In my language (yak tityu tityu-Northern Chumash), there is no word for “artist.” The closest is “maker.” Combining “saqwa” (“maker”) with the suffix “mu” creates Saqwamu—a “place where things are made.” Saqwamu is also how I think of my studio. My mission is to create beautiful things that keep traditional art practices and techniques alive while also bringing awareness to environmental issues, such as the climate crisis. Therefore, I am always grateful for opportunities to bring my work to a broader audience; not only do I personally believe that our beautiful artistry is meant to be shared, but I also believe that my work can serve as a platform for protecting cultural resources by bringing greater awareness to the environment where I collect my materials. In this respect, my work also provides a narrative about the importance of tribes to exercising our sovereign gathering rights.
My tribal homeland is along the California central coast. As stewards of our land, we are responsible for protecting the resources we need to create our beautiful works. As a California Indian artist that practices “Place-Based” arts, I am extremely interested in the laws and environmental factors that contribute to the loss of access to our traditional materials; which has a direct result on our ability to sustain our artistic practices. I define place-based art as art that evolves from one's connection to place as an indigenous person, where the artistic expression is related to our homelands. I am continually reminded that there may be a time when I am not able to pass down these art forms because our cultural resources have become limited. For instance, the climate emergency has unfortunately led to the banning of abalone (my primary medium). The lack of such resources has led me to work with other mediums while still adhering to art that represents the place. Whether I am using materials I have gathered or work with more contemporary mediums, all of my pieces nevertheless reflect place. I add as many place-based details as I can to transport the viewer to a place that is otherwise distant and abstract. In doing so, I convey the beauty of these vulnerable landscapes to inspire viewers to help protect and preserve these places.
Living in the midst of the global climate crisis, I make art partly to cope with what I am witnessing and partly to support a campaign for cultural and environmental sustainability. My goal is to make an impact through direct community engagement as well as through critical dialogue among place-based art practitioners who need to find new ways to continue making their art. I like to believe I can use my creative capital as a way to convey a message of urgency so that Native peoples and non-Native peoples might learn or be motivated to confront and change the conditions that contribute to the climate emergency, we all face.