior, surrounded by forests, community, culture, tradition, and the Ojibwe language. The other was her home in a small southeast Michigan town where life centered around settler-colonialism, individualism, and materialism. Through her art, she naturally reflected on these two worlds. She has experimented with various materials and methods: beadwork, sewing, photography, drawing, silk screening, painting, and mixed media. Her artwork is a modern lens into powwow culture, identity, tribalism, and community. She strategically uses portraiture, a tradition for royalty, to portray historically marginalized Native Americans not as primitive stereotypes but as leaders, cultural bearers, and respected elders. Asher's new works are exclusively oil; her methods remain interdisciplinary: photographs inform her compositions and figural choices. She draws the figure and composition with a paintbrush, then layers paint in thin glazes to build up color, and incorporates dry brush techniques to create detail and texture. The artist's extensive range of influences includes family photo albums, T.C. Cannon, Diego Rivera, Norval Morrisseau, Frida Kahlo, Ojibwe heritage, and her photographs taken at powwows across the country. Her paintings have been published in Western Art Collector magazine, Native American art magazine, and Cowboys and Indians magazine. In 2020 she won the top five award at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Artist Statement

My art is a journey of self-discovery and self-expression. It is a process for me to reclaim and reconnect to my indigenous culture, traditions, and community. All indigenous traditions, customs, and stories are inspired by and born through song and dance. Native Americans dance and dress in the finest handmade regalia to showcase tribal identity and individuality and be a conduit from the past to future generations. Photographing my subjects in their element allows me to capture unique moments that speak to a universal human condition and celebrate the richness of life. My oil paintings of native Americans today challenge the notions of Native American stereotypes, the imagined narratives, and the lack of authentic representation. My figurative oil paintings focus not only on the figure and their regalia but also on our collective strength, beauty, and enduring spirit as indigenous peoples of this land. In our mere existence as native Americans, we are confronted daily with assimilation, religious doctrine, and Western cultural norms. My experiences are both a source of pain and joy – my source of inquiry and inspiration. They are what I tap into when creating my art. We, as Native Americans, are not simply stories or figures of a bygone era; we are here and the future.


June Carpenter is an Osage Nation tribal member and a self-taught, mixed-media artist who was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She addresses systemic injustices against Indigenous Peoples and explores connections to community and nature through artwork, primarily consisting of embroidery, beadwork, and hand-cut paper. Carpenter earned a Bachelor of Science from Tulane University, and a Juris Doctorate and Master of Arts in Museum Studies from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked at museums in Tulsa, New York, Philadelphia, and now lives and works in Chicago. Through her artwork and museum work, she seeks to meaningfully represent and honor Indigenous peoples and to create work that is relevant, informative, and healing.

Artist Statements

Your Other Is My Uncle demonstrates a personal connection to the issue of gun violence. This problem is pervasive throughout the United States, yet the major impact on Indigenous Peoples is largely overlooked. Further research is needed into the statistics, due to the lack of readily accessible data pertaining to Native Americans, as we are often included in the “Other” category. Only by increasing awareness, can we begin to make change. Only by recognizing harm, pain, and grief, can we begin healing and moving forward in positive ways. This vest represents my late uncle, who was murdered with a firearm. The vest incorporates elements of Osage men’s clothing with details alluding to who he was as an individual and what he meant to my family.

Through my artwork, I seek to address systemic injustices against Indigenous Peoples in a way that recognizes and acknowledges the problem and the victim, but seeks not to hold that victimization as an identity, but rather to show pride in the identities of the peoples and individuals who are the victims. I hope to raise awareness about and encourage change in the racist, colonial systems of the United States and to encourage understanding and healing through the processing of emotions and trauma, both my own and those of others.

In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the Court only addressed jurisdiction, and not the legal issues of the case. Continuing to rely on the doctrine of discovery, the Court decided that Indian tribes were not foreign states, denying them access to the Supreme Court. As domestic dependent nations, tribes were thereby denied full nationhood. The guardian-ward relationship was also established here, incorporating the trust doctrine into federal Indian law and reinforcing the inferiority of tribes. While tribes were later granted access to the Supreme Court, this racist, rights-destroying decision is still valid.


