Experiences from an Indigenous/Native American Digital Artist Growing Up in America
Hello, and welcome back to Marketing for All. My name is Marina and today, listeners, we will be talking to an Indigenous artist and digital designer, Neebin Southall. Our conversation touched on topics from culture, border crossing, indigenous treaties, representation, all the way to problematic Disney movies. Let's get started. I want to remind our listeners that these opinions and experiences are our own, and we do not speak for any specific race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, tribe or nation.
Welcome back to Marketing for All, and today we have Neebin Southall with us and I'm really excited to interview her and hear, you know share her story with you listeners. Hi, Neebin and how are you?
I'm good. Thank you so much for having me on the show.
I'm happy that you're here. And can you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Sure. My name is Neebinnaukzhik, which means "summer evening" in the Ojibwe language. I am a member of the Chippewas of Rama first Nation in Ontario, Canada. And just a little note, Chippewa and Ojibwe are the same people. It was just kind of like who was talking about us and like how people like how their accents and stuff, so little side note there. The Ojibwe are part of the overall Anishinaabe people. And I am so I am Ojibwe and white and I was born in Toronto, but was raised in Miami, Florida. And I lived there since I was a baby until about 14 years old, when my family moved to Oregon and I went to school out there and I came to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I currently live, first in 2012 on an internship, and then I went back home. And then in 2013, I officially moved here. So I've been here since.
All right. And did you get to go back to Canada a lot to see your family or did you grow up going there in the summers?
Yeah, yeah. So when I was growing up, my family would do these big road trips from like the tip of Florida go all the way up to Ontario and it was like most summers. My parents are pretty intentional about that, you know, to see family in Canada. And then, you know, when we're in Oregon, we did that a bit as well, though I can't really remember the exact breakdowns of time and then I did have like kind of a traumatic experience at the border, so it kind of scared me off from crossing for a little while. But then a couple of years ago, I had an art residency in Toronto, so I got to be up there for a couple of weeks and I got to stay the weekend with my uncle, which was super fun, like we were doing, like karaoke in his basement and whatnot. So good time to reconnect.
Yeah, yeah, that's that's nice. I'm glad that you got to hang out with your uncle and then I can't tell me more about, you know, that experience you said crossing the border?
Yeah. Well, you know, so like, I'm technically a Canadian citizen and there was like this incident that had, you know, kind of like shook me a lot like the family, you know, we were stopped on our way back to the US. And you know, I'm sure there's like more layers to it, which I won't get into all of that. But suffice to say, like my dad was taken in for questioning and we didn't really know what was happening. We're like sitting and waiting. I think it was about 19 years old or so, either 18 or 19 years old. I think 19, because my little brother was there as well and he was just young enough, so, you know, he was a minor. But I remember my mom and I, they patted us down in like a back room, and one of the guards was like, "If you resisted all like, you know, I'm going to have to take action." which is, of course, a threat, right? You know, and I was very young and tender, like I was home schooled and, you know, kind of had my kind of like, I suppose I hadn't really experienced a whole lot of that right? But it really changed my perspective because it was like, I remember feeling like, "Oh, I have no home" after that happened. It's like, "Okay, I'm living in the U.S. it's like neither here nor there." The ironic thing, though, is where that border crossing took place was that it was in a region where, for Ojibwe, it's a traditional gathering area. So there's like this sort of weird colonial irony to that. But yeah, it was a scary experience. You know, it's like pretty young. So it made a big impression. And, you know, of course, not knowing what's going to happen with your family or you know what the outcomes are. Like, they did end up letting us go on, but it was a scary experience, even Homeland Security came in and talked to my dad. Ended up letting us go. But, you know, because of those sorts of experiences, when you think about like borders like, I am very sympathetic to a lot of the issues that people deal with on the southern border. Like as somebody who, I have a status card, I'm here in the U.S. with like there's according to the Jay Treaty, if you're like half or more native, like you can live and work in the US and you have a right to. And so, I kind of think about, well, you know, I had this traumatic experience that really affected how I looked at things and how I felt about myself. And yet I also have these sort of like rights that not everybody does that is Indigenous, right? And so it's kind of interesting to think how the rules are different for different groups of people, right? Like, even though we're all indigenous to the Americas, how experiences can really vary. So I'm very sympathetic to issues, you know, with the southern border, just because of, kind of like my experience of navigating being sort of inside- outsider, which is something I've always kind of like navigated like my entire life because like, you know, being of a minority where, you know, at one time, I kind of sort of crunched the numbers on like, how many people are Ojibwe people, right? And it's less than 400,000. So I'm like, "Well, that's a very, very small percentage of, you know, the United States or Canada, right?" So there's always going to be that sort of navigating. But even like multiple levels of being like an Indigenous person, that's classified as an immigrant, that lives in the US, like there's just layers around that experience, right? And how you belong and don't belong. And then, you know, being part white too and how that factors in like there's just a lot of different layers.
Yeah, I think I think I had heard on another podcast that people don't really know about the Jay Treaty. And then but even then that's supposed to I don't know. I maybe wrong, but from my understanding is that it allows you to cross like freely, right?
Yes. You show your status card or paperwork, that. Well, it can vary, like how people might interpret it. But you know, you have to have some sort of proof that says, like, this is what you are, right? And some people will want the status card, in addition to, like a paperwork that spells out like this is from your tribe, this is who you are, right? You know, some people will take the status card, but it's kind of like with the status card, those status cards don't have blood quantum on them. And so it's kind of really you're getting into like these really complicated colonial realities, right? Because the United States recognizes the Jay Treaty and so native people from Canada can come into the US, right? Canada, on the other hand, doesn't recognize it, so native people from the US can't come up and so and there is like all kinds of historical stuff around that. I think it's B.S. like, I think Canada should be allowing more free travel, right? But the U.S. does recognize and does allow people to have free travel and people have the right to a green card and, you know, and the right to work. So yeah, there's definitely some complexities around that. And I think there were some people who were advocating for making it more reciprocal as well, but I'm not really sure what the status of that is at this point.
Right, right. And then, yeah, I had heard on the other podcast about like that, the traveling back and forth and how some people were getting detained. And yeah, that would be very traumatizing. And it's really something that you, you really don't want to go through, especially as a young person, like that can really impact how comfortable you are because it's I can only imagine like, you know, your dad being thrown in a room and then you don't really know what's going on and like.
Yeah, it's very frightening.
Yeah, it would be very frightening. And then, and then like you were saying, like the borders with the south, right? So the U.S. and Mexico border and yeah, how you know, there's really nothing there for Indigenous people to like, protect themselves and like being able to cross between the borders. I think there seven, from the 67 tribes that I mentioned, I think seven of them are caught between the border.
Right, and that's that's a huge issue because even with the Anishinaabe people, like we are on both sides of the border, right? Like we predate the border, of course, you know, like, other Indigenous people, we predate the borders and so it is really disruptive because like, you know, you're beholden to this power structure, that may or may not be cognizant of your rights to the land or this history you have here, this ancient history you have. This ancient connection, you know, and so there's definitely a lot of issues around that. You know, I think about that all the time. So I really try to, myself, like live in a way where, like thinking of the Anishinaabe people as a whole instead of seeing us as separated because I think that is really our true reality and that's where we come from. That's what we are, right? But this, these are things we do have to deal with these, these legal structures, but we also are more expansive than that as well.
Yeah, yeah. So can you tell me more about like your professional background, like what your focus has been?
