Indigenous sovereignty mural to be unveiled at UWM Merrill Hall

NOW: Indigenous sovereignty mural to be unveiled at UWM Merrill Hall

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- After a move from one school building to another, the American Indian Student Center at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee decided to add some color to the walls of their new home.

Thursday marked the unveiling of two new pieces of art by native artist, Sam Zimmerman, of northern Minnesota's Ojibwe nation.

"We're reclaiming our culture, we're celebrating our culture, we're teaching our culture," Zimmerman said.

He is the first native artist in residence for a new series celebrating indigenous sovereignty.

"Sam is a storyteller, and you can see the stories represented in the paintings, and I just find that incredibly empowering," said Sharity Bassett, manager of the American Indian Student Center.

Zimmerman created two paintings in three weeks; a small goldfinch to represent native language classes, and a larger mural, titled "We Gather to Share."

"I wanted to celebrate that place of coming together around a fire," Zimmerman said.

The image of a native elder sitting by a fire dons hidden odes to local culture, from 53 pine trees representing 53 years of the Student Center, to the 11 eagle feathers on the Elder's sleeve.

"It's to celebrate the original 11 indigenous students that were here 40 years ago," Zimmerman said.

At least two more native artists are scheduled for similar residencies this year.

"We plan to have as many as it takes to fill the space up with native art," Bassett said.

While honoring native students, the new art serves as a reminder that UWM sits on native land.

"Because we are such a small portion of the United States population and Milwaukee population, it's wonderful to see representation here," said student Haley Tovar, who serves as the American Indian Student Center's treasurer.

"I hope they feel that they have a place here," Zimmerman said.

The paintings will be at the American Indian Student Center's community breakfast event this Saturday, where Zimmerman will give the keynote address.

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