First Peoples Fund recognizes Native artists with Community Spirit Award

George Martin
George Martin

RAPID CITY, S.D. — For 25 years the First Peoples Fund (FPF) has focused on honoring and supporting Native American artists throughout the United States. As part of that goal, FPF awards a special grant to artists that have shown their commitment to their communities, the Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award.

First Peoples Fund began the Community Spirit Award in 2000, naming it after the organization’s founder Jennifer Easton. The award is meant to recognize the work of Native artists who are keeping their culture alive and positively impacting the lives of their people.

President of First Peoples Fund Lori Pourier says “The Community Spirit honorees are the ones who continue and carry on the culture and teachings and the knowledge of our communities, passing on the language and tradition-based practices.”

More than 100 artists from 65 tribal nations across the United States have been honored and received the $7,500 grant over the last 20 years. For the recipients, the Community Spirit Award usually comes as a surprise.

For George Martin of the Lac Courtes Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, he will always be grateful to First Peoples Fund.

“It was a great honor for me to receive the award,” Martin said. “I never thought anything like that would ever happen to me. I’ll always remember that.”

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Courtesy of George Martin

Martin has been teaching and giving back to many groups for decades, passing on traditional teachings and ceremonies to anyone willing to learn. His beadwork is just one aspect of Martin’s understanding of his culture, as his mother and uncles taught him everything he knows about his people. He continues to pass on this knowledge at powwows, universities, and visits to seven different tribes.

Martin’s lessons have also touched veterans across the Midwest. When Martin was publicly honored as a Community Spirit Award recipient, veterans from across the nation came to take part in the ceremony and thank him for his work.

“Oftentimes we find out that they [the recipients] work tirelessly and give selflessly in their community for 30 years or more,” Pourier says.

Another honoree, Norma Blacksmith of the Oglala Lakota has donated hundreds of quilts for a variety of reasons such as graduation ceremonies, birthdays or wakes. She has also been one to honor tribal presidents and veterans with star quilts.

Norma Blacksmith

Norma Blacksmith

Blacksmith’s skills were passed down from her mother, who was the only woman in her community who made quilts when she was growing up. Combining her own artistic style with traditional designs has allowed Blacksmith to share and preserve her Lakota culture in many places across the nation, including the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Blacksmith felt incredibly honored to be one of the few recipients for the Community Spirit Award, and recognizes the support First Peoples Fund gives to artists.

“What they are doing is really encouraging for us as artists, to know that they care,” Blacksmith says. “They care enough to honor us and they care about what we’re doing because what we do tells a story of who we are.”

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Courtesy of Norma Blacksmith

If you know an artist that deserves to be recognized for the work they do for their community, you can nominate them by clicking HERE. Nominations are due by August 7.


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