Hi Sadie! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sadie Red Wing (She/Her/Hers). I am a citizen of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, of Fort Totten, North Dakota. I identify as Lakota, for I was raised in Central South Dakota (Lakota Territory) along the Missouri River—more specifically, the Bad River (Wakpa Sica).
Currently, I am a Visiting Assistant Art Professor at the University of Redlands, California. I teach courses such as: Indigenous Perspective in Visual Communication, Inclusive Art & Design, and Introduction to Visual Sovereignty (Spring ’19). Previously, I worked as the Assistant Director of the Native Student Programs at UORedlands.
What was your experience like as an emerging designer?
As an emerging designer, I’ve had an interesting pathway within the past couple years. I started my journey leaving North Carolina State University with my thesis: “Learning the Traditional Lakota Visual Language through Shape Play”. I was fortunate to be mentored under Denise Gonzales Crisp as she introduced me into the realm of design research. Following NCSU, Elizabeth Dori Tunstall reached out to me, and took me under her wing by training me on ethics of Respectful Design. She matured and boosted my confidence to become an advocate for the underrepresented voices in design research. She has helped me find areas to share my voice and scholarly experience on Diversity/Inclusion/Equity, methods of Respectful Design, Inclusive Design, Decolonizing Design, and Indigenous Perspective in Design by providing me platforms to speak at conferences and guest lectures. Each of these conversations have come naturally to me, for my life experience is responsive to the activity of each movement.
My presence in the design research world is still developing, just like my presence in the higher education world. As a Native American student, researcher, scholar, and now professor, there are challenges being “unique” in education. First, many design and art schools are not structured to keep the retention of minority students due to the lack of resources available for non-western perspective students. It does get frustrating and lonely as a student wanting to gain an art/design degree when all we learn is European Design History, or American Art History that doesn’t include any other cultural perspective.
I feel if there were more indigenous professors, more indigenous scholarship resources, and more indigenous student populations in universities, we would have a greater experience in higher education. Instead, as an indigenous student, I was tokened to be the expert in my areas of interest due to the lack of educational material on indigenous design/art. For example, while at NCSU, I wanted to conduct more research on terms like: decolonization, decolonialism, visual sovereignty, repatriation, etc. The majority of my cohort and mentors were unaware of those terms. So, I was put in the position of being the “educator” [to teach them these concepts]. In these situations, you are no longer learning. Your growth is stunted because you are teaching. I spent more time explaining myself and less time gaining an education to catch up with the rest of my cohort.
To this day, I find myself in positions of not having the resources to conduct greater research because, at times, I do not have access to materials to complete a research project. There is a lack of indigenous scholars in design research, which is a setback for us. Now, my generation of indigenous students (millennials) are in positions to build and create these resources at a fast pace, for we are fighting extinction.
The stress of losing a culture is a burden on my generation because the responsibility to survive is in our hands. Others may not know, or will ever know, what this stress feels like. There is a demand for my generation to make change to this world. I believe the place to start making change is in education and using design as a way to save cultures. But, in order to use design to solve problems, you need to educate those who design for various demographics… hence the trends of “design-thinking” or “empathy”. I never understood how design research can be conducting “design-thinking” or “empathy” research when majority of our cultural perspectives are NOT acknowledged in the design curriculum.
That is my reasoning for being present in both Higher Education and Design. I find Art/Design schools are good examples of colonized education, and my life time of researching is to learn how to decolonize that education.
Has your experience of teaching influenced and/or impacted the way you think about students, professional development and diversity and inclusion/equity?
With two years of teaching, student counseling, and public speaking under my belt, I’m confident to admit that there is much work that needs to be done for the sake of the upcoming generations. The amount of change that needs to be done for educational institutions in America is intimidating and hard to stomach at times, but, looking on the beautiful side, there’s always work that needs to be done. This is what makes advocacy work so active! I have a To-Do List of Changing the World, and from the looks of it, it may take more than my lifetime to make education for Native American Students safe and fruitful.
Some impactful thoughts that keep my motivation running:
- Why do we still have inaccurate history books sitting on the shelves in the libraries?