Kelly Church is Ottawa and Pottawatomi and a member of the Matchi-be-nash-she-wish tribe in Hopkins, MI, where she resides today. She comes from an unbroken line of black ash basket makers and works with fibers of the woods and forests in Michigan to create weavings that share issues that affect us all, most especially those who come after us if we do not act today. Her weavings share stories of her life and experiences in today’s world as a culture bearer, a teacher, Native woman, artist, activist, and part of her community and family, where all of her teachings started.

She received her A.F.A. from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe N.M. in 1996, and her B.F.A. from U of M Ann Arbor in 1998. She is nationally recognized and the recipient of numerous awards including the 2018 National Heritage Fellowship, four time recipient of the Artist Leadership Program through NMAI, DC, Native Arts and Culture Fellowship and most recently the Community Spirit Award from First Peoples Fund for her continued sharing of traditional teachings among Michigan Native communities, sustaining traditions for future generations to come.

Artist Statement

I work with many traditional fibers from the forest and woods, combining these natural materials with metals and man made materials to weave contemporary baskets. Knowing when the time is right to harvest fibers from the forests is an important part of my everyday life; knowing the seasons according to mother nature and not man made time. 

I use my art to tell a story about experiences, and influences in my life while keeping touch with my beginnings and where I come from. I am a diverse human being who lives in a diverse world. My work speaks of the teachings from ancestors as well as the teachings from my mentors who have helped shape the person I am today. I am open to new experiences, and keeping an open mind and knowing you are never too old to learn is important. Knowing who you are and where you come from and where you are going are equally important. 

My work tells stories, shares teachings, shows the nature I am influenced by, and the Nature I am affected by. I use my baskets to tell the story of the destruction of the black ash trees by the Emerald ash borer, to combine the traditions of yesterday and today.  I create baskets to educate, to humor, to engage people in conversation, to get people to think, to learn, to share, to give a voice the traditions of yesterday and combine these teachings with my role in a contemporary world today.


Noelle Garcia is an artist based in the Chicago metropolitan area who focuses on themes of identity, family history and recovered narratives in her work. She is a North American Indigenous artist from the Klamath, Modoc and Paiute tribes from Oregon and Nevada. Her multidisciplinary practice utilizes various research methods in order to inform her methodology. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and institutions across the United States. Garcia has earned awards and fellowships at various institutions such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the American Indian Graduate Center, the Nevada Arts Council, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Noelle has held residencies at multiple organizations such as ACRE, Ox-Bow, Hyde Park Art Center, and Ucross. Additionally, Noelle has published multiple articles and illustrations in publications such as the American Quarterly, Arts Everywhere Musagetes, and various graphic novels.


Chris Pappan is an artist and a citizen of Kaw Nation and also identifies as Osage and Lakota. Cited influences are Heavy Metal and Juxtapoz magazines, and the Lowbrow art movement with its cultural roots in 1970s underground comics, punk, and hot rod cultures. His art literally reflects the dominant culture’s distorted perceptions of Native peoples and is based on the Plains Native art tradition known as Ledger Art.

A graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and a nationally recognized painter and ledger artist, Chris’ work is in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C.; The DePaul Art Museum in Chicago IL; the Block Museum of Art in Evanston IL, The Newberry Library in Chicago IL, The North American Native Museum of Geneva Switzerland; and The Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence Kansas among others. Chris lives and works in Chicago with his wife Debra Yepa-Pappan, their daughter Ji Hae and is a co-founder of the Center for Native Futures.

