Behind the Scenes: The Meaning Behind the Artwork
Updated: Jan 25
For a writer, I can be a woman of few words. Many of y’all have asked me what my designs mean. So, here is a running list of what each of my designs mean to me:
My Native Woman
I was tired of hearing “You don’t ‘look’ Native.” I have heard these comments all my life. Not just directed at me, but at many others. Whether of mixed or of mostly Native heritage, I have heard many people ignorantly labeled as looking “Mexican” or “Asian” by others, Native and non-Native. Native people have a dope sense of humor: one of the most beautiful things about our cultures. But what is pretty ugly is internalized oppression and negative self-talk hidden in so called “jokes.”
Hey, some of us do look Asian.... or White or Black or Mexican (and there are also those of us who are mixed with these and awesomely so!). But let’s finally stop buying into the stereotype that “REAL” Natives have long hair. That “REAL” Natives only have copper skin. That if we don't fit this ideal, we are somehow less Native and less valuable to our communities, to our one Mother Earth.
We are all children of Mother Earth and each variation (whether ethnicity, sexual orientation, educational background, or birth place) makes us STRONGER not weaker. There is STRENGTH in diversity; our ancestors knew this. Hence, the establishment of clan systems for identity and marriage/child rearing as well as the power of cross cultural exchange. It is important to remember that not only do these negative stereotypes seperate us as Indigenous peoples, but they are also the same damaging stereotypes that allow things like mascots and the oversexualization of Indigenous women to continue.
A deep skin tone is a sign you have been lovingly kissed by the sun; and then there are our sisters who have been kissed by the moon. Let's embrace long Indigenous hair which was forcibly cut; but let us also not exclude those who chose to keep it short. Let's not forget our relations who have cut their hair after loss of kin. Let’s not shame them with insinuations or silent judgement. When appreciating our language and culture, let’s remember those who have had land and children stolen, or whose tongue was beaten out of them, or who lost too many ceremonies in the fire of colonization, or who had too many grandparents taken by alcoholism before they could passed on their traditions. Let’s keep our minds open to different languages and cultures. Let’s listen before we speak and understand before we assume.
We're so much more than just a change in skin tone. Our sisters and brothers come also with constellations of freckles, thick waves, blonde and red hair, gray elder eyes and blue and green newborn eyes. So let's #decolonizeindigenousphenotypes.
Being Native is not a look: it’s your culture. It’s who you are and how you identify with the world around you. It's how you learn about who you are and how to honor your ancestors. No more pushing each other down or around. You are beautiful. You are sacred. You are dope. You are pure magic. And, most importantly, your ancestors love you.
Lululu / Lelele!
I'm a sucker for comics. And Black Indigenous woman of color (BIWOC) representation in comics?: all the doper. Whether you call it a "lulu" or "lele," this woman's warrior cry is heard throughout Africa and the "Americas."
Black and Indigenous people have fought together against colonization since 1492. Colonial violence has encroached upon and dehumanized Black and Indigenous bodies and homelands ever since. Though the term BIPOC has been around since 2013, seeing it resurface in a major and powerful way after George Floyd's murder brought a sense of solidarity during such a painful time.
However, being Black Indigenous hasn't always been love and solidarity. As a Black Sappony woman, my tribe and others on the east coast, who have been integrated with Black and Caucasion peoples for centuries, are more accepting as most people are mixed. But this isn't to say there isn't still colorism and other lateral oppression experienced. Living in the southwest for the last ten years as a Black Indigenous person has shown me that the history of internal oppression and colorism are also found here. Time and time again, I've experienced partner's family's who were Indigenous that rejected me because I was "part Black."
It's easy to think that after 2020, all that is behind us and that our communities are free from racism (see "How To Be Antiracist" by Ibram Kendi). But I still see the anti-Blackness, especially when designs or models aren't phenotypically seen as "Native" or don't get as much love. But like the "My Native Woman" designs teaches us, there is no "one look" for Indigenous or Black peoples.
We are all warriors against colonization if we chose to be and chose to let go of these colonized, racist ideas once and for all. We are all legtimate. We are all beautiful. Even more so, when we lulu / lele together.