So back in 2011, I graduated from Oregon State University with an honors BFA in Applied Visual Arts with a minor in visual arts, which is basically like graphic design of fine arts, right? And like from there, like I, you know, so I had this graphic design training and then, you know, I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself and Oregon and Portland and all these areas like I was living in Corvallis, Oregon, but Oregon has like a high number of graphic designers, right? So a lot of competition and so I really wasn't quite sure how to break into that, right? But then I had seen this posting for an internship with Santa Fe Indian Market, and I thought, "You know, indigenous arts, like, I love art. I've always liked art. I'm like, Why don't I apply?" So I put together a little package and I was accepted. I ended up coming out here, and it was kind of like it opened my eyes up to like the sort of all these possibilities. Like, there were so many different people I was meeting, you know, so many different tribes that came to the market, like across the continent, really? And it was just kind of like I found a niche, right? And then because I was a Native designer, it's like people were interested, you know, in having me work with them as well and I made different professional connections. I ended up getting into writing too, you know, as kind of a result of some of that meeting people, right? Like one of my good friends, America Meredith. I had met her, because she was one of the guest speakers for an event at Indian Market or the SWAIA Santa Fe new market. It was like preceding the Indian market, so not in your market proper, but they have a special event at a bookstore and I was like, "Wow, I really like, you know, what she has to say. You know, it's really interesting and I want to talk to her." So I invited myself to dinner, basically. Started chatting with her, and I talked about how there wasn't a lot of attention brought to Native graphic designers. Like in my education, I didn't really learn about Native designers at all and so seeing that lack made me very curious because it's like, Well, there has to be people out there. And, you know, my senior project, I investigated some of that as well and, you know, found different names. And then from there I started keeping a list of names. But anyways, so I told her about this and she was like, "Well, I haven't really heard too many people really talk about that." And she just happened to be about to be launching a magazine. And so she hooked me into that, and I started writing some design columns for her about Native graphic design and kind of from there, you know, I've gotten more writing gigs. So it's been like, you know, that was like back in 2013 or so. So like, a lot's happened since then. But you know, a lot of these connections I made, you know, I feel like I was able to harness like my very various interests and be able to leverage it into something that I could make money from.
Mm hmm. And I just want to clarify like the terms that we're using. So I think you used Native. I would say it would be like a way of identifying yourself like as Indigenous. Would do you say it's like more, I don't know what would you call like the word Native, like how people are using it? I would say, I have heard it like like in the U.S., Canada, and then I've also kind of heard it, I think, uh, I think I've heard in Portuguese from like Brazil, like people use like, "nativo," it's like native, basically. So that's kind of where I've heard it. Can you tell me more? Like maybe if you can give like a short explanation?
Yeah, it definitely seems like some of it is a little bit generational, right? Because like some of the language we use to describe ourselves, show some changes, right? So like, you know, my mom is seventy years old and, you know, she would say, "Oh, like, I'm an Indian." Like, she'll say, you know, she's Ojibwe and all that, but you know, people would use, you know, Indian because that's what people called us, right? And I will still use that terminology, you know, depending on who I'm with, or especially if there's older people, you know, and then there is like shift around language. Like in Canada, people will use First Nations, right? And so there was like a move toward using First Nations for people who would have been formerly called Indian, right? There's also Inuit people as well in the Métis who are mixed Native and European. And so like, then there's Native American too, right? Which is more used in the United States and then also can be just used broadly, right? You know, like really across the two continents, although there's like some slippage around these terms, right? They're not always the most precise.
No, they're not. And then I've heard people like saying, you know, Native American doesn't apply to like Mexico or Central America and South America, but I'm like, but it's still ...
It's still part of the Americas.
It's the Americas, and it's like, I don't, right?
So there's a lot of slippage around that term. And then because it is so used in the United States, like it goes kind of like it gets really associated with the United States. Like, I think people were trying to use better words for describing a huge span of people, right? So none of these, none of these words are perfect. And I think like when someone's like, "Oh, I'm native," it does seem like people in Canada are using it, people in the US are using it. It does seem like that's kind of like, I don't know, in-group and how we're talking, although other people who, other people will use it. I think I like to use it just because ... I don't know, like, I think it's just because it's not tied to one specific background. Like, to me, I feel like it's like this encompasses multiple people, right? But I think it's also generational like a lot of people, in their thirties use it. Twenties, you know? Some people in their forties. So I think some of it's like, this is like partly popularized. They're like Native pride, you know, and using that terminology. But really, yeah, it's referring to Indigenous peoples and I think when it's being used, it is being used to refer to Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Yeah, I think I think that's, I like using Indigenous a lot, I think, because, you know, it also kind of taking into consideration people from other continents too, right? And like if they hear native, maybe they wouldn't really like necessarily relate, but if they hear Indigenous and, you know, they would understand.
Yeah, I mean, there's definitely like, you know, parallel issues that other groups have, for sure. You know, like you'll hear stuff about like state suppression or boarding school type experiences like that's definitely true. You know, I think in the end, though, like it's always good to be very specific and to talk about specifics when you mean something specific and then broad terms, if you mean something broad, right? Because we don't want to overly, like, flatten our experiences, right?
Right. Yeah, yeah. I think that's a good way of seeing. And just talking and having conversations. So you told us more about your background. You grew up in Oregon and Florida. Um, and can you tell me maybe about what is like one of your favorite things about your culture, like maybe is it of food? Is it like a gathering? If you could say like, "Okay, this is my favorite thing" like what is?
Oh, that is hard. You know what I do love though? I love, like I love honest Anishinaabe history, and I love looking at things from the 1700s like art objects and practical objects. I mean, it's all practical, beautiful objects. But like from the 1700s, that is one of my favorites because you can see some of the early aesthetics within these pieces, like we did have shifts and changes right with cultural change and like interacting with other people. So some of the aesthetics of our cultures changed a lot, right? But I like to really see some of those early things. So like, for example, we like to use a lot of like this dark hide. So it'd be, like a chocolate brown, right? And that's like dyed with walnuts, right? So you'll see that a lot with like quill work, quill work embroidery, which is taken from the the quills of a porcupine, right? And people use that as like a method of decoration, right? I love seeing objects like that because it's like, it's just so old and there's this beautiful aesthetic. And I try to tap into that, too, for some of my own work looking at, you know, the different aesthetic systems that we're using like hundreds of years ago.
Right, so now we're going to get more into like going back to like, so how did you get involved in like social media marketing? Like how have you use that for like your own profession and your career?
So with like social media like, you know, I have an odd relationship with it. I would say, you know, I wouldn't say I am like a social media expert, like I know how to use it like most everybody does right? At a previous job. I did manage, you know, like their Facebook and, you know, like some other accounts as well and, you know, mostly using that in a promotional way. Like, "Okay, here are our artist, we're trying to sell the work." And it was a lot of different Indigenous artists. And so, you know, I was taking photos of people, taking photos of their work and posting and sharing that, which, you know, I did enjoy that aspect of things quite a bit know and I think it really did help us sell the work. Yeah, I think like in use in those ways, it's definitely like a positive. You know, I definitely was like photographing the events and the different artists and people from different backgrounds and so I don't know, that was something that I had really enjoyed. I think on my own personal level I'm sort of like reassessing some of it. Like, I know that this is a major way that we connect. I do use it for research, you know, if I'm doing writing about things because like quite a bit of people are now on social media and like years ago, it felt like it was harder to find Native people online, but like, there's so many Natives on Instagram, right? And there's so many people like you selling beadwork and jewelry and all kinds of stuff, right? So it's good to keep an eye on it. But I think, you know, I have a bit of a, you know, especially with information that's come out about Instagram and how there's like these negative effects on like teenage girls and of course, everybody else. You know, there's and then also the ways people can treat each other very badly online. I have a lot of skepticism about how some of this is playing out and how it is sometimes leading to disconnection among people. I do think that there are positive uses, but I think with these corporations, there was not enough, like these are design products, right? And that's important to remember. Social media are designed products that frequently are designed by this subset of people that may not be very diverse, right? And how is it shaping the interactions that we're having, right? So I think that's going to be very critically minded about, like thinking about Indigeneity, like if you created a social media platform that, you know, let's say, incorporated certain ways of interacting, like what if like, "Okay, you always have to introduce yourself in a traditional way" or like, like we kind of did with each other, right? Like what if there's certain modes of that or like how you approach people with respect, right? And like if that's, if these are the values that we really do believe in, which I think quite a few tribal cultures do profess to believe in these things, what would it be to build something like that? But I think, you know, a lot of social media platforms are very driven by advertising and money and making money, right? So the motivations on engagement, right are very driven by that. So you have a lot of conflict and you know, conflict creates some of the most engagement, which creates the most advertising dollars. And so there's sort of an incentive for bad behavior to a degree, right? So there's like all these things where like, I think all that should be analyzed, and I think as Indigenous people, we should be thinking about, "Well, how does some of this stuff align with values?" or you know, since we can't really, we're not the engineers of this stuff, how can we engage in it with ways that aren't contrary to the ways, like to our community's values? And, you know, I'm not perfect, like I get in arguments online, like anybody, right? You know, I'm trying not to do that, but I think we do have to be mindful. But I do think it can be a great resource, too. Because I think, you know, growing up, I didn't know really any other Ojibwe people, but I do really enjoy that I can get on Instagram and then I see all their little faces and I'm like, "Oh, that person looks kind of like me" and, or you know, like your aunties on there, you get to know your aunties up to and like, it's just it's kind of cute that way. And that's like the part that I do like about it. Where like, you could say, smaller communities are able to find each other and support each other. Like, I do think there's a lot of potential for that. I think, you know, with like LGBTQ people and two spirit people, you know, there's a lot of potential for really great friendships that way too. Like, I'm two spirit myself and I have some online friends where, you know, we've really connected over culture and things like that, and we'll share cultural things or have different conversations. And you know, I may not have had that at all, were it not for social media, right? Or at least that level of access? I shouldn't say at all, because here in Santa Fe, there's an art school that does have a lot of two spirit people. So there's connections there as well, right? You know, but anyway like it can foster connections that wouldn't otherwise be there, but I do think we have to be really careful about it.