Artist Statement

Of White Bread and Miracles (male) is from a series that responds to the Boy Scout tradition of misappropriating sacred Native American practices, and in this case for a “hobby”. The bodies are taken from a book titled “Here Is Your Hobby…Indian Dancing and Costumes”. While the manual attempts to teach young boys (mostly) how to dance through confusing, static photographs, it is also an example of cognitive dissonance as it erases any vestiges of contemporary Native people and homogenizes all Native American cultures while making casual remarks such as “…get a local Indian to teach you singing and dancing if you can…”. By appropriating the figures from the book and re-contextualizing them I am re-introducing the power of dance for our people; that dance is not merely your hobby, it is a sacred form of prayer and sacrifice that has deep and varying roots and meaning for Native people everywhere. These works also deal with the idea of innocence (lost) and institutionalized racism. To interject the stagnant poses that are meant to teach movement with elements of spirituality, authenticity, and contemporary aspects, I am reclaiming that which has been erased.


Monica Rickert-Bolter is a Chicago-based visual artist and journalist of Potawatomi, Black, and German descent. Her artwork consists of traditional mediums, such as charcoals and pastels, graphic design, and digital coloring to create expressive characters and tell their diverse stories. After receiving her undergrad in Media Arts and Animation, Monica became more involved with Native nonprofits, where she combined her love of art and education to develop programs and resources for children. She worked with Chicago Public Schools to create a new interdisciplinary Latino and Latin American Studies curriculum incorporating Indigenous history and contributions. Passionate about storytelling through art and writing, she advocates for cultural representation in any project she undertakes and serves as a consultant for various institutions and organizations, like The Field Museum and the Terra Foundation for American Art. Monica writes under the pen name “Whitepigeon,” her family name, for online publications related to Native issues, creatives in the entertainment industry, and Indigenous-owned businesses. In 2020, she completed two children’s books as illustrator and layout designer, Journey of the Freckled Indian by Alyssa London and J.W. The Deaf Drummer by Myles Hunt. The following year, Monica co-founded the Center for Native Futures, a nonprofit for Natives in the arts, with a fellow artist group to nurture, elevate, and advocate for Indigenous Futurists. Currently, she participates in the Hyde Park Art Center’s Center Program and serves as an Embedded Artist for “Imagine Just,” an anti-racist arts community project in collaboration with Enrich Chicago and Greater Good Studio. 

Artist Statement

I have always had a natural affinity for art, particularly when it comes to figures and character designs. Coming from an ethnically diverse family of Potawatomi, Black, and German descent, I prefer not to concentrate only on one side of my cultural background but embrace the beauty of each while showing their distinct attributes. Having witnessed tragedy on both sides of my family and overcoming my struggles with depression, I want my artwork to convey joy, love, humor, and hope for the future. I grew up on animated TV shows, comic books, and video games. At an early age, I noted positive examples of POC characters and the lack thereof within pop culture. The children’s books I’ve worked on feature themes of mixed-race identities, youth supporting their communities, and a handi-capable character following his dreams. My goal is to continue to bring these storylines to life, whether it’s on paper or in animations. My artistic vision is to leave behind a legacy that encourages younger generations to keep dreaming and reminds older generations to keep reflecting on their own influence. Most of my artwork centers around identity, self-expression, and finding hope through uncertainty and pain. Being a mixed media artist seems fitting with my diverse cultural background as I’ve had to navigate between the trauma and experiences that come from both lineages. For a long time, I was afraid to work with pigments. It wasn’t until much later that I was prompted to try my hand at it again, and I fell in love with art all over. Whether working with pastels or vectors, I embrace the essence and showcase the souls of the subjects.


Jason Wesaw is a multi-disciplinary artist, creating works in an array of media including ceramics, drawings, textiles, and traditional cultural pieces. His projects are informed by the land and relate stories that are rooted in place and the acknowledgement of spirit. He balances being a maker with working in his tribal community as a Peacemaker, sustaining cultural ceremonies, and sharing traditional knowledge across the Great Lakes.

Jason is Potawatomi (Turtle Clan) and lives near the historic Pokagon Potawatomi settlement of Rush Lake, in southwestern Michigan. He has three children and a network of family, friends, and ceremonial relatives from across Turtle Island. He creates art for markets, galleries, & exhibitions, and his work is in the permanent collections of the Eiteljorg Museum (IN), Grand Valley State University (MI), and the Newberry Library (Chicago, IL).

