Local Native artists win Spokane Arts awards

By Matthew Kincanon

SPOKANE, Wash. — Filmmaker Misty Shipman (Shoalwater Bay Tribe) and artist James Pakootas (Colville Confederated Tribes) received the Spokane Arts awards on Saturday night.

Sponsored by the Washington State Department of Commerce, the Spokane Arts Awards recognizes the accomplishments of creatives, arts and cultural organizations, and local individuals committed to enriching the community through the arts.

Misty Shipman wins the Spokane Arts Imagination Award

Misty Shipman holding her Spokane Arts Imagination Award. Courtesy of Shipman

For her work in the Spokane Arts community, Shipman won the Spokane Arts Imagination Award, which is presented to artists who have “an energizing and inspiring presence, jaw-dropping creativity, sky’s-the-limit approach, excellent execution of innovative ideas.” She has worked as a playwright, film and theater director, arts organizer, and event and program strategist.

As a Native Creative and Indigenous woman, Shipman said the award meant the world to her as it was heartening to see Native voices being honored, uplifted and recognized in the greater Spokane community.

“It feels right for an event taking place on Native land to honor Native creators,” she said. “It’s so important for our unique voices to be heard, and for recognition of our continuing connection to the land, water, and resources to be front and center.”

Upon receiving her award, she dedicated it to the Interior Salish people of the Pacific Northwest who have stewarded this land since time immemorial. She also advocated that the land be returned back to its original caretakers and restore balance to ecosystems and salmon to the rivers.

In her work as a filmmaker, Shipman seeks to uplift Indigenous voices, particularly women’s voices. She explained that she doesn’t represent all Native people, but speaks from her individual experience as a Native woman from Coast Salish people.

“I hope to tell stories that make other Indigenous people feel seen and represented, that reflect the important issues of our lives,” she said. “Those stories are intended for a Native gaze, and while they can be consumed by anyone, their audience is Native people.”

Shipman has worked on several films and projects in the Inland Northwest including “Blindfold,” “Waste Land,” and “The Handsome Man.”

“I want to spread a message of hope for our Native people that our ancestors and elders fought and continue to fight for us, and we need to run with that torch for the next generation and keep the flame burning, keep practicing our language, culture, and ways of knowing,” she said.  

“The Handsome Man,” starring Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon, Certain Women) and Evan Adams (Smoke Signals), will be shown at this year’s One Heart Native Arts & Film Festival on October 14 and 15 at the Magic Lantern.

James Pakootas wins the Spokane Arts Collaboration Award

Photo of James Pakootas. Courtesy of Pakootas

For his work, Pakootas received the Spokane Arts Collaboration Award which is presented to those who have collaborated with the arts community such as “creating and supporting partnerships, sharing resources, finding shared solutions, or bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘democratic participation’.”

When he creates music and film, Pakootas said his focus is collaboration and team building. Increasingly over the past year, he has been immersed in interdisciplinary work, as well as building two start-ups with business partners and fellow Tribal members; New Age Warriors and Filmdigenous. Both organizations focus on their artist collective that incorporates live music, dance, film, and poetry.

“Collaboration is at the heart of everything I do and an extension of who we are as Native Peoples, in my opinion,” Pakootas said.

As an artist, Pakootas tells stories – stories that empower, fascinate and “speak truth to our existence.”

“The core of my content speaks to resilience, a deep understanding of trauma, and connection: that never-ending pathway back to ourselves and our ancestors,” he said.

Pakootas wants other creatives to know that it’s okay to struggle in the arts industry, grow into their skills and question their process without limiting themselves.

For years, he struggled with his own identity as an artist and searched for the artistic discipline that defined his work, telling people that he was a variety of things including motivational speaker, hip hop artist, vocalist, rapper, producer or filmmaker.

“I would only see myself as the art form I was creating at the moment and only focus on one facet of my career at a time,” he said.

He recently realized he is all of these things and more, and that storytelling takes many shapes and forms.

With winning the award, Pakootas said he is extremely encouraged by conversations, recognition, and inclusion that’s beginning to happen in Spokane around art and culture.

“Seeing ourselves on these stages, leading creative projects & production teams, as well as centering our voices at these decision-making tables and conversations is a wonderful beginning to creating an ecosystem where black and brown lives feel seen, heard, and that our full selves are being welcomed into these spaces and into Spokane in general,” he said.

He gave a shoutout to Olivia Evans, associate producer at the Alliance for Media, Arts + Culture, for the nomination. He and the organization are in the process of pitching a collaborative project to the SAGA grant.

Pakootas has been recipient of other awards throughout his career as a hip hop artist and producer. He won the Native American Music Award (Nammy) for Best Hip Hop Music Video in 2019.

Aside from his work in the Spokane arts community, Pakootas has also collaborated with other artists such as the Dinè Jazz Rap fusion band D’DAT.

More information about the awards can be found on the Spokane Arts website.