Carlin Bear Don’t Walk
Carlin Bear Don’t Walk is an award-winning Crow and Northern Cheyenne oil painter from the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Busby, Montana. “I excelled in art ever since I can remember, drawing for at least four to eight hours a day because it is what I loved to do and it kept me out of trouble,” he shares. He attributes much of his artistic success and discipline to two “phenomenal” teachers, Ann King and Hector Alvarado. After attending the University of Montana in Missoula for a few years, he moved back to the rez to hone his artistic skills. He taught himself how to paint oils, studying European master painters and famous contemporary Native painters, to fuse the unique, bright, striking style he uses today. His first solo art show was in 2015, and he has participated in more than 100 shows, exhibits, and juried markets ever since, including the Sante Fe Indian Market, New Mexico Museum of Art, Heard Museum in Phoenix, and Smithsonian in New York City. Carlin has won numerous awards. “These Dayz” won Best of Class and Division at the 2022 Heard Indian Market in Phoenix.
“This piece pays homage to, and tells the story of, just another day in the life of where I’m from, the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. It is about making this life build you up, not bring you down. We are not what we go through. But what we go through helps make us who we are. Strive, struggle, and prosper!” —Carlin Bear Don’t Walk
What does the idea of “justice for Native communities” mean to you?
It would mean achieving the impossible; finally having a fair chance at life for once, and one of the least things that can happen for what’s already been done to Natives. Give us life or give us death, but don’t give it to us for free. We are earners and survivors, and we have earned every damn thing the government has ever tried giving back to us, many times over. Justice for our people would bless us with the power to prosper and breathe life back into a dying environment, where unimaginable dreams can become achievable goals. Justice for Natives would awaken a better world, abundant with change, equality, and opportunity. Deep in my heart, I know the time has come and those days are upon us.
What do you think needs to happen in the world to achieve justice for Native communities?
Imperialism and subjugation across all walks of life need to end. No more demoralization, lies, and dishonesty among the people and the system. Trust must be restored to stop the violence and for equality to prevail. The infrastructure of all Indigenous reservations and ghettos across America needs to be rebuilt to bring proper balance to class and race, and to maintain societies going forward. We will never succeed in a system designed to see us fail time and again. We must continue to defy the odds, take a stand, and rise up against everything trying to tear us down. If we want to live on and live long, we must continue fighting for what is right. Our strength is in our numbers. Real power is coming together as one, putting our differences aside for the sake of fulfilling purpose, making change, and bringing peace to our people.
How do you express justice through your artwork?
Through the context of creation, my paintbrush yields the power to inspire minds and provoke thoughts in a positive manner. Everything is authentic within my work, revealing truth and delivering the realness of the world that revolves around me. My art is very emotional, as it speaks for many people within my community because they all can relate to it. My artistic expression is true to form, true to self, and true to my existence. I let all my emotions bleed out onto the canvas so people can experience something real, the proud sadness we feel every day, the struggles we still endure on the reservation, and our identity adjusting to urban life.
Is there anything else you would like to share about Native justice and your artwork?
I am thankful for this opportunity. It is an honor and blessing to share this powerful art with the masses. Uprising art is what I represent and what I stand for — rising up against everything trying to keep us down, bringing things to light, and speaking the truth. I create art for my people out of love, respect, and dedication — to represent them and be their voice, and to tell their story in a way nobody has done before. And I will continue to do so until I am no longer in existence. To me, this is the best job in the world.