Jordan High Celebrates Native American Culture Through Art

by Meish Roundy

Utah’s Jordan High School, under the direction of the Center for Documentary Expression and Art, celebrated the completion of a Native American mural named “Sacred Images” Tuesday, Nov. 29 in Jordan High’s commons. Karen Sterling, the director of student advocacy and access from Jordan High, hopes the mural will “give all students the opportunity to have a greater awareness and appreciation of Native American history.”
The unveiling began with a Native American prayer said in Shoshoni and translated later into English by Rupert Steele.  Steele expressed thanks in his prayer that the “mural accomplishes school unity.”
Beginning two months ago, the project was overseen by resident artist Lee Madrid, under the direction of the Center for Documentary Expression and Art with cooperation from Canyons School District.
Madrid initially took students on a sacred images field trip to southern Utah to look at Native American art. The 10 students, which later became 15 students, were also taught after school about common Native American symbols in art.
Madrid was impressed with Jordan High’s students saying that, “they were open to the mural and the images flowed. The (mural’s) stories are touching, deep; full of cultural forgiveness, death, personal growth and economic struggles.”
Remarking on the night’s unveiling Madrid said. “I have only happy memories; except that it’s over.”
The painting includes a dream catcher, a Native American woman praying and an Indian chief but it also includes other symbols such as the American flag, piano sheet music, the Salt Lake City Latter-day Saint temple, and the artists’ faces gathered around a campfire.
Meghan Asbell, one of the student artists from Jordan High School, speaking about the mural said:  “At first we based the art on Native American tradition and then it grew into something else. Something that’s ours.”
Each of the student artists at the event signed the back of the mural twice: Once with their given name and a second time with a Native American handprint.
Leslie Kelen, head financer of the project and president of the Center for Documentary Expression and Art, said about the painting. “We share these images with young people to remind them we all come from the same stalk.”   He explained that the “sacred (Native American) images extend knowledge of ancient families.” and that “(The mural) reclaims and reuses ancient images of those that loved and died in Utah.”
Closing remarks and the prayer were offered by Steve Todachiny.  He expressed thanks for the tree in the center of the mural and described the tree’s multiple meanings in the Native American Culture. “ The tree is a foundation. Leaves change and represent the cycle of life.  It represents our protection and feeds us.”
The unveiling also included a Native American performing group called “Princess and Singers” along with refreshments.
The mural will hang in the Student Service Center in Utah’s Jordan High School.