Popular media often relegates Native peoples to a historical context, or to stereotypes. Narratives that accurately portray or even recognize Indigeneity today are few and far between. “One of the reasons why I’m encouraged to participate within the realm of art is that there are generations of Native people who don’t get to see ourselves in a public sphere,” says Cannupa Hanska Luger, a mixed-media artist and enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Tribe. 

In one project centered on the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and trans and queer people, Luger invited affected communities to create clay beads to represent their lost loved ones. He then fired, stained, and compiled the beads into a massive mosaic portrait, completed in 2018. With each of the beads — more than 4,000 in total — representing a life, the artwork humanized the data behind the crisis. Many of his projects have been built on collective participation. 

Luger’s current work falls under an overarching theme he calls “future ancestral technology.” It’s an Indigenous futurism project, including a speculative narrative of the next 30,000 years in which colonialism collapses and society has an opportunity to rebuild. This and other works combine science fiction, technology, and Native knowledge and practices in what Luger calls “a way to share technology from my ancestors as we move into a world more desperate for sustainability.” 

This year’s Grist 50 features five short documentaries on innovators like Luger: emerging leaders — we call them Fixers — who are tackling climate and justice from every imaginable angle. Check out the video above to learn more about Luger and see some of his work.  

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