Okay. Can you talk a little bit more about like two spirit and what that means?
Sure. So two spirit is an umbrella term, like it's a relatively recent term that was developed in the nineties, but has some history of being attached to, I guess you could say like Ojibwe ideas as well. There's like the different tribes like, you know, they wouldn't use words like lesbian or bisexual or gay or transgender, you know, so a lot of different tribes have traditions of people who we would say, like, you know, our gender diverse or sexually diverse and so two spirit is like a way to kind of encapsulate some of that or to like reference that, right? It is like an umbrella term that really basically any Indigenous queer person could use. However, I have noticed that it is more frequently used by people who perhaps could be described as transgender in some way, right or nonbinary. And that's like a little bit how I relate to the term because I have masculine and feminine aspects, and I feel like it's a good way to kind of be like this expresses that part of me, right? So that's how I kind of approach that. So it's just kind of like a way of, I think, people trying to, you know, talk about that intersection of being Indigenous and also being queer, right?
Mm hmm. Right. That's very interesting. Now can you tell me more about, like going back to like your job, can you talk more about what you're working on, like your current job, like your business?
Mm hmm. So I run a small creative business called Neebin Studios and that encompasses graphic design, writing, illustration, photography. I'm really into portraiture, and I really love taking portraits. You know my miscellany, art projects that I might do, like, sometimes I'll sell stuff. So it does vary. You know, right now I am working on a copy editing project for the Institute of American Indian Arts. And then I'm also working on an illustration project for the Coalition to Stop Violence against Native Women. They have a youth summit that they do every year. It's like, you know, it's focused on the youth and the kind of like things that the youth want to discuss. So I'm working on an illustration right now that, you know, includes different representation of youth, a mixture of different genders, actually, and different looks. You know, there's an Afro-Indigenous person like, I'm going to have like a light skinned Native in here as well. There's a girl whose Pueblo and she has the Pueblo bangs, which are, like, kind of more reserved for when people are reached womanhood. Someone, a friend, had just told me a little bit more about the significance of that hairstyle, right? So like there's like, you know, like different cultural nuances that I'm trying to put into the piece and I'm still working on it. So that's what I have going on. I have some other things in the works as well, but that's kind of my primary focus right now. I'm also finishing up a sticker pack for the Native Justice Coalition and that's depicting different medicines, like sage, sweet grass, tobacco and cedar. So that'll be available through the Native Justice Coalition coming up pretty soon. Yeah. So it's like it's a little interesting mix of things. I do like hop around a little bit for sure.
Yeah. Do people seek you out or you go present to them? Like, how do you get these, these commissions?
I, you know, a lot of people do come to me now, which is really exciting. And I think, you know, a lot of this has to do with, I did build a name for myself but you know, I have the Native graphic design project, which is, you know, me maintaining this list of Native designers. And I feel like that has really helped to get my name out. You know, things kind of start to snowball after a while, right? Like somebody hits you up for a writing job. Someone reads that, and now they want to hire you to write something. Somebody sees your work online or they're like, "Oh, a Native designer will, you're one of the first people that comes up," you know? So I think it's just building your reputation over time. Having a niche, really, though, is, I think, a big part of it. And then, you know, relationships in the community as well, like, you know, people get to know your work, people pass your name on and things like that. And that's definitely been, the network, has definitely been helpful to me as well. But I get both those from like friends of friends or colleagues, you know. And then also people I've never met before, which I think is really exciting. Like, like this podcast, you know, for example.
And can you tell me more about like an obstacle you have faced in your career or even in your personal life that maybe did impact your career? Can you tell me about that?
Sure. I mean, like, I guess there's a lot that could be talked about. I think, you know, it was like, I feel like I had a really solid conceptual background. Like, I feel like my creative training was really good. I think learning the business on my own, the business side of things on my own was challenging, you know, and it's not really my natural way of thinking per se, right, like, I'm like, "Oh, I want to do like the art, right? I want to do some of the creative stuff." Yeah, I think having some hitches around that. I think also, like a lot of people deal with this one, but, you know, having like internalized sexism or like sometimes I think like, yeah, there's something around that as well where I feel like, you know, sometimes not having the confidence to be charging at the level of your peers, right? Knowing that somebody who might be a man might be, you know, making more. I think that can be an issue there. And that's something like, I don't necessarily identify as a woman, but you know, I was raised female. And, you know, I definitely have some, like embedded ideas around things. And it's like, even if you know better, sometimes you can fall in the trap or, you know, sometimes people can treat you different, right? You got to have good boundaries around some stuff because I think there might be some sort of expectations around you as a female creative, that I don't feel would be fully upon somebody who's a man, you know? I think, like maybe the sort of what people are asking to do, I think and sometimes you can end up doing more of a nurturing role sometimes, which, you know, on the one hand, I do believe in being collaborative. I do believe in working together and I think that's like an Indigenous value, right? But I think that if you're less aggressive, that can be interpreted a certain way or people may not fully respect you, right? Or even just having a young looking face like, you know, people can think of you more as like the kid, right? So that, you know, like I have a baby face. So I think, you know, there's like some biases can enter in. In other ways, you know, I think, you know, dealing with people when they're not really fully aware of their own biases or maybe like, for example, I've been in a situation, where some wealthy white women were undermining me in a job. You know, in my opinion, they weren't fully aware of the racial implications of what they're doing. Like, you're undermining one of the few Native people on staff like, this is a problem, like this is very problematic. And I think sometimes working in situations where people are like, they see themselves as like the good ones, right? But they're blind to their own biases and that can be really hard to be in that circumstance. I feel it's very frustrating because you have to be like so diplomatic, but sometimes it's like it's very hard for people to really see what they're what they're doing or how they're playing into like white supremacy, right? So I think that's been a challenge. I, you know, I'm kind of the person who like not very good at, like, I will probably say something. And you know, I do try to be very diplomatic, but I do have my convictions. And like, if something seems off to me like I'm going to bring attention to it, which people don't always like, you know, I think that that is a challenge that some people really haven't examined how some of their actions like it's not just like, Oh, you know, an individual thing, it's like, really, it's really more of a structural issue, you know?
Yeah, yeah. I think the world of graphic design, I came across it on Instagram like a lot of it. I feel like there's so much like worshiping of like these white male graphic designers.
And like everything revolves around them and there's like two or three names that people will like flock to even with marketing, right? Or there's people that are right, like marketing and graphic design and like everybody, just bows down to them, even though they're creating content that's so problematic. I think there's this one graphic designer. I forget his name is from Australia, well, he lives, his family has lived there for generations in Australia. And basically, he created this like carousel and it had like, there's white woman wearing a headdress and there was something about like the tribe.
