Indigenous Culture and Human Resilience

September 16, 2020

By: Sarah Westlake, Editorial Director, ArtPlace America

One afternoon choreographer Maura García (non-enrolled Cherokee/Mattamuskeet) danced to the music of Navajo-fronted band, DDAT in the homelands of the Kaw and Osage nations. The dance took place in front of a mural featuring Osage design and language, created by visual artist Mona Cliff (A'aniih/Nakota).

The resulting film is a multilayered music video, uniting Indigenous artists across genres and miles. The music, a song entitled "In Tongue", was composed by DDAT (Delbert Anderson, Chris Bidtah, Nicholas Lucero, Mike McCluhan). Delbert and Maura are both currently fellows in Western Arts Alliance's Native Launchpad program. At Delbert's suggestion, Maura choreographed a dance specifically for "In Tongue". They wanted the collaboration to uplift people's spirits, especially in the time of COVID-19.




Guided by the up-tempo rhythms of the music and the rapid-fire lyrics of DDAT rapper Chris Bidtah (Navajo), Maura created joyful, rhythm-based choreography.  Though the musicians of DDAT are based in the southwestern homelands of the Navajo Nation, Maura resides in the traditional territory of the Kaw and Osage nations (aka Lawrence, KS).

To record a video bringing together all of those dynamics, Maura approached Lawrence-based artist Mona Cliff about performing in front of her mural. It is a part of Mona's "Natives NOW" project and is a celebration of the intertribal Native community. Mona’s public art is an East Ninth Artist project funded by an ArtPlace America grant.

With Mona's vibrant mural as a backdrop, Maura worked with First Peoples Fund artist fellow James Pakootas (Colville Confederated Tribes) to capture different angles to make the viewing experience more engaging for an audience who may not be able to come and see live performance any time soon.

The artists are thrilled to have found a way to collaborate across the miles. All acknowledge that despite the disastrous effects of COVID-19, the pause has caused artists to devise creative and more sustainable ways to collaborate with one another. This way of working collaboratively is based in Indigenous cultural norms. Though the artists hail from very different backgrounds, in most of their languages there is no word for "art". Traditional gatherings, ceremonies and social events include multiple art forms: dance, song, music, fashion, culinary art, visual art. All are used as part of protocol in gatherings for weddings, funerals, preparation for war, resistance and celebration. There is not the compartmentalization of everything in the way prevalent in Western European traditions. The idea that different forms of art, community, work and social justice are separate entities is a non-Indigenous concept.


Verses from "In Tongue" written by Chris Bidtah aka Def-i (Navajo)

"Literally living in the minute with no misery 

No limiting admitted within our infinite energy

Spit it so vividly fitted with wisdom and memories

Serenity heals reveals our hidden identity 

Listen to the melody it's giving you amenities 

And even with a felony you breathe into infinity 

We're giving it our everything to fit in your vicinity"

. . .


Maura García (non-enrolled Cherokee/ Mattamuskeet) 
Maura is a Dancer Choreographer who creates contemporary Indigenous performance. Her work is powered by a desire to perpetuate ancestral knowledge, actively respect the living earth and bring happiness to people. Maura’s artistic creations reflect the power of stories to form and change our realities. Through narrative-driven choreography and beat-embracing movement she seeks to form connections, empower Indigenous cultural values and explore the rhythms of the natural world.

Choreography and Video Editing:

Mural Artwork:



Watch the video:

This video was made with support from Western Arts Alliance's Native Launchpad program and an ArtsKC Inspiration Grant. Mona Cliff's public art is a East Ninth Artist project funded by an ArtPlace America grant and supported by The Lawrence Arts Center and the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association.