Las Vegas Paiute Tribe
Las Vegas Paiute Tribe
Fawn Douglas is an Indigenous American “artivist” and enrolled member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, with mixed roots that include Moapa Paiute, Southern Cheyenne, Creek, Pawnee, and Scottish. She is dedicated to the intersections of art, activism, community, education, culture, identity, place, and sovereignty. As co-founder of Nuwu Art, a community art and activist space in Las Vegas, she runs programming and cultural consulting, organizes with the nonprofit IndigenousAF, and works part-time as a cultural engagement specialist with Meow Wolf. Douglas earned her master’s degree in fine arts, with honors, from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she combined academic research and traditional Indigenous teachings. She draws inspiration from the manufactured city of Las Vegas surrounded by natural desert landscapes of the Mojave and Great Basin. Her drawings, paintings, sculptures, and regalia display the history of a changing environment and its people.
“I re-purposed two t-shirts from community protests surrounding Native land protection. The shirts represent lands, and a speckled dye was applied to mimic the beautiful sandstone features of Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) desert lands. The shirts are tailored, stretched, and handsewn together with sinew. The shredded bundles represent sage and plant medicines, and colors signify happiness and hope. The open shirt collars expose two black voids, like voids in our deserts that show the harms upon the earth from military testing in Nevada, and harms on Indigenous women’s bodies. We stand up against the destruction of the environment and our people.” —Fawn Douglas
What does the idea of “justice for Native communities” mean to you?
The words that come to mind are: Still here. Perseverance. Sovereignty. Allyship. Representation. Visibility. Land back. Land, air, and water protection. Justice is about finding ways to uplift our people, as well as other marginalized communities through shared struggle. During the pandemic and the time of George Floyd protests, my community and I repaired some dilapidated buildings so we would have a place to gather for art and activism. COVID hit Native communities hard and affected many others, just like violence and injustice affects many marginalized communities. When we support our Indigenous people and fight with our allies for justice, we are stronger, we heal, and we decolonize.
What do you think needs to happen in the world to achieve justice for Native communities?
We need more than land acknowledgements. We need intentional action toward education, shared stewardship of lands and/or land back for Indigenous people. Educational systems are a disservice to all when the truths of this continent’s history are not told. “Indians” are too often depicted in the past tense, and harmful stereotypes of Natives continue to mask the multifaceted histories of Indigenous people. Education builds awareness and connectedness to Native people in the past, present, and future. Placing Indigenous people at the center of the historical narrative will change the perception of them and eventually lead to a just and equitable future.
How do you express justice through your artwork?
I re-use materials to tell my people’s stories. Indigenous knowledge flows through me as I interpret my people’s history and presence with paint, pencil, sculpture, weaving, and stitch. For this piece, the bottom shirt reads, “Save the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR),” above an image of an atomic bomb explosion. Underneath is the hashtag #dontbombthebighorn. In 2018, the U.S. Air Force attempted to take a million acres of the DNWR for “red flag” bombing exercises and we successfully led protests that resulted in congressional protection of the lands. The top shirt reads, “Celebrating the Closure of Reid Gardner Coal Plant,” with the Moapa tribal seal and photo of the Nevada Energy plant crossed out. For decades, our people fought to shut down the coal plant next to the Moapa reservation, which led to numerous health issues among our people. It finally closed in 2020.
Is there anything else you would like to share about Native justice and your artwork?
My art is often a form of decolonial social activism, which utilizes storytelling to educate audiences on themes such as justice, culture, indigeneity, Native life in urban spaces, and preservation of the natural environment. Much of my work speaks to the defense of land and water, the connection between Native women’s bodies and the lands, and reclaiming Indigenous humor and joy. Native craft (art) is a way to keep traditions alive and restore culture. My art can strike directly at issues, but even a fry-bread pillow or a Twister game that uses Southern Paiute words speaks messages to the viewer. My art practice draws me closer to my Nuwu (Nuwuvi) culture and identity. I have learned much through the lessons of our tribal elders and from traveling to our ancestral lands and sacred sites in Southern Nevada.