By Emma Castleberry
The Indigenous Walls Project was conceptualized as a simple community building gesture where we would invite artists to represent the diversity and culture of urban Natives without guiding or directing their vision,” says founder Jared Wheatley, a dual citizen of the Cherokee Nation and USA and a veteran of the US Air Force. When Wheatley shared this idea with his friend David Moritz, managing partner of East West Capital, Moritz offered up any of his properties for murals and Wheatley painted three: at 46 Aston Street, 207 Coxe Avenue and 217 Coxe Avenue. “No one knew how dry the grass was,” says Wheatley, “and the initial pieces, which simply state ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ (Cherokee Nation), were a spark that caught fire.”
The Indigenous Walls Project is meant to raise awareness of the existence of the 500 Indigenous nations that have always been on this land and their sovereign status. “We are dual citizens of our nations and the USA and we have the competency, skills and knowledge for self governance,” says Wheatley. “Native and Indigenous people and cultures are not a monolith, but communities whose appearance and cultural practices are as diverse as any of the nations you can find throughout the world.”
Wheatley adds that Asheville is uniquely positioned to be a leader in combating the media and rhetoric surrounding Indigenous people in the Americas by supporting Native public art movements such as this project. “It is our feeling that the syllabary may act as an awakening experience to the folks who take the time to engage and honor the concept that the Cherokee were stewards of this land for millenia prior to European contact,” says Wheatley. “The syllabary being placed throughout the South Slope and Downtown affords folks the opportunity to ask questions not only about our people (the Cherokee), but it also presents a platform for discussion about what sustainability and urban infill looks like.”
Moritz was surprised to find that there is very little obvious, public information available about Asheville’s Indigenous history. “The Indigenous Walls Project changes that by showcasing Indigenous art and language to anyone who walks the streets here now,” he says. But, Moritz adds, this can only happen if people donate wall space for the murals, which not only expands the project, but also enhances one’s property.
Wheatley is also working to plan and execute an Urban Indian Center in downtown Asheville where Indigenous peoples can connect to their Native ways and knowledge. The Indigenous Walls Project is starting to spread to other cities including Atlanta, St. Louis and Kansas City and continues to grow in Asheville. “The work can never be complete as it takes continual maintenance and focus to ensure that the Elders’ wisdom is received and transferred to the youth,” Wheatley says. “The Indigenous Walls Project is meant to be an intergenerational approach to healing, reclaiming and remembering.”
To support The Indigenous Walls Project, Wheatley recommends initiating open and candid conversations about Native rights with your friends and family, and also following @indigenouswallsproject on social media, sharing content and donating. Learn more and make direct contributions at IndigenousWallsProject.com.
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