- Why are indigenous histories, cultures, pedagogies, and ethics written wrong, by white scholars, and are still being cycled in research? (This scares me. If I know my culture/race is written wrong in history books… How many OTHER cultures/races are written wrong, too? Yet, we still cite those resources in scholarly work?)
- How can my students do research on their traditional cultural symbolism when our libraries do not supply indigenous works?
- Who has a dominance in research resources? (Someone find me a graphic design text book that shares Native American design ethics that is written by a Native American Design Researcher before the year 2000.)
My indigenous students cannot succeed without the resources they need for school. I do my best to make sure they have what they need to be as successful as the majority of students. Sometimes that means I have to create the resources myself—which is exhausting. We need more educated indigenous scholars to create a better environment for indigenous students. But, how can we even have educated indigenous scholars when we can’t even keep the students in school? It’s a cycle that needs to be broken. The students don’t need a European education. They need their OWN education.
What do you think educators and managers need to understand about working with students and emerging designers from underrepresented backgrounds?
I think educators and managers need to understand that other races/cultures/ways of identifying are going to bring various perspectives. Sometimes, those perspectives introduce other ways of thinking that may be hard for others to understand. The reason those perspectives are hard to understand is because they have the education of history that dates back thousands of years before European Contact.
Take time into consideration, for example. American’s jingle: “Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492!”. To me, I assume that’s when American History started, 1492. We haven’t reached 2492, yet! American History is not 1,000 years old yet! 2018-1492 = 526. Technically, American History is only 526 years old—still fresh and fairly new.
Because America is still fairly new, there’s many of us who know, and keep our knowledge to ourselves, of how our culture was for thousands of years before 1492. America, today, has no outlets for our knowledge because of the way society is today—very advanced technology, consumer, and capital driven.
Let me try to explain: Think about Manifest Destiny, or when the Whites came to take our land. The time between colonial settlement to the invention of the internet is only a couple hundred years. That short gap of time feels like America has existed for much longer, or that’s the impression I get from those who tell us underrepresent folks to “get over it’ or “it’s in the past”. But, just as I said, America is still in its early childhood stages.
We’ve been moving super fast in our society because of technology. Technology has trended and developed at rapid pace—to the point now that the dominant demographic has to relied on it to survive. Now, as technology advances even more, who is it advancing for? Obviously not for the indigenous folks because our human race was expected to be extinct by the time of future-trend technology. Think about it: Indigenous folks were never in the conversations of how the technology would help us (but we managed to figure it out ourselves), and we were never expected to make to 2018. Now that we did, and people don’t know what to do with us. They never thought about us in their planning for the future.
Long story short: Americans do not understand that when you have an indigenous designer present, we are trying to cram THOUSANDS of years of knowledge into a 300-year framework of technology. It doesn’t all fit perfect like a puzzle. It is challenging because we don’t think how Europeans think. We are FORCED to TRY to think like them though colonized education, but that’s only becomes a trade or a way of practice, not how my mind ACTUALLY thinks. If we are expected to think like Westerners, then that’s only ONE perspective. The reasoning for thinking ONE WAY, is so that technology can be used by ONE human. The dominant human.
As it is 2018, and I’m still experiencing America brushing my people under the rug.
There are little efforts of motivation to change society with realization that many of us are continuously beating genocide. This is the reason why it is hard for us to be included in education because we defeated the odds! We need the materials to be sustainable. Unfortunately, we are struggling to gain those materials because we are constantly running into speed bumps: exploitation, no trust with government, no human rights, stereotypes, cultural appropriation, offensive mascots, racism, etc.
All of that is stress. As underrepresented designers we bring that extra stress with us into spaces. I would suggest making spaces comfortable to allow designers with sensitivities to explore, learn, and grow in a way that is comfortable for them. We need more spaces to relieve stress.
What is your advice for emerging designers?
My advice to emerging designers is to question what your responsibilities and powers are.
- What is your purpose?
- Design is a very powerful tool, especially when it comes to human existence,.. are you using the tool in an appropriate way—to problem solve and communicate?
- Design, Media, and Art are powers that are easily abused. This abuse can be harmful to other humans—I’m one of the victims. Where is your heart in this practice?