"Joined my tribe" or something like "Creating a tribe with your marketing like customers" or whatever. And it's like,
Oh my God.
And then people, I think there were a few people kind of calling him out. I brought it up like, I, you know, in a kind way I pointed it out and like, nothing happened. Like, nobody really cared what he was just saying, how cool it was, how awesome he is, like.
Yeah. There is that, you know, it's just like tone-deaf, you know, but it's not even. Here's the thing that gets me about that stuff. It's not even creative because it's completely like based on a stereotype. There's nothing original. There's no like deeper work. I'm like, It's bad design like period, right? And so that's what's so weird about it to me. I'm like, This is an even being a good designer. Like, if you're being a good designer you're coming up with a unique concept that is, like, really like dial in but that's not even that. Like how thrown together is that like, you really tried there.
And it's offensive. And the whole point of marketing is to invite new customers and to make people feel comfortable and to target them or make them, retain them right? And if you're insulting an entire group of people, then I don't really know how that's like ... And there has been some push, you know, some people have talked about, like not using the word tribe in marketing and how it's really problematic.
Yeah, it is a weird one. Like I definitely have some feelings around it. I don't have a, I just feel like, "Well, that person is definitely not having the experiences that I'm having. That's for sure, right?" I do understand like, you know what they're going for, but yeah, I'm like, You live in a different world, you know?
Definitely, definitely. And then I remember I had, I think for the nonprofit that I founded, it's called NAHEM. It's Native Americans and higher education. We were interviewing some volunteers, like graphic designers and like, there weren't really many Native graphic designers that would apply, you know, for the volunteering role, but you know, there has been some like Latinx women there. You know, had work as graphic designers at like big companies, or like a big, or just a business. And and I remember one of them telling me that, like their work was split between, like they work with mostly white guys, right? And then their work for them, like her and maybe another coworker was like they had to also do warehouse work. They also had the warehouse work like they didn't just do creative work. But their time was split between that and the warehouse and the white guys like they were just graphic designers, but they had to like do the warehouse stuff. And I was like, "Whoa," like I. And like, you would think, like, okay, it was 2021. Like, why? Just like, how can this be happening? Like, like why do they have to work at the warehouse? Like, that's not even like part like, I understand, like sometimes you, you do have to out of your way for a job, right? And it's a team effort, but like having to split your time?
Well, there's discrepancy. I mean, there's like the the inequality that's inherent within that, right? It's like a perfect example of that, you know, why? Like, they should be able to make enough money that they don't have to do that. But then there's just there's like layers and layers right of what's around that.
Right, right. It's like, how come not everybody gets to work at the warehouse, right? Or share hours at the warehouse? That was like, I yeah, I couldn't believe it.
Is this at the same company?
No, not the headdress thing, but it's a different company. I don't think I can remember which company was. It was like, I think it was like a medium size business. I don't think it was like a corporation. It was like a medium size business.
Like, I guess my question is so like, were all the graphic designers all working at the same place?
It was like the Latinx people that, were also working ...
Yeah, likeher and maybe the other girl she was working with like they had to.
Oh, that's even worse than I thought.
I know. It's like, "Okay, you go to the warehouse" like, like, I'm like, "How can you even work there?" Like, I maybe. Yeah, I understand people need money. And I mean, I guess, yes, that's why she was working there. But like,
Yeah, but there is like some weird stuff around that, for sure. It's like, I mean, like, I've seen that kind of thing too, where it's like, "Oh, an organizations diverse." But then it's like, okay, all the like, the Latinos are working security. You know what I mean? They're not necessarily the decision makers. You know, for an overall institution, right? Like it's like, okay, there's some weird stuff playing out here. Yeah, and that's and that fits into like overall issues, right? Like there is like studies on this stuff where they break it down and they're like, "Okay, how many? Okay, what's the distribution? What's the demographics?" You know what, who, who's doing, what kind of work and like in the museum world, which is something I'm more familiar with as well, like, you know, most leadership is white and white male. That's like the vast majority and when there are people of color, they're usually at lower. They're not at the heads of the organizations, in most cases. You know, people are trying to make shifts around that, but it's like there's still issues and you see it. You do see it. If we see something, we know. If it's not hitting the right note, we can see that and we can call bullshit, right? So there has to be people from diverse backgrounds working in these things. If companies want to be reaching diverse audiences, like maybe they don't. There could always be that. But if they truly do want to reach diverse audiences, they have to have knowledgeable people working on their teams because if you don't have the cultural competency and it can be across any group, right? It's going to you're going to hit some pretty bad wrong notes.
Right. I've even said on a different episode that, you know, I honestly do not think that why people should be leading DEI work. I will say today, I'm against it. I don't think that they should be running DEI programs. I don't think that, maybe you have a different opinion, but I don't think so. I think that they need to allow BIPOC to come in and to really lead those positions because I truly don't believe that if you have not experienced racism, if you have an experience like prejudice, I don't really understand like how you can really design a program. And if you're also not part of that community, how can you design a program that actually is going to, you know, target that market or that is going to help, you know, that population or you're going to be able to make a genuine connection?
Well, I mean, it comes down to like real like, are these real relationships or not? Do the communities in question, do they really have a seat at the table? Do they have a voice? Do they have any power, right? You know, and I think like, I think it's a complex question. I do think that some things can be done because it's like, well, you know, if people are in a seat of power, like that person has to be willing to work with people and also give up some of that power, right? Like if there's going to be change and, you know, so those are have to be a willingness to do that and I think, like however, if you're just like an echo chamber, that's not going to get you very far. You really do have to have a range of perspectives and you have to be really, truly interacting with the community. And the thing is, it's like with like Native communities like, there's been a lot of things where people come into a community. They kind of, you know, they take their info, they do their thing and then they're gone, right? So there's also, like you could say, some sometimes suspicion around things. So really, taking the time to build relationships is super important. You can't really do a hit it and quit it like it's not going to work.
Well, that's what Disney has done, and that's what they've, that's what they're very good at right? We were talking about this before we started recording and it was the new Disney movie, but I can talk about Coco.
Yeah, I'd be interested to hear your perspective on that.
And how they literally went to this, there's a town in Michoacán where I'm from and Ciudad Michoacán and it's, I think it's a region like it's not my region, but it's like there's four regions, right? But it's the lake region basically right? And it's the city Pátzcuaro and I think it's like a mixed population in Pátzcuaro and basically, they went in and like study the Purépecha people there and then our traditions and our culture and and then they were there for, I heard like a few years and then after they got everything, they left and then they made Coco. And then it's based on like, you know, the Day of the Dead. And it has like different, I know that Day of the Dead is shared by many different, you know, it's not shared, but in some ways, yes, it is shared I would say, like, you know, day of remembrance and to our ancestors and it is something that a lot of cultures in Latin America, you know, share. However, we each have in our own way of overseeing that day and, you know, Disney took this, you know, day that, you know, I would say, like the mainstream Mexican population, they celebrate it, right? It's a celebration and they use it to like, get drunk and have parties and all these things. But that's not the meaning behind like Day of the Dead. That's not how indigenous communities like oversee that day. You know, it is different, I would say, like for me, it was more like a day of reflection. And, you know, paying homage to ancestors is not really like ... And also, we are processing and mourning for the people that have gone to the other side and to see that, you know, the mainstream culture is using it as like a party day or like day to get drunk or making a movie based out of this. It's kind of like a mockery out of our culture. And then for me, right? And then to top that off, it's like they didn't give credit to, you know, Mama Coco, which is based on Purépecha elder. And she's around. People go visit her and stuff and Disney didn't, and you know, they didn't give her not even like a credit somewhere
Oh my goodness
At the end. Not even like, you know, "here's a few, a little bit of money" like or anything like they did nothing. And I don't think to this day they have done anything for her and like using her image like it. Like they didn't.
Oh my goodness. That is like. That's shocking, actually.
Yeah, it's like complete erasure of a person and an erasure and then and then like I say, you make making ... Like, yeah, the movie's cute. I mean, I probably I cried. Yeah, of course the story line's good. I'm not going to sit here and say that it's not. Obviously, there's freaking hundreds of people working at it, but at the end of the day, it's like, "Oh, great, they ..."
