EC0506 – Protective Threads: Exploring Indigenous Fashion and Advocacy with Bobby Brower and Tara Trudell

[Opening strum of Theme Music]

[00:00:00] Bobby Brower: I create fashion to uplift our people, to uplift my people, to uplift the younger generations so that they know that our culture’s beautiful or there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We should be proud of who we are and where we come from. 

[00:00:16] Tara Trudell: The one thing that they have taught me is that violence against women and children is 100% preventable.

[00:00:22] And it blows me away that we don’t talk about that. It blows me away that human trafficking is done by people that we know and love and trust, and we don’t have these conversations. But with the beads, I can take those research data stories and I can make them into something that we have to have a conversation about now.

[Theme Music rises]

[00:00:38] Emily Withnall: ¡Bienvenidos! This is Encounter Culture from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. I’m your host, Emily Withnall.

[ambient electronic & nature sounds with hushed feminine vocals]

[00:00:56] Emily Withnall: At the back of the Gallery of Conscience at the Museum of International Folk Art six atikluks hang from transparent lines, attic looks as they’re called in Iñupiaq, or qaspeqs as they’re called in Yup’ik are a kind of hooded jacket worn by some tribes Indigenous to Alaska. In the exhibition, the six atikluks are a deep red and they are linked by the arms, forming a connected circle.

[00:01:22] Their hoods are draped on the outside, although there are no people wearing these garments. Their arrangement gives an impression of animation as though at any moment someone in the circle might speak. The lighting in the space creates deep shadows on the indigo walls, yet another visual representation of people who are not physically present.

[00:01:43] But whose presence is felt? These atikluks were made by five different Indigenous artists under the guidance and instruction of Bobby Brower, an Iñupiaq fashion artist and furrier. The garments are read as a nod to the Red Dress Movement, which calls attention to the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

[00:02:06] Bobby and fellow artists, Melissa, Cassandra, Jackie, and Beverly, have each been impacted by this epidemic. And made a garment to honor a relative or community member. The arrangement of the atikluks serves as a reminder, not only of these individuals who are no longer with us, but of the communities that remain.

[00:02:27] The atikluks are a part of a larger traveling exhibition called Protection, Adaptation, and Resistance that originated from the Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer, Alaska, and it features a range of arts created by Indigenous Alaskan artists making work to pass down cultural art forms and strengthen community.

[00:02:47] Ultimately, the art is about honoring and lifting up community in all of its forms. Twenty-five miles north of the Museum of International Folk Art in the upper level room of Roxanne Swentzell’s Tower Gallery in Pojoaque, paper beads adorn regalia, vintage dresses, figurines, megaphones, and more. The beads have typed words on them, many taken from reports, research data, and the stories of survivors of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People epidemic.

[00:03:19] On a small table against the adobe wall, beads spill from an abalone shell. Behind the beads, a label reads “Pamela Foster Testimony.” Pamela Foster, a Diné woman who lost her daughter Ashlynne Mike in the worst way imaginable helped to ensure Congress’s passage of the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act.

[00:03:41] –a law that provides the necessary training and assistance needed for Amber Alerts to be used by tribes. For Tara Trudell, the artist who makes these beads and the many multimedia images that accompany them, repurposing these documents serves as a kind of reclamation. 

[00:04:03] And as she says, beads date back to 100,000 BCE. Though they are a form of adornment, they are also a way to offer social commentary and prayer. Like Bobby, Tara often creates these beads in workshops with survivors and others. 

In this episode of Encounter Culture, Tara and Bobby join me in a conversation about the power and protection in clothing, the ways it can be challenging to uplift the voices of those no longer with us, and the profound meaning inherent in preserving and protecting culture and community.

[00:04:33] Please join us.

[00:04:40] Welcome, Tara and Bobby. Thank you so much for joining me today. Bobby, do you wanna start us off? 

[00:04:46] Bobby Brower: Sure.

[00:04:51] Uvaŋa Bobby Lynn Brower. Utqiaġavimiuguruŋa. Aapa-ġa Gordon Brower Sr. Aaka-ġa Maryjane Ahvakana. 

