Award winning artist Hillary Kempenich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Kempenich is an engaged activist who uses her art both within and beyond her community to support what matters most to her, like access to the arts, education, social justice, and Native issues.
We are so honored that she’ll be joining us in Los Angeles next month. She shared a bit with us about what motivates her vision for a better world, and what she hopes to contribute and gain from the Upswell experience.
Q: What drives you, what are you working on, and why are you inspired to make the world a better place?
HK: As an Anishinaabe artist, raised on the Turtle Mountain reservation, now living in a more urban community in a rural state, I have realized that it is important that I use my creativity to enlighten, educate and inspire change. Living and representing a life of perseverance, compassion, resistance, and resilience as an Indigenous woman is what instills pride within me, and has given me a foundation that has led to success and happiness. With the obstacles and inequity in the life that many Indigenous women lead, I have found a way to navigate through the waters whether turbulent or calm. As an artist, I am a first responder to what happens in society, and I use my artwork as a catalyst for conversation.
Q: Who are your three favorite changemakers in history (living or deceased) – and very briefly, why?
HK: Chief Little Crow, who I am a descendent of, worked for his community during extreme transitional changes as colonization set into the Midwest. With his community, he stood up against the crimes happening to his people, leading to the Dakota War of 1862.
Louis Riel, a relative, stood up for human rights that were specific to Indigenous People and Metis People. His resilience and organization against the Canadian government ultimately led to preservation of land and rights for our people, and he was named the founder of Manitoba.
Lastly, Indigenous women are my favorite changemakers. I will not specify one, as historically speaking and in contemporary times, we are taking a stand for future generations as survivors of ancestors. I am honored to be living in a time where so many Indigenous women are empowered and raising others up with them.
Q: Besides the obvious (more funding), what’s the one resource that would really help your community thrive?
HK: Inclusion needs to be part of a fruitful community. Welcoming diversity can develop inclusivity into community-based institutions and city government while integrating global change. This development can include cross cultural work, furthering sustainability and innovation throughout our community. It is important that we shift our society to establish strong relationships with everyone. To assist in creating a thriving community, we must make accessible connections to our history, community and land. Often leaders, and make-shift leaders, silo their thought processes and intentions. Through exclusivity, we become further divided, and that halts the potential for progress. We need to embrace all assets, which includes ALL people, from every part of this world.
Q: If you could walk away from Upswell with one big thing (and idea, relationship, new skill, etc.), what would it be?
HK: Active support from those who have faith in the work that I, and other artists, have a place in any and all institutions, communities, and so forth—especially those of us residing in rural communities/states. This active support could be in the form of financial, promotional, or guidance and peer support.