Well, that's like, that's like really a huge problem to literally be using somebody's image and then for there to be this disconnect. And like, you're just, like this idea to like we talked about of like leaving, just leaving the community as well as what is the ongoing relationship, right? Because certainly they made money from from this product. Big time, you know.
Yeah, a lot.
Yeah. And I think it's like none of these companies are exempt from critique or anything like, you know, I am not familiar enough with the culture to say, but, you know, like I watched like Coco and I liked that. I watched with my best friend and it's like, you know, like, there's certain things about the culture there that looks a little bit like some of the Pueblos here, like how they do some things a little bit, right? Not totally or anything like that, but like they have, they have like, you know, feast days for the dead. So like, it's a definitely nothing direct, but I was just like, "Oh, look at it, like there's these Native people like, this is so nice to see native people," but I don't have the understanding myself to really evaluate the product, right? And so I do think it's like, yeah, there has to be these these criticisms and like, well, you know, what are the relationships of the community? How do they use people? And oh, it's it's great to see like, you know, brown characters on the screen like it makes me happy to see it for sure. And that's like, "Oh, that's like seeing my friends or family," right? But if it's still not done in a right way like that still needs to be talked about because these are huge corporations, they make millions and millions of dollars like they are shaping culture, in fact, right? So there's a huge responsibility they have to do this stuff properly and to do it in a way that is respectful, in a way that does respect communities and knowledge bases and individuals. Because, like I remember, you know the Polynesian film like Moa-
Moana, I think it was Moana.
Yeah, yeah. And like, I, you know, I like seeing that too. But I remember reading like, Oh, but they kind of did like a pastiche of a bunch of different cultures and there was some things were kind of problematic and like, I think even some things with the navigation really wasn't like the way they would navigate in an old way or something. So there's like these things where it can actually perpetuate misinformation, right? Or misunderstanding about the real thing.
Mm hmm. Like Pocahontas?
Yeah. No, that's a huge one right there. It's like so weird, right? Because it's like they did have, they did have, like some, I think, Native voice actors on there, but it still wasn't really, like it's still not really Native control. And then it's like, yeah, it's like the real story of Pocahontas is really a rough go. Like young girl who's like, kidnapped and then like, I mean, all the implications around that are really kind of gross. But it's not the like nice little fantasy story everybody would like it to be, you know? It's like, you're really going to take a story of a girl who is like kind of like trafficked.
Yeah. I mean, you know, like, I had a little Pocahontas figurine. It's like, that's like that you kind of get the crumbs. The crumbs of what's out there. It's like, "Well, this is Native." So you have these like weird things and you're trying to make the most of it.
Yeah, and I think I wanted a raccoon, like a raccoon pet. I think my mom got me like a fake like stuffy.
Oh that's cute.
Yeah, I know. And like, I don't know. Like, obviously, I was fricking kid like at it. I mean, I didn't. I didn't think of all these things.
Well, here's, I mean, here's an example relating to that like, you know, like the Redskins? Like when I was a kid like twelve or eleven or something, like I saw the gloves and because it had like a Native person on it, I was like, "I want those gloves." Now, of course, like, you know I'm like, critical of that. But like, when you're a kid, you're kind of like hungry to have something that speaks to who you are. But like, kids really do deserve better. They deserve, they deserve better.
Yeah. Like a general representation of somebody that, you know, looks like them or has some similarities to them. And I think that can really impact how somebody can develop and pushing them to do something that maybe you know, where Natives are not necessarily, you know, expected to be right? And if they see somebody like themselves, it can be beneficial to have, you know, these like role models, right, because some people are I think some people are not necessarily so motivated by role models, but some people are. Right?
And that can, I think that can really, you know, have an impact on somebody that's, you know, so young and seeing somebody, you know, like them. I didn't have many role models growing up and, you know, maybe the few that I did have, there were a few, a few musicians, you know, that are Native, in Mexico and they are Native. And I actually love their music and I looked up to them. But I didn't really realize, you know, why I, I prefer them. But now I know that I look back now I understand, you know, the reasons why and you know, they look like my dad or they look like my grandma. And they're very talented writers, very talented musicians. So I think for me, it was like, it was just nice and comforting to see somebody I could in some way like relate to.
Right, right. You know, seeing that kind of reflection, you know, for sure.
Can I can I ask you like, what would you say is like your biggest motivation or your influence?
My biggest influence. I mean, I, you know, I think I think a lot of different people really, like there's lots of like I mean, I like look into a lot of different things. I read a lot of different things. You know, there's definitely like people who, I feel like there's been a lot of women who have helped me, like older women who have helped me in my career. That have made space for me, have hired me or taken me on. You know, and welcomed me in social circles. And that really has been really good for me. You know, and I feel like a portion of my success is really owed to these different women and a lot of ways. Yeah, you know, that's a really good, good question. I think a big one too, right?
I think it's like, you know, I do look to look, I think of family too. I think of my own immediate family too and how, you know, they navigate things. And, you know, I think of my own mother and you know how resilient she is. You know, she's been through some stuff, but there's just like this sort of, there's this power and the strength that is there and I think about that a lot, and I think about her in relation to our culture and this sort of like, you know, both my parents are like, this is kind of an interesting way, like, I was raised like both of them are like about like physical prowess, so we'd wrestle around and, you know, I grew up like play fighting a lot. And, but there's this way of like that my mom has, you know, this sort of like, I don't know, embodiment of like, like she was always like working out in the yard and, you know, doing things and some of the other mothers around us, you know, weren't really doing that sort of stuff. And so there is something cultural about it, right? Like that came from how she was raised and I think about those sorts of things, and I feel like that really does inform a lot of what I think about and how I think about our culture and gender and all of these different kinds of things, right? And like, I think like, how we honor women and how we should honor women as well, and that there's different ways we can be looking at how we think about women as well, right? I don't know. I mean, it's like such a ... I could talk about so many different people in my life that have, like you know, kind of helped and supported like from all different kinds of backgrounds to like. It's a real, it's a real range. And I feel like I can look to different people's stories and just see something about them and how they live and how they move through the world, like some people are so loving and it's like, "Wow, how are you so loving? I want to be like that, too. How can I be more like that?" You know, or some people are so grounded and they really move through the world in a way that's like, you know, even as hard as things can be, it's like there's still this way that they persist and they thrive and, you know, that's really inspiring to see, too. Yeah, I mean, it's just kind of a if you want to ask me something more like, pointed, I'm happy to answer. I'm just kind of, "Ooo my life. That's a lot of people."
Flashing before your eyes. So what would you say is a common myth about your profession that you would like to debunk today?
Okay, a common myth about my profession. You know, I think there is this idea that graphic design is really impersonal and I think my career has been so personal, like so, so much of the projects I've taken on, the work that I've done is tied in some way to things that I care about. And so it's like, you know, I think some people think, "Oh, you become a graphic designer and then now you're doing really generic stuff that's like, not really attached to anything." And even like this idea of like aesthetics, like, of course, like, you know, you learn about Swiss Design and like, I have respect for it and it does influence my own work, right? But like this idea of the sort of neutrality, right? Like graphic design in a neutral, it's like, no, it is not neutral. Like, it's always a reflection of, you know, the values of the person doing it, the aesthetics, the philosophies, that knowledge base, right? And so I think like, you know graphic design is not neutral. There's always choices being made in that graphic design is not really impersonal, like even though it can't seem that way like, you know, there is definitely the thing where designers are kind of like anonymous creatives in a lot of ways and in whatever gets put out, right? So like, yeah, you don't know who did something unless it's like a celebrity or somebody who like, you know, they have their logo at the bottom of the poster, right? But a lot of it is anonymous, which is kind of interesting how that is, but I think that you can make it what you need it to be and what you want it to be in some degrees. And I think that graphic design can have a powerful place and cultural reclamation in presenting a community, helping the community even like with like to have a positive sense of self like, I think there's a lot. I think graphic design is like anything. Like, it could be a force for evil. It could be a force for good, like it's what you make out of it. And that's why we have to be really responsible as people like in design, in marketing, like the images and the words that we put out, like we are creating. We are creating environments and atmospheres and affecting how other people see themselves. So we do have to be really careful about it.