[00:04:54] I said, I said, “Hi, my name is Bobby Lynn Brower. I’m from Barrow, Alaska, or Utqiagvik Alaska, and my dad is Gordon Brower Sr. and my mother is Mary Jane Ahvakana.” I was born and raised in Utqiagvik. I currently live in Anchorage. I’m a mother of four children. I own two small businesses.

[00:05:22] One is Arctic Luxe where I create custom traditional slash contemporary Iñupiaq clothing. My other business, I own a small fur business called Alaska Fur Cache, so I sell fur and fur products to people. So, I’ve owned my fur business for seven years and my custom clothing since 2010, so thirteen years. And I also participate in different exhibits, and I advocate for the MMIWG2S issue, or sometimes I like to call it an epidemic just because it’s just, I feel like it doesn’t stop.

[00:06:02] It’s something so horrible that just keeps on going and I kind of just fell into the position because my sister was murdered twenty years ago, and so now I advocate for it when people ask me. 

[00:06:19] Emily Withnall: Thank you. Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that. We are definitely gonna dive into the whole, as you call it, epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit.

[00:06:30] I’m gonna turn it over to Tara first for an intro. 

[00:06:33] Tara Trudell: Thank you Emily and thank you Bobby for sharing that. My name is Tara Trudell and I reside in Northern New Mexico in Tewa territory. I’m a mother of four as well and, and an unci to two young boys. And as an artist, I started later in life and as a non-traditional student, I returned back to school to find that part of myself.

[00:06:57] I was always the caretaker and the mother for others, and in that reclamation of identities, when I went back to school with four young children and explored what it meant to be behind a camera and start telling my story with words and with visuals. And in that process, I stumbled upon a hobby art form that women in Africa were doing, which was making beads—making beads and telling stories.

[00:07:24] So it really focused in on that as something that not only intrigued me, but also inspired me to like look at my own life and my worth as a woman, and especially as a single mother, and especially as a divorcee, and especially as all these things that society was oppressing upon me in the reclamation of my identity.

[00:07:45] And when I started making beads, I did my divorce decree, I did the income support paperwork, I did the poetry, and something started shifting for me. And when I graduated with my degree, which was a big accomplishment to do when you’re doing that in midlife, it was in art and I wondered what it meant now to have a degree in art and where do you go and apply for that job.

[00:08:06] So I started doing bead workshops and I would travel all over the United States, especially along the border, and meet refugees and migrants as they’re released from ICE and make beads with them and give them something back. And I’ve done it with, um, women who are survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and I’ve been doing that for the past thirteen years and in that, since the COVID, since that all happened and everything kind of had to scale back, I started attending a lot of the webinars on MMIW and advocacy trainings for what it meant not to just be a domestic violence advocate, but to be one that worked with Indigenous women.

[00:08:50] My beads started changing and adapting to that as I guess it would be when you start going deeper with what meaning and worth is. And so I guess now I’m a bead maker and I still adjust to that as the needs and as the cycles of what that means and what that represents. 

[00:09:09] Before it was just taking statistics and making beads out of them and stories, and now it’s incorporating that into regalia and what that means to protect my spirit and my health in a way that we once did as Indigenous people and has been taken away from us, and now it’s given to us in a way that we have to conform always to a colonial way of how we care and move in this world. Especially as women. 

[Mother’s Words, vocals by Radmilla Cody]

[00:09:36] Tara Trudell: My dad is from Santee, Nebraska, and was raised on the reservation there. My mom and my dad’s grandmother, Agapita Garcia, was taken from her tribe, from the Rarámuri when she was eleven, and that’s in Mexico. And it’s really important that I always acknowledge her because as far as I can look back into my generational trauma, I feel like that was probably where the big split happened when she was taken from her tribe and married to my great-grandfather and had her first baby at twelve, which is a very colonial narrative of when our women are kidnapped and raped.