Artist Statements

Ashokmaget Waboyan  (Healing Blanket) 

The blanket is a strong metaphor in Potawatomi culture for love, strength, and protection. It symbolizes the reverence we hold for women in their role as life givers, water protectors, and the warm, nurturing presence they have in raising our families. By blending printing techniques with hand-crafting skills, this textile represents an approach to individual health and community empowerment through knowledge. The cones are snippets from various Potawatomi treaties, along with cyanotype images. They are created and hung in a fashion similar to the cones that adorn regalia worn for the Jingle Dress Dance, a healing, ceremonial dance with roots in the Ojibwa culture of the northern Great Lakes, but now widely practice and honored across Turtle Island. This work has a particular focus on the younger generations, imploring them to embrace their ancestor's sacrifices, the tribal history, and our traditional culture, as the work 'wraps' them in a blanket of wisdom, solidifying their Native identity as they walk through modern-day life.

Mbish Waboyan (Water Blanket)

This piece examines the power of water and our connection to it as tribal people of the Great Lakes. Water has the power to heal and make sick. It can cleanse or destroy. We are dependent upon it, yet have grown to misunderstand our significant relationship with it. It is these waterways that the Potawatomi people have used to trap, fish, and travel upon since the beginning of time. In our traditional culture, as the givers of life, kwe’wek (women) are the caretakers of the mbish (water). It is our women’s prayers, their songs and dances for the water, that humbly ask for it to be respected and kept clean for our grandchildren’s grandchildren; for everyone’s future. I harvested clay from Lake Michigan, modeling it and the copper snuff can lids into cones, and hung them from this waboyan (blanket), in a similar fashion to how a Jingle Dress dancer adorns her regalia to be used in healing dances. As I created this piece, I imagined those instinctual feelings of love each one of us experienced as we grew in a sacred womb of water, inside our mother’s belly, as she nurtured us into this physical world.


Debra Yepa-Pappan (Jemez Pueblo and Korean) is a visual artist whose digital works center on themes about her mixed-race identity as she incorporates symbolic imagery influenced by both her cultures and the urban environment where she was raised; and she is currently the Native Community Engagement Coordinator for the Native American Exhibition at the Field Museum. Both through her artwork and her work at the museum, she is committed to changing inaccurate representations of Native people, and advocates for the inclusion of Native first voice and perspectives. Debra along with her husband, artist Chris Pappan, and a small collective of Chicago-based Native artists recently founded the Center for Native Futures, an arts organization created to support Native artists.

Debra’s artwork can be found in private collections and in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe, NM; the Schingoethe Center in Aurora, IL; the Illinois State Museum; and the British Library. In 2017, she was a recipient of the 3Arts Make A Wave Award. Additionally, Debra has served on numerous museum and exhibition advisory committees, is a board member of Illinois Humanities, and has recently been appointed to serve on the Cultural Advisory Council for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events in Chicago. Debra currently lives in her hometown Chicago with her husband Chris and their daughter Ji Hae.

Artist Statement

En Route and There and Back Again

By nature, Native peoples are storytellers. I am a Korean and Jemez Pueblo artist who utilizes digital imagery to visually share my story about identity, being mixed race, cultural pride, and home. The centralized figure in En route and There and Back Again are literal visual portrayals of a young Pueblo girl, my daughter Ji Hae, dressed in a traditional Pueblo manta, who is leading me to ceremony. I interpret this as the next generation connecting us to our Native traditions, helping our cultures to continue thriving, and keeping us tied to our ancestral homelands. I also incorporate the popular images of the “L” train and a Chicago Transit Authority map to represent our urban home in Chicago. I convey the similarities within the spirituality of both my cultures by using symbolic imagery, motifs derived from origami paper such as the butterfly and dragonfly, that have significance in both Asian and Native (Pueblo) cultures.

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