Dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts Remains Politically Active

Nov 9th, 2015 | By | Category: Online TC News, Tribal College News, Web Exclusive
By Eric Davis

The Institute of American Indian Arts’ (IAIA) Charlene Teters (Spokane) is a nationally-known artist and educator whose relationship with IAIA dates back to 1984 when she first attended as an undergraduate. Teters is also an activist. Since being named as IAIA’s academic dean, she has not relinquished any of these roles.

Recently, Bust.com named Teters as one of the “5 Amazing Indigenous Women to Celebrate Instead of Christopher Columbus,” alongside such notable candidates as Anacaona (Taino), Sacagawea (Shoshone), Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee Nation), and Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabekwe Ojibwe).  She graduated from IAIA in 1986 with an Associate of Fine Arts in painting. Teters then attended the College of Santa Fe (now Santa Fe University of Art and Design), graduating in 1988 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting. She also holds an honorary doctorate in fine art from Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut.

Teters’ activism began when she started her graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Art and Design, where she eventually graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting. In 1989, she reacted strongly to a European American student dressed up as university mascot “Chief Illiniwek.” The student performed a pseudo-Native American dance at a university basketball game. Soon thereafter, Teters began to protest silently outside athletic events, holding a small sign that read, “Indians are human beings.” Her actions, and those of other Native students at the University of Illinois, led to a strong upswing in efforts to eliminate Native American mascots in school, university, and professional athletics throughout the United States.

Eventually, Teters became a founding board member of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media (NCRSM), which was created to fight the powerful influence of major media who choose to promote messages of Native American oppression. Holding demonstrations and marches outside numerous sports stadiums across America, the NCRSM has influenced the education effort on racial stereotyping and made it a household discussion topic. The ultimate goal of the NCRSM is to stop the desecration of spiritual practices and the use of feathers, paints, dances, music, and instruments in an incorrect context. The NCRSM also seeks to stop the use of Indigenous mascots in schools because they feel it is promoting the wrong ideals and images of Native people and because it inaccurately portrays history to the youth of America.
Due to her commitment and her efforts on behalf of her people, Teters was named “Person of the Week” during the ABC World News Tonight program on October 10, 1997. More recently, during an NFL game between Minnesota and Washington, she helped organize a protest against the use of Native American caricatures as mascots. And earlier this year, Teters led a demonstration in Cleveland, protesting the city’s Major League Baseball mascot.

Teters’ paintings and art installations have been featured in over 21 major exhibitions, commissions, and collections. Additionally, Teters was the first Artist-in-Residence at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. When asked about her actions and inspiration, Teters says, “If you are looking for inspiration, look to your own history…we have many heroes and SHEroes amongst our own people. What a privilege to be mentioned alongside these important and powerful Sheroes of mine.”

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