November is National Native American Heritage Month. In 1990, this national month-long observance was created to acknowledge and celebrate the rich histories, diverse cultures and noteworthy contributions of indigenous communities. By leveraging the power of community partnerships and creative placemaking—the integration of arts and culture to engage communities—permanent Levitt venues have had the privilege of collaborating with Native American artists and organizations to help bring indigenous arts and culture into the spotlight. Read on to learn about the inspiring partnerships and performers that have brought indigenous arts to three permanent Levitt venues this past summer.
Last July, Levitt Shell Sioux Falls launched its inaugural season in the heart of South Dakota’s most populous city, where over 4,000 residents are members of the Lakota, Dakota and other indigenous tribes. One of the biggest highlights of its season included a record-breaking performance by eclectic local five-piece band, Brulé. Led by Sioux Falls native Paul Laroche (Lakota), the group fuses traditional Native American drumbeats, flute melodies and vocalizations with classic rock. Paired with Native American dance troupes, this award-winning local favorite delivered a vibrant performance that attracted approximately 8,000 concertgoers, making it the most attended concert of the inaugural season.
In August, Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles celebrated the 55,000 Native Americans living in Los Angeles by partnering with United American Indian Involvement Inc. (UAII) to present Natives in The Now, a festival highlighting the traditional and contemporary Native American tribes and cultures of Los Angeles. Founded in 1974 by two American Indian women, Babba Cooper (Lakota) and Marian Zucco (Paiute), UAII is the largest provider of human and health services for American Indians/Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) living in LA County (home to the largest U.S. concentration of persons of American Indian descent.) In addition to offering these services at the Levitt LA event, UAII also provided Levitt LA with curatorial direction for the festival’s musical and performance program. According to UAII’s Joseph Quintana, their program focused on “show[ing] Native performers across a variety of genres and pick[ing] performers who had given back to the community. We were particularly interested in Los Angeles-based artists that could lend a voice to impactful issues.”
With a land blessing from the elders of the Tongva/San Gabrieleno tribes, the Natives in the Now festival featured moving performances by Pima/Taiwanese singer-songwriter Raye Zaragoza and Native Californian blues artist Tracy Lee Nelson. Combining her passions for music and social justice, Zaragoza rose to fame with her 2017 track, “In the River: A Protest Song,” written in response to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. With her resonant vocals and socially-conscious lyrics, Zaragoza performed a memorable show. Multi-talented artist Nelson—a Smithsonian-recognized sculptor, former Tribal Chairman of the La Jolla Indian Reservation and past member of Redbone—shared his indigenous experiences through his Native American inspired blues.
In early September, Levitt Pavilion Denver partnered with the Denver Indian Center Inc. (DICI) and the Southwest Improvement Council (SWIC)—two well-respected cultural centers for the AI/AN community—to host Indian Country Colorado for the first time. With approximately 2,000 people in attendance, this all-day event celebrated Native American culture and music with an arts fair and performances by indigenous drummers and dancers, as well as acclaimed Native American rock band Redbone and Crow guitarist Cary Morin, who performed his signature style of jam, reggae, jazz, blues, bluegrass and dance music dubbed ‘Native Americana.’
Southwest Improvement Council Executive Director, Larry Ambrose shared that events like Indian Country Colorado not only serve and engage the communities they represent, but they also foster a sense of pride in the history and traditions of Denver’s indigenous community. Denver Indian Center’s Executive Director Rick Waters added that these events “bring more visibility to a much misunderstood and invisible community like the American Indian/Native American community. The sharing of culture through the arts is a way to reach the non-Indian community in an effective and real time way.” Through establishing partnerships with reputable Native American organizations that are actively serving Denver’s AI/AN community, Levitt Denver was able to highlight the indigenous arts and culture of the 7,000 indigenous people residing in the city.
Levitt stages reflect the rich diversity of the communities they serve—recognizing the importance of the arts to the wellbeing of a community and the power of representation. As community-driven organizations, Levitt venues also understand that community partnerships are essential to bringing meaningful arts programming to community members of all ages and backgrounds. We are thrilled to see how permanent Levitt venues around the nation are collaborating with revered indigenous artists and organizations to bring Native American arts and culture to their communities all season long.