And what would you say, like, can you think of something, I think you mentioned earlier, too, that like some brands are doing things in a meaningful, and in our case, it would be like in a meaningful and like culturally like aware way?
Okay. Well, I'm like, I'm like a huge fan of fashion in general and I love Native fashion. So I'm going to mention a couple of fashion brands that where I'm seeing what they're doing and I'm liking what they're doing. So there is a, there's this one company run by two sisters, Madison and Jordan Craig and their northern Cheyenne. The company is called Shy Natives. They've taken a little hiatus during the pandemic, but one thing I really like about this company they're launching is, with like a lot of their continent has been like on social media, right? And they're using a range of indigenous models, different body types. You know, people of color and even are being inclusive to two spirit and LGBTQ people as well. And so it's like so nice to see that right off the bat where it's not it's not an afterthought, like it's part of how they're, you know, like marketing themselves, right? And it's like coming from a place of like authenticity as well. Like, I mean, there's even like a picture of me and like a little bralette. So if you look, you will find, you know, full disclosure, right? But I thought it was nice that they asked because it's like, I don't expect to be included in those sorts of things because it's like, "Well, I don't have a particular look like I'm not, I'm not thin, I'm not super feminine", but it was like there was a place for me and there is like places for other people as well. So I thought that was really cool of them. I'm also, like, really excited to see more two spirit people being included on the runways. There's one model, Geo Neptune, who, I think just is ... Oh, there's this one person on Queer Eye. He looks like Jesus, but I can't remember his name now. I should have written this down.
I know, I know his name. Jonathan.
Jonathan Van Ness. He looks like white Jesus. But anyway, I got myself off the track there, but one of the, this one two spirit individual is going to be on some shows with Jonathan Van Ness. But the thing that's been really nice is like, I saw this person Geo Neptune, you know walking the runways at Santa Fe Indian Market, you know. One year., walked for Decontie and Brown and then another year, just as last year for Jamie Okuma. And it's so nice to see two spirit people included like, just as an integral part, or even being an opener for a fashion show. So, you know, like, that's really cool. And I've seen that here where they have had a diversity of models, like even myself, like my little, you know, foray last year, like, I did model for Delina White and she's been, she's been really, really cool about including two spirit people in her fashion designs like she has a lot of people more on the trans feminine side or the femme side, you know Gay Femmes, as well as because her clothing is marketed more toward, you know, like women and femme people and so it's really nice to see her integrate that right? And you know, I think this is this is part of like this is kind of like cultural healing, right? Like this is part of us coming back to our cultures and like sort of reintegrating our communities, right? And so those are like some ones that I think it's just really exciting to see that. And also, just, you know, there's also broader diversity of models as well ethnically to like I feel like there's like an awareness around diversity and representation. So you do see people using a range of models, which is really nice to see that. Yeah.
Yeah, it's really exciting to, I think, just to see, you know, the work that they have been doing. I think it's, you know, maybe we are seeing a little bit of the result. People have been pushing for this for a long time. And you know, just to think of like, you know, how I don't know if I have the right vocabulary for it, but it's like, I don't know if it was in the 60s or something, but I know that in the US, like an indigenous people were not allowed to practice their ceremonies and stuff, or I think it was ...
In the U.S., the U.S. and Canada for sure. Like there was like a lot of things were made illegal and you know, some things went underground. Yeah, so there's definitely that history of oppression, for sure.
And then, you know, being able to see like these Native models like thriving and like business owners and maybe moving more to like the mainstream world, I think that it's, you know, in some ways, I know that there's still a lot of work to do and and it's not perfect, but it's still kind of like brings kind of hope too, you know, knowing that the work that people have been doing before us like it is, you know, in some ways it is, it's creating change.
It is. It is, and I do think that I feel like comparing how things were when I was really young and like not having as much access to information or knowledge compared to now, like it's so much more accessible, right? And I think that that's really powerful. And I also feel like I feel like we're seeing sort of like a renaissance of culture, right? Like, I really think that we're in a position now where like, you know, some of our, you know, our grandparents. Or great grandparents. Or even more recent than that, like people, you know how they had such a layer of shame put upon them where, like they were ashamed to be of their Indigeneity. Or made to feel bad for that or, you know, had all kinds of stuff, right? Whereas I feel like, you know, some of the younger generations that they're in a position now where I think there's this thing where like stuff is coming back, like stuff is coming back, there's like interests going. I think, you know, when some of the younger generations are like, they have this interest and they don't have that same layer of pain around things, in some ways it can make it safer, even like the grandparents and great grandparents to connect to themselves in certain ways that maybe wasn't safe before, you know? So I think that there's, I think that this is a time of great healing. I really do like there's more work to be done, of course, but it's really kind of stunning and beautiful. And I think like, you know, we're definitely using technology to share different ways with each other, share knowledge, share information systems. And like all of this sort of stuff, like even like, I'm so excited, just like, you know, with my nation, they're doing these like Zoom sessions, where people from the community talk and it's like, you know, we get to connect in this way that we didn't really get to before. And it's just really powerful, like you have these moments. And like, I was on one of these Zoom sessions and the elder knew who my mom was and knew who, you know who my granny was. And so she shared a little thing about my granny and it's like "Wow,"like, this wasn't like this when I was younger," you know? But it's just there's just so much. There's so much that's so beautiful right now, and I definitely think we got to hold on to that and hold on to the positives because it's like stuff can get pretty discouraging out there. But I do think like we have so much more. It's just blossoming. I really do believe that.
And then also connecting, you know, outside of that white frame and, or the lens, right? It's like, that's one of the reasons why I ask you like about your culture, like what's your favorite thing? Because that's something that where we can connect, that doesn't really involve that, that "I" that's like, like trying to like, revolve around that, right? Because I think we need to step away from when we connect right from just like the trauma and like suffering like, yeah, we I know that, you know, it's still going on. But there's also a lot of beauty and there's like so much richness in so many different cultures and so many different stories. And there's a lot of beauty within it, too. And it's also cool to see how it's evolving, right? Like, we're not just like stuck like it's like six hundred years ago, like, you know, we're evolving and we're, you know, taking some of the things from the now embracing them with our traditions. And I think this is one of the things like why I really like, I don't know, if you seen like I think like for Asian culture, Asian cultures like I'm going to be more specific with like Chinese culture like they really embraced like their pasts, their traditions with the now right and evolving and creating these new things. And I think I think we could learn from, I'm not saying like we obviously have different histories, different experiences, but I do think that there is something to say about the way that they've been able to continue with their traditions.
I have a relevant quote around that. Like when you had sent me the questions and like about like a significant book, right? Anyway, I came across this one book called "People of the Seventh Fire: Returning Life Ways of Native America" and there is this one particular interview in the book with this one individual Jim Dumont, who's Ojibwe, and I think it's from like, and I might not be saying this right, but Shawanaga First Nation. And you know, he is a professor of Native studies at auniversity and then was also a member of the Midewiwin Lodge, which is an Anishinaabe religion, right? And so he had some really interesting quotes because I was trying to think about like, "OK, what does it mean for me to be Native? What does it mean for me to be a designer or like, like, how does this all relate to each other," right? And so I'll go ahead and read the quote.
"The life way that spoke to our people before and gave our people life and all the generations before is still the way of life that will give us life today. How it will manifest itself and find expression in this new time comes as part of the responsibility of how we go about the revival and the renewal. There are ceremonies, teachings and songs that have always been and will always be. They cannot and should not be changed, but there will be new ceremonies. There will be new songs. There will be a new way of speaking, but it will be a way that comes from the foundation of what has always been. It will find a new expression that speaks to the people of this time, it will still be that which has always been."