[00:10:28] So, it’s important that I always, um, represent her and my work as well as on my mom’s side. She is from, um, Northern New Mexico. Again, Spanish and Mexican and Indigenous identity. But I, I really feel that the more I went back and my reclamation of who I am as an Indigenous woman, it really has a lot to be where I’m grounded, wherever I stand, and nobody can tell me what I am and what I’m not. And a lot of that identity has to come because I didn’t have that role model.

[00:11:05] I mean, I had it for the first eleven years of my life. I had somebody providing me in a traditional, ceremonial way. And then when that was taken away from me, I wandered for so long, like many of us do. And sometimes we make bad decisions and sometimes we don’t. And sometimes we have people there for us and sometimes we don’t.

[00:11:24] But in that, I find that I kind of had to make it up for myself. It’s like realizing that, hey, I can make my own regalia. I can represent and protect my spirit, but I’m making it out of like these documents and these statements and these stories, because it’s like we’re all familiar with the same thing that happens to women around the world.

[00:11:47] It’s not just one particular group. It’s all of us. 

[00:11:53] Emily Withnall: Thank you. And for listeners, you might be interested to know that in episode one of this season, Tara’s daughter Daisy was featured on the podcast talking about her art at Bosque Redondo. So, there’s a connection there. 

Tara Trudell: Can’t wait to hear it. 

[00:12:14] Emily Withnall: I’ve known Tara for a very long time, for probably over twenty years. My mom delivered all of her children. 

[00:12:16] Tara Trudell: Her mom delivered all four of my children at home, and so it was twenty-eight years ago. Oh yeah. Just so you know. Okay. Wow. That’s how I was counting the years, and I was thinking, wow, we’ve known each other a long time, and my firstborn will be twenty seven this month. 

[wind chimes & electronic pulse]

[00:12:30] Emily Withnall: Bobby, I’d love to hear a little bit about your background in terms of how you came to making the clothing that you make and being interested also in the merging of Indigenous clothing with high fashion. 

[00:12:48] Bobby Brower: Yeah, so growing up like in two thousands in the village, my hometown is 5,000 people and I was just really into music and fashion.

[00:12:58] And when my friends used to come over, we used to, I used to make them do fashion shows at my house and, uh, how I first started getting into skin sewing my hometown Utqiagvik. In the winter, like in February, it averages -50. And traditionally my people, we would make clothing to keep our children warm, to keep us warm. 

[00:13:19] All we had was furs, so we would go hunting for caribou. And my family still, traditionally, we do subsistence hunting year-round. My dad, he hunts for Bowheads and he’s a whaling captain. His father was a whaling captain and his father, so like all the wives and women were taught to, you know, make warm clothing.

[00:13:41] I don’t know, I just seen so many parkas and then I wanted to make people look really beautiful. And at first it started out, my oldest daughter is nineteen and I wanted to keep her warm, and it was really expensive to pay someone to make her a parka, or even warm clothing. So, I started taking classes at my local college and they had a skin sewing class.

[00:14:02] And I got into that and also my mom helped me and my aunt and my grandma, and they taught me how to do all kinds of different techniques and I really started just from creating clothing to keep my kids warm and then I practiced for a few years and started posting my work on Facebook and people really liked it.

[00:14:27] And then I just kept on creating. And when I was younger, it wasn’t cool to be Native. People always looked down on it and there’s still a lot of racism, but I guess I wanted to make it where it was cool enough to wear Indigenous clothing, Native clothing every day and for people to like it. And so that was kind of like my mindset.

[00:14:52] And I ended up bringing my work to New York Fashion Week last year and I was kind of scared ’cause I used fur and you know, up north we have to use fur, to keep ourselves warm. It’s so cold. I mean, any kind of jackets from like Canada Goose, that’ll only keep you so warm for so long, and all the traditional knowledge that I’ve learned, and so I’d rather just wear something that I know that will keep me warm.

