Native American Heritage Month

Published November 25, 2020
Image of Native American groups, dancers, and performers with the text Native American Heritage Month written in script

November is Native American Heritage Month.

At the Carpenter Center, we recognize that our building sits on the land traditionally inhabited by the Tongva-Gabrielino people, originally known as the Kizh, People of the Willowhouse. 

Today we celebrate the artistic contributions of Indigenous and Native American artists, among them: Martha Redbone, who appeared on our stage in 2018; Maria Tallchief, a principal ballerina for New York City Ballet; rock group Redbone; and poet laureate Joy Harjo.

Martha Redbone

Martha Redbone’s music and storytelling combines the folk, blues and gospel influences from her childhood in Harlan County, Kentucky with the eclectic grit of pre-gentrified Brooklyn. Inheriting the powerful vocal range of her gospel-singing African American father and the resilient spirit of her mother’s Cherokee/Shawnee/Choctaw culture, Redbone broadens the boundaries of American Roots music. Redbone gives voice to issues of social justice, bridges traditions from past to present, connects cultures, and celebrates the human spirit. Her latest album “The Garden of Love—Songs of William Blake” is “a brilliant collision of cultures” (New Yorker). Redbone’s recent work has been predominantly in Theater. She is the Composer of Original Music and Score for the 2019 revival “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.”


The band Redbone was founded by brothers Candido Albelando Vasquez (Lolly Vegas) and Patrick Morales Vasquez (Pat Vegas) in the early 1960s. The members’ backgrounds include Cherokee, Yaquis, Apaches Shoshones, and more. Redbone mixes Rock music with R&B, Cajun, Jazz, Tribal, and Latin roots influences.

The group has had a major influence in contemporary and indie pop and rock: 

  • Lolly Vegas, playing improvised and jazz-influenced guitar, was one of the first guitarists to make extensive use of the distinctive Leslie rotating speaker effect in his electric guitar amplification set-up
  • Drummer Peter DePoe is credited with pioneering the "King Kong" style of drumming, which features sharply accented polyrhythms involving the bass and snare drums and is similar to funk styles of drumming
  • Pat Vegas' style of bass playing is still coveted by bass players around the world and taught in college music courses 

Redbone was inducted into the Native American Music Association Hall of Fame in 2008, and the New York Smithsonian in 2013. The band is still active today with members Fernando Verdialez, Vini Mars, Carlos Perez, and Lee Wilson. The latest album is Buffalo Bluz (2017).


Maria Tallchief 

Maria Tallchief was an American ballerina, considered American’s first major prima ballerina. As the first Native American (Osage Nation) prima ballerina, she revolutionized ballet. Born in Oklahoma in 1925, she moved to New York at 17 and spend the next five years with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where she met chorographer George Balanchine. When Balanchine co-founded what would become the New York City Ballet in 1946, Tallchief became the company’s first star. Her role as the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker is credited with transforming the ballet from obscure into America’s most popular and recognizable ballet work. She was also the first American to perform in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater and served as the director for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and received a National Medal of Arts. In 1996, Tallchief received a Kennedy Center Honor for her lifetime achievements.


Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019. She is the first Native American Poet Laureate in the history of the position. The author of nine books of poetry, several plays and children's books, and a memoir, Crazy Brave, Harjo has received the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, a PEN USA Literary Award, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writers’ Award, a Rasmuson US Artist Fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Harjo is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow. You can watch Joy’s inaugural reading as the 23rd Poet Laureate on the Library of Congress’s YouTube channel.


Red Sky Performance 

Red Sky Performance is a leading company of contemporary Indigenous performance in Canada and worldwide. Now in their 20th year of performing dance, theatre, music and media, Red Sky creates inspiring experiences of contemporary Indigenous arts and culture that transform society and elevate Indigenous arts and culture. Red Sky Performance was founded by  Sandra Laronde (Misko Kizhigoo Migizii Kwe) from the Teme-Augama-Anishinaabe (People of the Deep Water) in Temagami, northern Ontario.

Since 2003 Red Sky Performance have toured across Canada and in 17 countries on four continents, including two Cultural Olympiads (Beijing and Vancouver), World Expo in Shanghai, Venice Biennale, and Jacob’s Pillow, among others. The company is the recipient of 16 Dora Mavor Moore awards and nominations, two Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, and the Smithsonian Expressive Award, among other recognitions.


Christopher K. Morgan 

Christopher K. Morgan has over 25 years of performance and directing experience which he brings to his roles as Executive Artistic Director of CKM&A and Director of the Dance Residency Program at Art Omi. Of Native Hawaiian ancestry, Morgan grew up in Orange County, California. He has brought his choreography to over 18 counties in works that address sexuality, gender identity, race, climate change, immigration, and water conservation. He has performed with Liz Lerman Dance and as a soloist for New York City Operas among others, on the small screen and in feature films.


Learn more

The artists above represent only a fraction of the many Native American, Alaskan, Hawaiian, as well as indigenous peoples of South America and beyond, who have had a profound influence on the performing arts. We honor their contributions and include additional reading and listening below.

Listen to the wide-ranging contributions of Native American musicians in this Spotify playlist curated by the ACLU’s own Native and Indigenous staff. For even more, we've put together an additional playlist of some of our favorite music by Native American singer/songwriters.

Who are your favorite Native American artists? Who would you like us to bring to the Carpenter Center? Send us an email and let us know!