And like reading that was like, "Oh, man, like yes, this can all integrate. Yes, I can infuse my graphic design that I create with, you know, things important to my Ojibwe background." And like when I was like exploring, you know, stuff like a lot of my projects did have Native aspects or were cultural explorations of Ojibwe culture, right? But that to me, like having some individual, like this person say that was like, yes, we can still kind of like be really informed by our cultures and what we do. We don't have to leave behind, you know, these important parts. It's like we can carry it with us in new ways, right? And that's, that idea, you know, and like what you're speaking to like, I do think like, like, you know, we're off, we have to be like true to ourselves, right? And we have a range of experiences like I can tell you. Like I'm Ojibwe and white, but that doesn't really describe my whole life experience, like living in Miami, Florida, being influenced by Latin American people, like Afro-Latino, the Caribbean, like all of that, has helped shape me, right? And so it's like, I feel like it's very important to speak to that and to be true to like these different aspects of my experiences and then also to carry forward and to learn as much as I can about, you know, my Ojibwe heritage and to also carry this forward with me as having a place with me, right? So it's like a, you know, you're navigating it and balancing it's like, I'm trying to be real and keep it real like to my life and my life experiences and to also in that be respectful to what came before. And like, you know, kind of do my interpretation of that
Right. I think that's really empowering. In my opinion, I think, you know, to be able to really see how this applies to you, like in the now right? And to me, I think that's really empowering and even language how it changes. And it's influenced by different like cultures and different, like just different influences, and I think that's, you know, that's part of, you know, our experience and like and you know, being open to other things and newer things and not newer things, but are new things and new information. Let's talk about more about, do you think, I guess we can already talked about it but let's just go ahead and say, like, ask you, do you think marketing is changing in a beneficial way for, in this case, Indigenous people in the US?
You know, I think that there are some shifts like I feel like I have seen more Indigenous people represented in the mainstream. I think it's always one of those things where it's a little tentative because like we mentioned, you know, like sometimes people are seeing maybe the image they most want to see, which is problematic, right? Because it's not a full depiction really of our communities. I have noticed more Native people in ads, which I am kind of glad to see. I have to be honest, I get really excited when I see a Native person, I'm like, "Oh, like, wait, that person's Native. Wait, is this person Native?" And then I'm like Googling things and like, you know, trying to track it down. Like, I think like, you know, when we're talking about representation and stuff like, I think it's like when native people still are being depicted in like in very limited roles and tropes like you'll see that kind of happen up a lot. And I'm just like, you know, we can be telling more expansive stories. We could be telling better stories. Like there's still like the trauma porn thing that I feel like even major films can have. And it's like, you know, who is this for? Like, who is this for? Yeah, but it does seem like things are getting a little more expansive. I remain hopeful. I'm like, "Just please don't let me down, people."
So, so how would you say like marketing, or let's just go more into graphic design. How do you think graphic design can benefit from diversity and inclusion?
Well, I definitely think like if you have like the same kinds of people creating, they're going to create the same work, right? Like, if you don't have diverse perspectives, you're not going to get new ideas and you know, if you're not, if you have people working on stuff that are trying to serve a diverse population and the designers aren't diverse, like there's going to be some knowledge gaps. There just are. There's going to be areas where people are not culturally competent. And so having a range of perspectives, I feel like will only make the design feel stronger and have more unique ideas, right? Because it's like, you know, someone who comes from a different background or a different perspective, it's like they're going to have different insights and ways of looking at the world and how can people be like using that right? I also think it's like if we seriously want to address, I mean, there's just a lot of biases that get baked into things, you know, like I recently judged a design show for AIGA Minnesota. And you know, we look at a lot of different submissions, but like there were some entries where I feel like there was sort of like a perspective of colonialism that was baked into some of the pieces. And I was like, "Oh, they probably don't even realize it," you know, like how you know, the language of like the outdoors, like how it can be kind of, it can be pretty colonial. If you're not careful, really a lot of it is, you know? I think questioning some of the norms or ways of doing things. I think even how like outside of like the immediate aesthetics, even how we might relate in a professional setting, like I think that design is inherently collaborative, of course, but there's also ways like, you know, there can be hierarchies and things, like that that I think we could look at more deeply. So I think that there's like, yeah, different ways of relating or like, I mean, here is like if there's sexism in the field, well what does it mean if you had an accommodating workspace for parents, right? Like, there's different ways we can think about that and look at our respective cultures and think about how we can maybe transform things for the betterment of everybody, you know? Yeah, I just think like, yeah, more people need to have seats at the table, like, it's just going to be better. It's going to be better for everybody. Like I like learning about different cultures. I like seeing what other people do. I don't want to see the watered down. I'm like, I want to know what they think. I want to know, like, you know what their feelings are on things and you know? And so it's like people need to have the freedom to be able to express that too, without feeling like on edge or feeling unsupported or things like that, right? So I think that there's a lot of ways we can make like our work cultures be more accommodating and more welcoming. And also, like, you know, analyze some of these like barriers or hierarchies that get set up, right?
Mm hmm. So I think that would be like, there's like the DEI but there's also I read something about the DEIB, which is like belonging, I think that's kind of like what you said in belonging is not just about being included, but also about feeling like you belong.
Yes. Yeah, I think the belonging part is really important. I think, yes, this, the room and the space to talk, where people do feel comfortable and safe. Like, I mean, I don't know if safe the right ... I don't want to say safe space per se because that's like, I don't know, that has just an odd connotation, but like, but there is something about where you're not on edge. You know, like sitting in a meeting and being like, I can't really say anything. You know?
Yeah, I think that's definitely something that some of those people are not really thinking about.
And I think it's right good to be able to have, you know, the space to be able to talk freely about, you know, your viewpoint on, you know, whatever things that you're working on, I guess it would be more like in the work setting. So, yeah, so now moving more to, so what is like one thing you wish you had known when you began your career?
Hmm. That's like a, you know, I mean, I definitely think the business side of things like like the structural parts of running a business would have been, would have been good because I definitely had like bumps along the way, figuring out how to charge for things. I mean, you do kind of learn quickly, like if you get bumped a little bit like you do learn from that. I don't know. I think I was really like nervous and scared when I first started. You know, like, you're, you graduate and then it's like, "Now what?" I think it's been really cool to know that I've been able to find good people to work with that I have been able to combine a lot of my passions with the work that I do. That's been really cool. Like, it's just been like I didn't really know what I could, I could build, you know, with other people. And that's really been wonderful to see, to see that be like, "Wow, I set out to do some things or I had wishes and hopes, and in some ways like they, they came true," right? You know, connecting with the right people like it was scary. Like, like I said, I was home schooled, like I lived with my family, you know, and then coming out here and then being away was very scary. And then of course, like, you know when you're very family oriented, that's a hard thing to do. Yeah, I miss my family so bad, you know, my parents and my brothers, but I am grateful for the connections I've been able to make, and I feel like I have been able to make a difference. And I do think, like other people, can make the difference in their own way to whatever that might be, you know. I feel like you can find the people that are going to be on the pathway with you. And I think it's really important to be willing to put yourself out there and don't be afraid. And you know have good boundaries too, right? Because there's all kinds of characters out there. So, you know, be careful, too. Be careful who you might get involved with, but you know, be open to learning. But yeah, there's like, you know, you start, it starts to begin to make sense after a while. I just like, I just hope that, you know, the listeners don't get discouraged. If there's like something that's like ...
Don't work at the warehouse.
I mean, it's okay. It's okay. You either have another job, but you know, but there is. But you know, like, I think, don't mentally limit yourself. And I think that's a problem I still have, right? Where it's like, sometimes you're afraid to dream big, right? And I definitely think I run into that, "Oh, I'm not good enough" or like whatever might be, it could be layers of like, you know, all the -isms or whatever it is, right?
Imposter syndrome hardcore, you know? I definitely have that. And but then you're like, kind of you're getting in your own way is what that is. You know, and it's all your fault, right? Because you've been told things in your life, but you have to get out of your own way and be like, "okay, well, let's step into things and let's see where it goes" and let it develop like, yeah, you can't, you can't spend time doubting yourself, and I think you value your work charge accordingly. You know, like set up that expectation, like, people are going to respect you and like some people won't. But you got to be firm in yourself and you will find good people and you can find good people that are going to be aligned with the work you want to do to.