In Sappony culture, the Dogwood flower represents spring, new life, and the time to plant corn. For me, it is a creative force of cyclical new beginnings where I can reinvent myself as a person and an artist.
In Gaelic and Norse culture, the Triquetra represents the eternal sacred balances within nature and warrior strength via Divine Power, respectively. This is our protective force which guards life and creation(s) aka art.
At the heart of my logo is an Andinkra symbol, originating from West African. This symbolizes sacred loyalty, cleverness, and artistic skill. These are the seeds planted by my ancestors. Seeds of prayer and humanity that became future generations. This is family: hé yampi, my heart.
The "Indige-" Series
In a world that is constantly trying to define us by outsider terms, this series was created to inspire Indigenous people to empower themselves to define themselves by their own terms. May “nobel savage,” “historic,” “poccahottie,” and “drunk” be forsaken. May “Indige-fresh,” “Indige-fly,” “Indige-ful” (beautiful), Indige-nessé (a collaboration with Lanova Yazzie, or whichever “Indige” you identify with, take precedent.
Because We Are Fresh. We Are Fly We Have Finesse. We can be classy and rezzy.
We are Loveable. We are Beautiful. We are Valuable. We are Powerful. We are all these and so much more.
Self-Love Sage Sisterhood Slay
I was inspired to bring these words to mind while thinking about IWISER. “What are the basics?” I thought.
Firstly, you gotta love yourself honey (SELF-LOVE). And that can only come about through connecting to the divine, through pray, reflection, and honoring tradition (SAGE). My momma always told me “Baby, you don’t go through things to only be lonely and stingy.” What she meant was: Share that light and love with others (SISTERHOOD).
With these three elements, there is no way the patriarchy, lateral oppression, or self-doubt can stop up: SLAY: (verb: the act of tearing down what is harmful to make room for new life and growth).
Bless the Matriarchy
The “Bless the Matriarchy” dress is a testament to the raw power of our life givers, healers, teachers, and warriors. I created the womb-shaped rose as a symbol of growth and to bring awareness to womb-related health issues (represented by the thorns) which are more prevalent amongst BIPOC. Like the bee 🐝 our bodies are impacted by colonization and environmental exploitation.
My womb retched.
I fell to my knees from the pain.
I was not in labor, no.
I was trapped in a cycle of imbalanced hormones,
false labor, the constant stress of which
threatened my very life and the life of my own children to come.
I crawled around outside in the direction of my front porch.
It was then that I noticed I was not alone.
There was a creature, a small bee,
crawling along there beside me.
Many times I had seen bees crawling dying as I walked by.
“Does anyone else see this?”
I often wondered aloud.
Tears coming to my eyes.
Most had not.
It was there, crawling amongst the gravel and cement,
that I realized: the bee and I are one in the same.
He the pollinator, directed by his queen.
I, the earth where the pollen grew and became a flower and food.
I realized that these pesticides, chemicals, resource extraction,
and failed attempts to tame and overthrow Mother Earth
were beating down on our bodies
like war tanks in soft earth.
Like oil drills piercing sacred mountain tops.
It was then I saw that our futures were inextricably linked.
To save our wombs we must save the bees.
In saving you, I save me.
Illustrated is a trio of roses in the shape of the female reproductive system. The roses include thorns, which symbolize the balance of the sweet and beautiful and the pain we can experience in womb health and in life. The red of the flowers also represents the blood spilled in violence against Black and Indigenous womxn, and is a homage to Miss and Murdered Indigenous and Black womxn and girls. The rain drops represent the tears shed. Despite these hardhsip we grow. We are also accompanied by our friends: the bees, who too are in mortal danger. Our existence as human beings and pollinators are inextricably linked.
Dominique Daye Hunter (Black, Sappony/Irish/Polish descent) is a poet/spoken word/hiphop artist, short story writer, and clothing line entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Indigenous Womxn In Solidarity Empowered + Rising and The LuLu Experience: Festival and Publication. Hunter is currently working on her B.S. in Nonprofit Leadership Management with an emphasis in American Indian Studies, and lives between the southeast + southwestern U.S. Follow her journey on Instagram @ddayehunter.