[00:15:17] What I’m wearing is a traditional shirt that we make and with the exhibit that’s coming up, the Protection and Adaptation, the class that I led over Zoom, I had other ladies also learn how to make these along with me so that we could have them in the exhibit. But the fashion part with New York, I was scared to wear fur, but when I started meeting people and showing them my work, they were really, really impressed and they were just blown away.

[00:15:46] And after that it was like they weren’t against fur, and it was a really good experience to be in a fashion show in New York. There were some people that I don’t think wanted to talk to me because I was using real fur and I feel like they were offended, but they didn’t say anything to come and offend me, but I could just tell by their body language.

[00:16:08] I create fashion to uplift our people, to uplift my people, to uplift the younger generations so that they know that our culture is beautiful, where there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We should be proud of who we are and where we come from.

[Kinship Honor, vocals by Radmilla Cody]

[00:16:24] Emily Withnall: I am glad that you mentioned the upcoming exhibition because your work is a part of a traveling exhibit that’s coming from Alaska. It’ll be at the Museum of International Folk Art, and you have a parka n that exhibit.

[00:16:47] Bobby Brower: So, there’s currently a parka exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art, which I am a part of as well, so I’m a part of both exhibits. 

[00:16:58] Emily Withnall: Yeah. But this particular one, it’s all red parkas, right? That you and a number of other artists made together—is that a part of the class that you just  mentioned?

[00:17:07] Bobby Brower: They’re actually called atikluks or qaspeqs. Okay. So we made traditional shirts. They’re just made out of cotton material.

[00:17:17] There’s this post with the red dresses hanging from the trees. And so I wanted to mimic that with our traditional, we call ’em snow shirts. If you come to Alaska, you’ll see people wearing them. They come in all different kinds of styles. Like this one has a cowl neck and it usually has a big pocket in the front, and usually they have sleeves.

[00:17:40] But we’re so contemporary now that we’re creating them with like stretchy arms, sleeveless. Usually they have hoods, but now we have like whatever your style is. So, in our designs, our trims are always a little bit different. The patterns are a little bit different and that’s how you know who the designer is for the clothing.

[00:17:59] But yeah, so I had led, I think a group of, maybe there was five ladies, five or six, and I did a call out, and Bunnell Arts Center had reached out to me, Asia Freeman, and she asked me if I wanted to lead this group. And she was like, “What’s your idea on it?” 

[00:18:21] And I was like, “Well, um, I think we can do like our traditional shirts. That’s what we all have in common.” So I was like, “Well, why don’t we do a qaspeq or an atikluk and have each person make their own in honor of the person that went missing or was murdered. And we can have a Zoom group and I can send them patterns and we could work over Zoom.” 

[00:18:48] And, uh, we had one lady from New Jersey, we had a lady in Palmer.

We had a lady in Unalakleet. There was another lady here in Anchorage. I felt really honored to lead it. I don’t think we recorded the Zoom sessions just ’cause I wanted to keep it really private and I didn’t want everyone’s stories all over social media because they’re so—a lot of the stories are just so horrific and terrible, and I feel like if they wanted to tell their story, they could if they wanted to, but I wasn’t gonna put it out there for everyone to hear.

[00:19:21] And so it was a really safe space for us to connect and talk about the issue and not feel so alone, ’cause I know it affects us all. I mean, being Indigenous and we’re all connected, right?

[00:19:31] And so we all face the same thing, but sometimes it’s hard for people to understand, like it was directly just my younger sister was just gone and I grew up with her. She was a year younger than me. And I mean, even talking about the issue is hard and even when there’s, you know, the days that commemorate Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, like, you know, there’s all those walks or there’s everything shared online.

[00:20:01] And for me it’s really hard for me to participate in those just ’cause I was affected so much. And it hurts so bad that it’s hard to like get out when—and I know we’re supposed to be honoring them—but I felt like with the exhibit it was easier to honor my sister and honor all those others that. Being in a group, it was easy for us to talk and just help each other and heal.