Mm hmm. I agree. And yeah, that's definitely. Um, you know, maybe at the beginning you're not going to be able to, you know, select everybody, but I think as time goes on, you'll be able to, like you said, like create your niche or work with a nation, then you will find the people that match, you know what the product that you bring or the service. Now what do you recommend to other Indigenous people to follow a career in digital design?
You know, I think it's I think it's really great. I think that there's a lot, there's a lot of opportunities and there's a lot of different ways people can go within that. I feel like it's valuable for us because the way I see it is like, it's a way of us telling our own stories, right? And so I think it's empowering. And I do think it's like it's a part of sovereignty. I think it's a part of like stepping into our power, you know, like design can be a really powerful medium like, you know. Even something as basic is like, okay, you have some like clothing that has like the cultural design, there is a little pin and it's like, that's a little way people can feel proud of where they come from, right? Where they can see themselves reflected or to see value in what we what we come from, right? Because I think there's this idea of like sometimes people can really not realize just how rich our different cultures are, right? Like how deep it goes, like the visual languages. And you know, there's so much, the philosophies, like the world views, like there is so much. But I think like sometimes people have to see it to really appreciate it, right? And so as, you know, visual creators, we can help people see and understand these things, right? It's a it's a very fast way to transfer information, right? So I think like Indigenous people in the Americas, come from very rich artistic cultures. And so to me, it's almost like, "Why? Why wouldn't you be in design like we are designers. We've been designing for millennium," you know? That's really kind of how I see it. It's like framing in that way, like, it's not this other thing. It's like, no, we like a lot of, you know, like Indigenous art, historical art, right? It's design, you know, because you have these beautiful functional objects, right, that often are communicating all these different messages, right? They're going to be like layers and layers of meaning to something. And so we have to I think we have a we have sort of, we have a responsibility to understand that as best as we can and to carry it forward. And I think everybody does benefit from it. I think it's just like the richness of the world, like why should we let that be lost? It's individually creative and so there's ways it's going to be like on an individual basis, be very satisfying. And then also, it can actually be really beneficial to your larger community as well.
Mm hmm. Yeah. You know, like you don't have to be like Indigenous to appreciate that art or to connect with it in some way, right? Like, I think maybe some people get confused there and they're like, "oh on like, this is not for me," but that's not the point.
It is there. It is there for people to appreciate it and to learn from it. And, you know, to remember where it comes from. And you know, and it's nice to see people's interpretation of things like it's, you know, I don't necessarily, I think before I used to be kind of like, "okay, whatever, like this white person taking this idea," but now I think I've I've developed a little bit more and I have, you know, I'm more comfortable with it, and I think I'm more comfortable with the idea of like people even learning my language. Like, like before I was kind of opposed to that because, you know, not, you know, like it is a privilege to learn it now as like an adult. But, you know, before I was kind of against people learning my language that were from other, like there were not from my culture, but as you know, but now that I see, like, you know, the beauty of it, you know, now that I've, you know, taken more classes and I've learned a little bit more like, it's so beautiful. And like, there's so many like teachings within within the language. And like, they're the root language, like there's root words and they create new words. And it's just like, why wouldn't I want, like other people to learn from my language and to appreciate it right? And I know that, you know, there are always probably be those people that take advantage of it or, you know, just steal it. But I don't, I don't want to think that's the majority of people. I think some people genuinely want to learn. And, you know, I think that that's that's really cool. Can you tell us more about like maybe a book that, you know, maybe the listeners who want to like, start graphic design or maybe they want to expand like their knowledge? Do you have any recommendations?
Oh, that is a good idea. You know, I think there is this one design educator, I think her name's Ellen Lupton. She's been around for quite a while now, but she has some really great books. I believe there is one that was kind of, like around like, do it yourself design, but I really like that kind of philosophy because I think, you know, like graphic design can be like for the people, right? Like and it doesn't have to be, you don't have to go to school for it. There doesn't have to be like elitism attached to it, right? So I think like, you know, her books are pretty good. There's a lot of really great online resources, though, like you have websites are like stuff like, Skillshare and those kind of platforms, like you do have to pay money for Skillshare, sure. But I think like I have a subscription and like I found it beneficial. I haven't been really, I've been more looking interior design, so a little disclaimer there, but it's been like informative. But those sorts of skill based platforms are pretty good for learning, you know, kind of targeted. There's like more stuff on YouTube than you would realize as well. It's always good to see what your local libraries have, though. Some are not great on keeping up with graphic design, I've noticed, but some of them are. And I think especially if it's if the libraries are associated with colleges or near colleges, sometimes you have a better chance for that as well. So it's good to just kind of look. But yeah, I think there's a lot of really great resources out there, and I don't think, I think that if you're motivated or you can teach yourself a whole lot and there's so many different ways you can do that you could be doing, you know, screen printing T-shirts, you can be doing work within your own little community. Like there's so many different ways you can explore graphic design and marketing and all that because like a lot of graphic design does encompass marketing, right? Because you get a lot of times designing for people, for maybe their business or, you know, other types of things as well. So. But there's a lot of helpful resources out there, too.
You know, I think that sometimes, you know, people, then they have to like, go to college get a master's degree and like or whatever for design and I think it is helpful. But like you said, there's also other alternatives where you can't, you don't have to always a traditional like schooling like, I do think that you can also learn from a lot of different resources, right?
Yes. Yes, there's a lot out there. I mean, there's a lot of stuff online too, different websites and there's also like, you know, different groups. I think a lot of times like getting just creating too, getting in the practice of creating, looking at really great work and seeing what speaks you. Like keeping a little folder of like when you see a piece and like, "Wow, that's great." Why is it great? And you can kind of dissect it, right? And all that can kind of inform you. I think being really curious about the world and looking and seeing how you can, you know, analyze it can be really helpful.
Mm-Hmm. And what I guess my last question for you is going to be like, what does the future of digital design and marketing, um, with the indigenous people leading the industry look like for you?
Well, you know, I definitely think some things could change. I really like the idea like we've talked about this, but like the idea of the circle, as you know, like in the workplace and thinking about sort of reassessing the hierarchies. I think that, I think that would like create a lot of really good things, you know, like everybody has a seat at the table, and I think that's a really nice idea. I think it would be nice to see just more Indigenous design like on the mainstream as a whole. Like, it's just cool, like it's just awesome. And yeah, I think that would be really interesting. I do feel like there's more growing voices like even like people will hit me up to, like, write about stuff or talk about things more and, you know, I feel like there's room for a whole lot more voices and there and there's going to be a whole lot more to be learned from that. And so I'm hoping people continue to make space for individuals because I do think it could be. I don't even know if I could imagine how it might be, but I think there's some good indications, though. Like just being able to be among really creative Indigenous people on a regular basis. I wish everybody could experience that, because it's just so beautiful to be, to see the beauty on a like on the daily practically. Or, I'm going to be a little like, you know, it's been the pandemic, so maybe not the daily, that's a little extreme, but you know, but on a regular basis. And sometimes I'm like, Wow, I wish that people could really see what it's like, because I think there's just so much that's beautiful about it. Like, it's like endless creativity, really?
Mm hmm. Yeah, I think that that's definitely a feature I also want to see. Okay, so how can our listeners reach out to you?
Well, you can find me at neebin.com. That's "N E E B I N" dot com. I don't really have too much of a social media presence like, so my website is the best spot I would say to find me. I do have a Facebook account and like, you could always reach out to me. I'm on LinkedIn for sure. So professional inquiries or, you know, students or whatever, like, I welcome that. So, yeah, connecting with me on my website or LinkedIn. Great options right there.
Alright, Neebin, so thank you so much for being on Marketing for All. I really enjoyed you sharing your experience and I'm, you know, very grateful for the time that you gave me today.
Yeah, I know. Thanks so much. It's been great talking with you. It's fun to see, hear like our differences and resonances. It's like, it's really cool. Yeah. And I look forward to seeing more of the work you do to.
In this episode, we got to meet artist and designer Neebin Southall. She talked about her journey growing up between cultures, as well as the importance of bringing cultural inspiration into digital design work to our listeners around the globe.
Thank you for supporting this podcast. You can find any of the resources were mentioned in that position, notes. I remember we posted the second Friday of every month until next time friends.
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