BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Wild rice is sacred to the Native American cultures of the western Great Lakes.
So Native American artist Shirley Brauker knew just which image to enter in a poster art contest on the theme “Land of the Great Water — Sustainer of Life.”
Brauker’s acrylic-on-canvas painting, “The Rice Gatherers,” depicts three Native American women harvesting wild rice with “beaters” in a birch bark canoe. A “rice spirit,” the face of a woman with hair of rice, looks on from below the water’s surface.
The image will be featured on 16,000 posters distributed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to commemorate American Indian Heritage Month in November.
“We were judging on the realistic portrayal of something related to Native American heritage in Michigan as well as creativity, originality and craftsmanship,” said Sandy Penn, outreach coordinator for Michigan Natural Resources Conservation Service and a contest judge. “It was tough, but the painting by Shirley really hit the mark. In Michigan we work a lot with tribes on establishing wild rice in places it used to be. It’s a big wildlife practice and a big cultural practice in Michigan tribes.”
Brauker, of Coldwater, is a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee and a longtime instructor for the band’s summer Anishinaabe Language Camp. She also teaches at Indian Village Camp, another summer camp in Manistee that teaches all things Native American. Directed by her son, Austen Brauker, the camp often serves wild rice — called “manoomin” in Anishinaabe — cooked over a campfire.
“It’s been a staple as far as nourishment and feeding the people, like the sturgeon and the bear and the deer,” said Shirley Brauker, 63, who earned $2000 for the rights to her image. “In this area it was more plentiful a long time ago.”
Penn said the poster will be displayed at NRCS offices and taken to schools by field and state staff so that customers, students and others can learn about the cultural importance of wild rice. It also will be shared through NCRS liason officers with each of the 12 federally recognized tribes.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service came out of the Dust Bowl to help property owners with conservation to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and provide wildlife habit. It has sponsored an annual poster contest since 1992, Penn said. Every year a different state produces the poster from entries by Native American artists in the state.
“It’s a way to teach our employees something about the culture and working with tribes and pulling in our partnerships with tribes and to encourage tribes to work with NCRS,” she said.
Brauker, who has a master’s degree in art from Central Michigan University, started out as a painter but took her first pottery class 30 years ago. Now she owns Moon Bear Pottery & Indian Arts in Coldwater and conducts workshops across the country. Her art also includes drawing, beading and stained glass, all with Native American themes.
Her winning painting, based on an original pencil drawing, was unveiled Thursday at the band’s new Government Center north of Manistee. Posters from the image are expected to be ready for distribution to 2,900 NRCS offices as far away as Guam and Samoa by mid-October.
“It’s important,” Brauker said. “It represents the Native American in the Great Lakes and we get to show the other states what we’re proud of and what we do.”