[soft beat Music][MOIFA Promo]

[00:20:27] Emily Withnall: When they were young my kids loved visiting the Museum of International Folk Art, where they could make Indonesian shadow puppets or play the gamelan. The museum offers something for visitors of all ages. From hands-on crafts, interactive exhibitions, and the world’s finest folk art, revel in the colors and textures that shape human culture, resilience, and creativity.

[00:21:02] The Museum of International Folk Art connects people through creative expression and artistic traditions. Visit for tickets, events, and more.

[MOIFA Promo ends]

[00:21:20] Emily Withnall: I’m curious if you wanna mention, you know, maybe why red is the color that is used to talk about this epidemic. 

[00:21:28] Tara Trudell: From what I recall. The red came down from Canada, ’cause Canada was addressing this before we were addressing this a long time ago. I mean, we were addressing it, but we didn’t have a name for it.

[00:21:39] Um, and I remember when the name started coming down from Canada, which is about maybe ten years ago, and that’s when I became aware of the Red Hand as an image to represent that, which, I can’t say who came up with that, but to me it always represented almost like a death or something. So, it was always kind of shocking as survivors to have that image, you know?

[00:21:59] So that’s what I kind of recall. And it was already as an MMIW, ’cause they had a name for it and then went over to Mexico and they had their names for it, Ni Una Más. So, like it was Pink Crosses, like everybody had a way of addressing this. But it’s all femicide, and that’s what it’s really about, like on a global level.

[00:22:20] And so to me, I, I wanna honor the way people wanna represent it, but we have to be careful how that’s being represented because not everybody wants it represented in that way. And that’s something that the beads taught me. It was like, it wasn’t just making names of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. It was learning to be in community and to understand the needs of the community and how to show up for the community and the families and to really lean in to what it means to be an advocate.

[00:22:44] And with the beads, I was able to do that and able to do that. I lost my family when I was ten and a half years old in an act of arson for being in the Indigenous Movement, for doing the work that you know is generational trauma that we just relive over and over and. I think that we have to be careful how we’re representing the stories of others.

[00:23:07] Unless like, I agree with Bobby here, unless they are wanting to tell that, or they are wanting to share that, and that taught me a lot. Like I don’t wanna make beads for somebody if they don’t have their permission or they want to be a part of that. The data and research and stories, things that have been shared by these survivors or by the people doing it, you know, it taught me a lot.

[00:23:27] And I think that we need to be mindful of that, how we’re representing our ancestors and at one time in a lot of our cultures, if we go way back, like how you spoke of somebody after they passed, you really have to walk that talk in being there. We can’t just say names if we’re not gonna like show up for family and community.

[00:23:48] And for some of us, and I can’t speak for Bobby, like I know what it felt like to be left behind. Things just go on, but you don’t really ever go on in the same manner. And I’m much older, so I had a different adaptability, resources, but I still have to survive that.

[Kinship Honor, sung by Radmilla Cody]

[00:24:03] Tara Trudell: With the beads the one thing that they have taught me in all the webinars and reports of people coming and sharing what they’re finding in data and research as well as survivor stories, is that violence against women and children is one hundred percent preventable. That’s their conclusion, and it blows me away that we don’t talk about that.

[00:24:36] It blows me away that statistically, human trafficking is done by people that we know and love and trust. And we don’t have these conversations. But with the beads, I can take those research data stories and I can make them into something that we have to have a conversation about now, and we really wanna lean into ending this because now that I know that it’s actually a hundred percent preventable, and I know it’s like that big, big mountain, I know that’s where I can start.

[00:25:03] And I need others who can start there with me. And because of the loss and because as an advocate, the more advocacy training I did, I learned how many times I didn’t give somebody consent. And that really woke me up. I thought I was doing it so I could be better for my daughters or for all the women that I know that have been hurt.

[00:25:23] And you realize how much we let go and we let pass. And so, with the beads, like when I work with survivors, like that’s one thing we can all come together on and most times at these workshops is that they’re given something back that we don’t acknowledge as the most important part of us, yet we are all trying to protect it, which is our spirit, and that’s what the work that we do.

