Joyce Arndt: Artist, Survivor

Member of the Ojibwe Nation

3Generations recently interviewed Joyce about her wolf painting project

3G: Joyce, you devoted an entire art show to wolf paintings. Why did you do that?

JJA: The last art show that I did and I chose to do it totally on wolves, and that was inspired by the fact that last fall they lifted the ban on wolf hunting and they opened it up. I felt, for one thing, I’m against it, but I also felt that they didn’t give the wolf population enough chance to replenish itself. I’m also very curious about what they do with the wolves when they hunt them. I have a lot of questions in my mind about why they’re being hunted and I just, I just wanted to be bring more attention. In fact, I wanted people to be able to see the positive in the beautiful part of the wolf culture and that’s why I chose to do my whole show about wolves. And my next show, which will be this fall in Bemidji, Minnesota, I’m also going to devote that entire exhibit to wolves also.

3G: Why are wolves your favorite animal to paint?

JJA: Wolves are my favorite, they are absolutely my favorite animal, creation to paint. I like the the movement, the depth of them, I love how their fur is, I just love them. I think they’re beautiful. Visually I think that they’re a very beautiful, beautiful animal and I enjoy the colors. The colors are just so beautiful and so different. Each wolf is different. They have black wolves, white wolves, the grey wolves. They’re all beautiful.

3G: What is your personal relationship to wolves?

JJA: My relationship actually started when I had gotten a puppy for my daughter when she was about, she was about nine years old and a friend of mine had sled dog puppies, and they were part wolf and part husky and I bought her one. And, knowing that it was part wolf just really meant a lot to me that Misha, her name was Misha, that she was part wolf and to me it’s like the wildness, the the stereotype of the wolves and the wildness I’m, drawn to. But mainly because of the beauty of it and the wildness of it, not necessarily the predator part for their own survival. That’s the only way I see them as a predator, not as the little red riding hood wolf, which was totally fictional. But a story I wrote about wolves this morning reflects true stories that have been told to me by people who have encountered wolves in the wild and didn’t feel at all threatened and felt at total peace. They didn’t feel that the wolf was going to attack them at all and they made eye contact and then they both walked respectfully away from each other, but it was that contact. I would love to have a moment like that. The only time I have seen wolves personally were when they were in captivity. There’s a wolf place up in Ely, Minnesota where there are wolves kept in captivity and I feel bad for them, but it’s the only time I would be able to see a real wolf, but I would love to see one in the wild and I wouldn’t be afraid of it either.

3G: What are the differences between the American perception of the wolf and the significance of the wolf for Native Americans?

JJA: The American’s hunting of the wolf started many years ago for money. They were paid a lot of money for their fur and they used the fur for all kinds of things. I don’t think they needed it but they liked it. And the people that hunted and trapped these animals were paid very well for it. The Native people, they used these beautiful animals as part of their survival history. They used wolves for clothing, for their housing, they used them for survival. I don’t know enough about long ago when they would hunt them but and I think also they probably got caught up in the value of the furs that were paid to them by Europeans that wanted the wolf fur. When the Europeans came to the country they brought a lot things that I feel were very attractive to Native American people and they were new things and they got caught up in a type of exchange, the bartering system, a different way of survival from when they got things from their hunt. So I think in the process of using the wolves for their own survival, they got caught up in the bartering system where they could acquire things if they had like wolf fur.

3G: Did that affect the wolf population?

JJA: I do believe it did. I’m not sure exactly which year it was that they had determined the the wolf population to be endangered. I don’t know how long they were on the Endangered List, but I know that last year they were removed from that from the Endangered List. I fear anytime they remove any animals, not only wolves, but other animals as well. I believe that we need to protect all creation. There’s a different system in Native culture. There is the example of the buffalo, where every piece was used.

3G: You’ve said before that wolves are like part of your family. Can you expand on that?

JJA: Yes, the Native people believe all of creation is like family. The value that they have for creation is equal to the value that they hold for their dear family members like the eagle, the hawk, even the smallest of the animals that they honor. If they do have to kill something, they always thank the Creator for making that provision for whatever they’re going to use that animal for. They viewed it as, the Creator was allowing it to be killed, and they would be very thankful and they would have ceremonies honoring the Creator for these gifts. It’s like if they killed a bear and the tribe was like hungry and didn’t have any food and someone killed a bear and they would have a celebration and thank the creator for providing for them. It’s not something they would do to a human family member. They’re not like that. But they are referred to as Brother Wolf um and I did ask someone last Fall about the clan because my friend Tom Mason is from the Wolf Clan and I did ask, and I’ll ask a man from the Red Lake about the clan system. I think there’s like about three to four hundred clans and they go way back, way back. And there’s all kinds of rules. You could not marry someone from the same clan as you. There are Wolf clans from all over the country, but you cannot marry someone that was from your clan, there was all kinds of rules. And I’ve been learning a little bit more about the wolf and how they are revered. They really do hold them up in very high regard.

3G: Did you use your art show a form of protest?

JJA: Yes I did. And I even told people that um that everyone was invited, even people on both sides. People that were against the wolf hunt and also the people that were supportive of it because I really think it’s important to talk about it and not just take sides. But it’s very important to communicate about it. I don’t think there’s enough wolf attacks to justify killing 400 wolves in one season. I just cannot possibly see the justification there.Wolves have been known to attack farm animals and that’s one of the things that they do, but they don’t do it enough to justify killing 400 of them.

3G: Where is the hunting allowed and when did they restart the hunting?

JJA: They restarted it, they opened it up last fall. I don’t know the exact date, but I know it was cold because I was freezing out there protesting. We had protestors at all the Reservations trying to get peoples’ attention. We wanted the Reservation to be considered sovereign that you could not hunt wolves on the Reservation. We wanted that to be a protected area for wolves and nothing was changed. The protesting did not accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. We were very fortunate we got attention, we had a radio station from Bemidji that came by and filmed us protesting and did some stories on it and we’ve had activists speak up for the wolves. We’ve had a lot of media attention but nothing was changed or nothing was accomplished. We didn’t get anything out of this and maybe just next year when we protest we’ll do a little more but I don’t know. I don’t know what else to do. What I want to do as an artist and as a Native American is just show the beauty of the wolves, show that they’re beautiful. And if can do that, I’m hoping that in time people will see them as beautiful creatures. Beautiful creations. And hopefully become more aware of what we’re doing to them. What we all as a human race are doing to these animals. They have their own family systems you know? They don’t deserve it. The only part that I can do is go out on the highway and hold up my sign and I can paint wolves and show their beauty. That’s pretty much what I can do and if that just changes anything, just makes anyone’s heart softer towards the wolves, then I’ve accomplished my little part. I will just keep on painting wolves as long as I can paint.

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