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North Dakota Mourning

North Dakota-inspired

30 x 24"

acrylic on canvas

Virtu Gallery, Anchorage, AK


This morning, we woke up to a record-breaking heat wave. Suffocating in our own breath, we peal ourselves from drenched sleeping bags and turn on the air conditioning in the car. A short drive away, we emerge onto brittle earth, and cross the deserted remains of Fort Rice. Beneath our feet, an underground labyrinth of prairie dogs is quite active. They entertain us for over an hour as we guess which hole they will pop out of next.

Stopped at a red light, a man in the car next to us asks what The Nomadic Project is. We give him the short version before the light changes, and at the next light he hands us a CD. “We are playing a concert downtown this weekend, if you are still around,” he says. We thank him, and pop the CD into our stereo. His name is Chuck Suchy, and the album is called Evening in Paris. We listen through the car speakers, while I paint outside on the capital lawn. The music is fun and upbeat, while his voice is soothing. Alfonso compares the style to Jimmy Buffet, only less “cheesy.” Later this week the “Long Soldier Powwow” is taking place in Fort Yates, so we won’t be able to attend the show in Bismarck. We hang out at the capital building for several hours. The architecture is similar to Louisiana’s state house. It towers tall, and lacks the conventional dome. It is really amazing how unique each capital is. In front of this building, red and white flowers spell out “NORTH DAKOTA,” and remind me of an end zone. I finish my painting, and we head off to Fort Yates.

After a much needed rainfall, moccasins sink into the earth on the Standing Rock Reservation. At first glance, one feels immersed in unfamiliar culture. The language, dress, and food are unique to the area. Yet, amongst tepees stand nylon tents, and camp stoves have replaced fires. Harmonic chants sound over the beat of a central drum, but are overwhelmed by the intermittent voice on the loud speaker. Teens, adorned with feathers, braids and fringe, stand off to the side with cell phone in hand. This is a modern day Powwow, and here at Fort Yates it is clear that ancient traditions and beliefs have faded into silhouettes.

The dancers dance, but not in celebration of a successful buffalo hunt. They dance in competition, numbered and judged. Stories of the past fall upon deaf ears, and seated around the base drum, men are dressed in t-shirts and ball caps. The princess is no longer the daughter of the chief, but chosen by academic achievement and merit. There isn’t an arrow in sight, and all the horses stand corralled at the Rodeo next door.

This is America, a melting pot. Turn the temperature hot enough, and all become moldable. Burnt to the bottom of the pan are memories of the old frontier. Pavement hides the land where bison once roamed. Without roots, a tree is merely a stick in the mud. And I wonder, has the “home of the free” created a crutched society? As I continue to watch, I think to myself “Dance young ones. Hold onto the history of your soul, for without it you are no different than a machine.”