[00:25:46] And I think definitely what Bobby does and so blessed to have that in your family, in your lineage. It’s just such a gift and I just can’t wait to see your work. We’ll have to go together. But that’s like what I think where my beads have started to become is I don’t know how to sew, but I collect vintage clothing and the beads become a part of that to represent that.

[00:26:06] It’s like I’m trying to be sustainable in fashion. Because what does that mean to me? But also, I can’t sell land back, but I can bring attention to it in the way that if you don’t have her back, how do you have land back if we don’t have the same conversation about protecting our women and children, because I know firsthand how women and children are not protected even within our own movement.

[00:26:32] So we need to have these conversations. And so that’s what my show at the gallery at the Tower with Roxanne Swentzell, who’s an amazing sculpture artist and elder and mentor of mine. When she came to me about a collaboration about grief, my beads and her sculpture and I handed her the beads that I had made on the boarding school report and curriculum that one of the tribes had come up with.

[00:26:56] And it wasn’t just the history of boarding schools, it was actually a educational tool so that we can start talking about this. And for me, I am wondering who’s else is reading this and understanding that we have to take the data research and stories and do something with it. ‘Cause otherwise we are gonna keep failing our women and children.

[00:27:16] Yeah, I mean, we can talk about AMBER Alerts. I know we’re gonna get into that too, which I’ve made beads out of because it infuriates me that any child would go missing, but much less, there wouldn’t be an AMBER Alert in place for that. And then when there is one put in place, we still don’t acknowledge that as being important enough to take priority to implement.

[wind chimes & electronic pulse]

[00:27:37] Emily Withnall: What I love about both of your work, and I love that it worked out for you both to be here at the same time, is that you’re both really working with fashion and clothing and ornamentation, but also in community, which sounds like for both of you, it’s really important, these workshops where you hold space for each other’s stories.

[00:28:07] So I really appreciate that connection and I just wanted to circle back Bobby, and also talk about the significance of the birds that you use on your garment in this exhibition. 

[00:28:18] Bobby Brower: So, I was fabric shopping one day, and uh, I came across the red fabric with the ravens, and I think there might be eagles on it, but when my sister was younger, a few years before she passed, we have this

[00:28:30] convention called Alaska Federation of Natives, and we have Natives come from all over Alaska where we talk about issues and try and find resolutions to them. And we have a part of it before the big convention we have a elders and youth conference for our youth to participate in, to get involved in, you know, think about what kind of issues we have and what we need to solve in our communities.

[00:28:54] And it’s a way for them to get their voices out there so that maybe adults might miss something that the kids might have seen and they want change. And so, when I was in high school, I went to the elders and youth conference and there was a lady speaking and she was talking about ravens and she was real spiritual.

[00:29:13] We were just kids, right? And this lady’s like, let your spirit into the sky and become one with the raven. And like I told my sister about it and she just went off and she kept on repeating it and she was acting like a raven and she was just making us laugh. My sister was just such a character and um, ever since that and her passing, I always feel like whenever I see ravens, it’s like she’s coming to say hi to me.

[00:29:42] And so when I seen the raven fabric, I immediately purchased the whole bolt and uh, I used it for the exhibit. And then I also worked with the Alaska Daily Show, and they had the show about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Alaska and all the statistics and whatnot. And I made a matching one for the TV show and they had a lady wear it in the show to honor my sister, which I thought was really powerful.

[00:30:10] And it was really, really nice to just have them honor her ’cause I mean, it was purchased through Disney and I never thought Disney would be so like understanding. And they were even purchasing reel for items, which I don’t know if that’s even allowed, but they were like “Disney needs to understand that you guys are Indigenous and this is what you guys use, and they need to respect that.”

[00:30:34] It was really cool to be part of their whole, uh, costume design for the show. And there were so many of us Alaska Natives that were involved in the TV show, and it was really awesome to be involved in that. Tara, I’m just so, I’m so impressed with the bead work that you make. That’s kind of like when I make clothing, sometimes it’ll come outta nowhere, but I have this big red gown that I made and I found a gown at a secondhand shop, and I took it all apart.

