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Bemidji's first-ever Anishinaabe Art Festival to celebrate diversity, Indigenous art

The first-ever Anishinaabe Art Festival is set to celebrate the rich culture and history of Indigenous people along with bringing intercultural knowledge and diversity to the region on Friday, July 22, and Saturday, July 23, at the Sanford Center.

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The first-ever Anishinaabe Art Festival, celebrating the rich culture and history of Indigenous people along, is set for Friday, July 22, and Saturday, July 23, at the Sanford Center.
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BEMIDJI — Through the lens of the arts, the first-ever Anishinaabe Art Festival is set to celebrate the rich culture and history of Indigenous people along with bringing intercultural knowledge and diversity to the region.

Set for Friday, July 22, and Saturday, July 23, at the Sanford Center, festival attendees will experience a wide variety of authentic creations such as Indigenous art, traditional food tastings, child-friendly activities and demonstrations, and an array of cultural entertainment.

According to the festival website , the goal is for artists to have new and expanded opportunities to market themselves beyond tribal nation boundaries, with the understanding that Indigenous art is highly sought after due to its unique culture and history.

“Our artists are so important to our tribal economies and are capable of adding tremendous value to the Bemidji and regional economies,” said Sharon James, an event organizer and executive director of 4-Directions Development. “We need to support them as we would any other business.”

The Anishinaabe Art Festival and creative business development initiative is a creative placemaking opportunity to support art businesses and celebrate the rich Anishinaabe history and culture of the region.

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With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help fund the festival, the three tribes of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth along with the city of Bemidji have joined together to pave pathways for Indigenous artists, provide access to high-value markets and create an exchange of art and cultural knowledge in the region.

“(The city has) been involved with the planning of this process since the beginning and we are really excited to host this event,” said City Manager Nate Mathews. “We think this is a wonderful event for our community to celebrate the richness of Anishinaabe art and a way to provide access to that for the community, but also for the artists who can develop their businesses and get great exposure here.”

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Nate Mathews

For Ward 1 City Councilor Audrey Thayer, the festival bears a lot of significance for the diverse community of Bemidji.

“We have never really had a long history with our neighbors in all three directions, White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake, so to have this led by the three tribal nations and brought to the Sanford Center is huge,” Thayer said. “We have never had this opportunity to see 55-plus vendors of Indigenous art in the city of Bemidji. Times are changing, and I’m so grateful that our city is embracing unique and diversified populations of people.”

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Audrey Thayer

Core partners of the festival include 4-Directions Development , Leech Lake Financial Service , Gizhiigin Arts Incubator and the city of Bemidji.

“We have a lot of great sponsors that have helped with the festival like the Minnesota State Arts Board ,” James added, “and local sponsors like Paul Bunyan Communications, the Blandin Foundation and First National Bank Bemidji.”

Day one activities

Festivities will begin at 11 a.m. on Friday with a traditional opening ceremony, invocation and drum song to welcome everyone to the event followed by a ribbon cutting.

From the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony on Saturday, the festival will be filled with fun activities for attendees to enjoy like a variety of vendor booths, workshops, demonstrations, tasting tables, entertainment and a fashion show.

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“We will be having various art demonstrations throughout both days so people have something to do while they’re there,” James said. “Sometimes you think of these art festivals as just roaming around and looking at what people made already, but we are trying to have interactive demonstrations that everyone can participate in.”

Attendees can learn techniques used to create original art and other cultural teachings throughout the festival such as basketry, hand drum making, storytelling, beading and stone carving.

Tasting tables will be open at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday with traditional flavors for attendees to sample a variety of authentic Indigenous foods like berry sauces, maple syrup, fiddleheads and much more. Tasting table tickets will be sold at the door.

“We wanted to share some of the cuisine art of our culture,” James said. “We have a lot of traditional food that we continue to incorporate into our diets and we wanted to share some of those unique food ingredients with the public.”
To wrap up the first day of the event, starting at 6:30 p.m. attendees can make their way to the stage for a fashion show where designers will showcase both traditional and contemporary fashion. A traditional tea bar will also be available at each show.

Sharon James
Sharon James

“A lot of our artists have such beautiful pieces, they’re starting to turn into wearable art,” James said. “We have artists that have gone to large, famous fashion shows in New York and California so we are trying to showcase some of those new and upcoming fashion designers.”

Day two activities

The second day of events will start with the doors opening at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and attendees can visit vendors, workshops and demonstrations.

Starting at 11 a.m. the tasting tables will be open and at 1 p.m. the stage entertainment begins.

“Saturday there will be a performing arts show where individual people will be performing on stage, there will be singers and dancers and again that will be traditional and contemporary,” James said. “We will have an emcee giving the story behind our traditional dance, our drum and other things like that so we can share some of those traditional and cultural pieces along with contemporary entertainers that are out there and well known.”

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Headlining the event is Sten Joddi , one of today’s most prolific Native American hip-hop artists and actors. As a member of the Mvskoke Nation of Oklahoma, his culture and love for hip hop gave him a voice to the unique struggle of growing up and surviving as a Native American.

In addition to his recording career, he is known for his role in the TV series "Reservation Dogs" on Hulu.

Along with Joddi, musical artists Annie Humprey and Doyle Turner and the Sampson Brothers dance duo will also perform at the event.

Following the stage entertainment, there will be a children's art session at 3 p.m. and a literary arts showcase to highlight authors and writers at 4 p.m.

“We’ve been trying to incorporate the authors and the writers into our arts,” James said. “They will be sharing their books and maybe even a few readings. One is even doing a demonstration on how to be a successful literary artist.”

The festival will come to an end at 5 p.m. with a traditional closing ceremony.

If you go

Friday events

  • 11 a.m. Festival opening ceremony
    • Invocation
    • Welcome
    • Ribbon cutting
  • Noon: Festival opens
    • Vendor booths open
    • Workshops
    • Demonstrations
  • 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. "Traditional Flavors" tasting tables
  • 6:30 p.m. Fashion show seating
  • 7 to 9 p.m. Fashion Show with traditional tea bar

Saturday events

  • 9 a.m. Vendor booths open
    • Workshops
    • Demonstrations
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. "Traditional Flavors" tasting tables
  • 1 to 3 p.m. Stage entertainment
    • Dance styles
    • Singing
    • Teachings
    • Other performers
  • 3 to 4 p.m. Children's art session
  • 4 to 5 p.m. Literary arts
  • 5 to 6 p.m. Closing ceremony
Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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