The art of Robert Davidson will be on display in the Western Gallery until Nov. 22. Joe Rudko//AS Review

World-renowned First Nation artist Robert Davidson will narrate a performance of song and dance by the Rainbow Creek Dancers, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based Haida Nation performance group. The Git-Hoan Dancers, a Native American dance group from Seattle, will also perform. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 21, in the Performing Arts Center Mainstage Theatre. Tickets range from $9 to $15 and are available at the Western Box Office in the PAC lobby.

Davidson’s art is currently on display at the Western Gallery in the Fine Arts Building.

“We’ve been trying to get Robert here for a little over a year,” Dan Guyette said, dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts. “He’s received the highest honors in Canada; he’s respected worldwide as a native carver and artist.”

Guyette said he hopes that by bringing Davidson and the Rainbow Creek Dancers to Western, more students will be able to experience and gain a better understanding of Native American traditions.

Native Americans make up 1.5 percent of Washington’s population, according to the 2010 census. The Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Indian Tribe are two tribes close to Bellingham. The Lummi Reservation is located in northern Whatcom County and southern British Columbia. The Lummi are the third largest tribe in Washington with 5,000 members. The Nooksack Indian Reservation is located 17 miles outside of Bellingham in Deming, Wash.

“It is valuable for people of all cultures to explore, express and understand our backgrounds, our history, our cultures, and how all of these interrelate to each other,” Guyette said. “There’s a lot less conflict in the world if people really understand each other.”

Guyette hopes to bring Davidson back every year, even if just for one day, to educate students on Native American art and culture.

Last spring, Davidson came to Western and spent a day participating in art classes before giving an evening lecture. After his first visit, the university asked him back for this year, along with the Rainbow Creek Dancers. The dancers use masks carved by Davidson in their performances to celebrate their culture.

Davidson uses traditional art techniques to create innovative designs and materials. His art consists of sculptures, carvings, prints and paintings on various objects, such as baskets. Davidson also uses nontraditional materials in his sculptures, such as aluminum.

“There was discussion about bringing his dance group so that people could see the masks and costumes in action and they could see how they celebrate through dance and art,” said Western Gallery Director Sarah Clark-Langager.

Clark-Langager said she was eager to show Davidson’s work because of his traditional background and innovative art. She said she hopes people will understand the art and traditions through the Rainbow Creek Dancers’ performance.

“I feel that where we are in the state, there’s a lot of history for Native American culture,” Nicole Patrick said, president of the Native American Student Union. “I think it’s important to showcase what’s going on [within the culture] and that [the university] is trying to hit on something that’s usually left behind.”

Patrick is a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, but she grew up in Mountlake Terrace, Wash. in Snohomish County. Since she did not live on the reservation, she was not fully immersed in her culture while growing up, she said. Her grandmother taught her different aspects of Native American culture, but Patrick said she did not participate in those aspects as much as she would have if she had lived in Spokane.

At Western, 2.4 percent of the student body identifies as Native American, according to a 2008 university survey.
Patrick said she appreciates the Native American classes offered at Western and the opportunities to learn about her culture through the NASU.

“[Culturally I didn’t do] as much as I would have if I lived on the reservation. Everything I did with my culture, I did with my grandma,” Patrick said.

The NASU holds a powwow every spring and is also planning a dinner later this year. The club holds meetings every Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Associated Students Ethnic Student Center in Viking Union 420.

“We’re hoping to let Western’s campus know more about Native Americans and their culture because a lot of people don’t know very much,” Patrick said.

She said the NASU has eight to 10 members. The NASU is not limited to students of Native American ethnicity, but non-Native American students rarely think of joining, Patrick said.

She said she believes NASU members who were not raised in Native American culture still benefit from learning about it.

“I’m [less than] a quarter Native American, but that’s the only [heritage] I relate to,” Patrick said. “If you’re interested and want to know who you are, it’s important.”