[00:31:05] And I only reused the lining and the petticoat, this plastic stuff to make it poofy. And uh, I made it my own. And I made a whole big, red gown out of red velveteen fabric that we use for parkas. And I did the body out of spotted seal skin. So spotted seal skins really like highly prized in my culture, kind of like turquoise.

[00:31:29] Tara Trudell: Wow. 

Bobby Brower: And it’s really hard to get and. It’s really expensive. Every pelt is really unique and all the spots are different with every animal that you work with. And I just had this pelt for, I don’t know, maybe 10 years, and I finally, I was like, one day I’m gonna use this for something. And I turned it into the dress and I wrote a paper about it having to do with justice, the justice system.

[00:31:55] And wow. I wrote a story about it with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, how each one of us are so unique. That’s what the spotted seal represented and the red to honor all of our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit. I’ll save certain things and then when something comes up in my mind and I’m like, I know what I’m using this artwork for, and it is really to heal.

[00:32:21] I’m also a domestic violence survivor. I’m a single parent and dealing with that, it’s so hard, like my four kids, I left almost five years ago. And it really makes me happy that you’re teaching classes with women that have dealt with that ’cause I feel like that’s something that I would wanna do.

[00:32:42] Like last year, I think I had the Heritage Center reach out and they wanted me to work with domestic violence survivors and 

Tara Trudell: Oh wow. 

Bobby Brower: Yeah, so that’s something I think I wanna pursue.

[Kinship Honor, vocals by Radmilla Cody]

[00:32:53] Tara Trudell: I actually have a piece at the show that is the report from MMIWR in Alaska. ’cause it just came out in 2021, I think the report for statistics. And so, I met Charlene from Indigenous Data Research Center there in Alaska. So, I think I’m going out this spring to make beads with the community there, but I do have a piece of the report—and what did you call it, the top that has the pocket?

[00:33:35] Bobby Brower: it’s called an atikluk. So, it usually has a hood and then it has a big pocket and a skirt and long arms. 

[00:33:42] Tara Trudell: That’s what I have the beads on. And so, what I do is I like to rescue vintage clothing from eBay and Etsy saw like, punch in “Native American dress” and come up with some wild things.

[00:33:54] Um, because I like to represent the clothing on these like rescues, ribbon shirts, parkas, whatever. But also like the image of what Pocahontas is, like a burlap bag, which painted on it. So, some of my beads are on that stereotypical clothing that you can find that it was like Pocahontas or sq*** skirts, you know.

[00:34:15] For the sq***, you know, like now we’re getting all the parks renamed and we’re getting this big, big, big push so we can get rid of this offensive word once and for all. So, all the parks are gonna be renamed and some have been, so I’ll be making beads of the names, but I wanted them put ’em on an image of something that, this is how we’ve always been viewed.

[00:34:34] Like, as women and Indigenous women, there’s a lot of things we’re up against. It’s not just this like straight across thing, it’s like how the media plays into it, how costumes are. So, I’ll take these off eBay and then I’ll like, you know, stencil things on them, but also have the beads take over that look in a way like this is what it means.

[00:34:54] So that particular Pocahontas dress, which is really a burlap bag with painted little symbols on, has the Violence against Native women is Not Traditional report, and they’re ghost juniper beads. Because I started, putting more shells and more natural beads into the regalia. And it is a lot of trust like holding onto things that I’ve held onto for years. And now I’m going, oh, they all wanna be something now.

[00:35:16] You know, I would love to see your work. I can’t wait to see your work. I’m so excited to see your work, but your thoughtfulness and your prayer and your vision, and this is like a lot of the research I’ve done. How we created regalia was exactly for that.

[00:35:33] We created things to protect our spirit and it was for health. That’s how we are as people, and I feel like we lost that somewhere. And to hear artists and especially like more deeper than what an artist could be is you’re sharing this amazing knowledge and wisdom that can only come through like ancestral guidance to be acknowledged.

