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Zitkála-Šá at Better Days 2020

On February 10th, 2022, Better Days 2020 hosted an art competition to highlight prominent female leaders in Utah. Leila Fowler is a member of the Native American Navajo Diné tribe who won second place for her visual art submission. Leila is a hard-working and talented artist who has been “interested in art from a very young age.” For Leila, art is more than a class in school.

As a young Native artist, Leila wanted to draw attention to the valuable yet understated contributions that Native Americans—especially female Native Americans—continue to make in our community: “I am here to show my culture because a lot of people don't know much about Native Americans. I feel like everybody should know more about Native Americans and that they are a huge part of our history.”

Leila submitted a drawing of Zitkála-Šá, a Native American woman. The name Zitkála-Šá (zit-kah-lah-sah) translates to redbird in Lakota. Leila describes the contributions that Zitkála-Šá made to both Native and western cultures: “She was a Native American lady who was the first Native American person to write an opera, called the Sundance Opera. She also made books. She wrote a book called old Indian legends, talking about stories from Native Americans and their lives.” Zitkála-Šá was a member of the Yankton Dakota Sioux, and a notable writer, editor, translator, musician, educator, and political activist. During her life, she worked to safeguard Native American culture and expand opportunities for Native Americans by reforming social structures.

Leila describes the ways her art submission reflects important aspects of Zitkála-Šá’s life work and legacy. Because of her drawing winning second place, now others “can see all of the things that were important to her life—like her violin or her book, her notes, and the red birds to represent her name.”

Leila is learning from and following in the footsteps of Zitkála-Šá–Leila’s work encourages other Native artists to step into the public sphere and highlight their work, showing that Natives are not only part of the past, but an integral part of our current social and artistic community. Leila reminds us that, “everybody has their own style. So we’re all artists.”

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