[00:35:54] It’s pretty cool. Yeah. And I like to think that with the beads, I’ve now reached a point where it’s through me and outta me, and I just have to listen as wise as I can to see how it’s supposed to be created to tell that story and trust that, you know? Yes. So, so I get that. It’s really cool. 

[00:36:14] Emily Withnall: I love what you just said about the regalia being kind of a protection, and I’m curious, Bobby, if you have any similar thoughts about the work that you made, especially for this exhibition being that the first word in the exhibition title is protection.

[00:36:28] Bobby Brower: Yeah, so I like what Tara was saying, the traditional regalia that I create I really feel there is protection from it, like from my ancestors. It’s really interesting, like they’re not on display, but I have some in my garage and our traditional regalia consists of all fur on the outside and then we have tassels hanging and we have special roughs for them, and they’re completely adorned with traditional designs on them.

[00:36:57] And those, when I wear them, I feel like they’re really sacred too. Maybe a month ago, I had a lady come up to my booth when I was selling at a little mall and she was asking for a custom one, and I was like, well, are you Indigenous? And the lady said, no, but I was born and raised in Alaska and, and I said.

[00:37:19] You know, I’d only be willing to make you a cloth or velveteen outside. I feel that the fur parkas are more, they’re so sacred. They’re for our people and we make them for special occasions like I made them for my children just ’cause I just wanted them to have one. ’cause I never had one ever. My sister had a fur parka, but I still have it.

[00:37:42] And my dad had it for a long time and a lot of my designs come from that. My daughter’s gonna graduate high school, so I would probably work on one for her, just for her to traditionally, you know, wear it. But that’s what we used, that’s how we clothed ourselves originally, you know, before colonialism and whatnot.

[00:38:00] But the qaspeqs or atikluks that are in the exhibit, I had them suspended so that they look like people are wearing them. And I would still call them regalia. It’s hard for me to explain. I mean, it’s traditional, but it’s contemporary. Anyone could buy it and wear it, but then I feel like because of the issue, when mine comes back, I’m just only gonna wear it for me.

[00:38:23] So it is kind of like regalia and we made them in honor of those people, and I wouldn’t wanna just give it to anyone. With the ones hanging, they’re all holding hands together. And I feel like in my community, a lot of us go to church. We believe in God and we pray for each other when we’re going through hard times.

[00:38:42] And that was the meaning behind it, how we protect each other by praying for each other. And that circle is just us connected all together and taking care of each other in that protection.

[Mother’s Words, vocals by Radmilla Cody]

[00:38:54] Emily Withnall: The only other thing I was gonna ask about was the, uh, AMBER Alerts. I don’t know if you mentioned it in your work, Bobby, but I saw it in a quote about the exhibition from you. 

[00:39:20] Bobby Brower: So, with AMBER Alerts, yeah, I did quote something about it. I don’t know how long they’ve been doing ’em, but I always feel like being Indigenous that we’re left out.

[00:39:30] Like they say, you know, someone that’s non-Indigenous goes missing and there’s AMBER Alerts. But when it comes to us, I feel like we’re left out and people treat us like we’re not as important as everyone else. How do you feel, Tara? 

[00:39:46] Tara Trudell: Oh, I feel that too. And I really want you to know that because of Ashlynne Mike, you know Ashlynne Mike was a young Diné girl who was kidnapped seven years ago. 

[00:40:00] Because she was kidnapped on Navajo Nation land–her and her brother were kidnapped, she was eleven, he was nine–and because of that jurisdiction laws that came into play. They didn’t look for her till like twelve hours after she had disappeared. In that time, she died from her injuries. And her mom, within two years, Pamela Foster, she passed a law called the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Law.

[00:40:26] So all the 574 federally recognized tribes can now receive funding to make sure that their Amber alert is working because it wasn’t working when her daughter and son went missing. So, I recommend to everybody to learn about that and see how you can receive the funding and the training, because there’s millions of dollars there because of this woman who warriored up.

[00:40:49] And I made beads out of her testimony. I made a bead for Ashlynne when Ashlynne went missing, and they ended up finding her body. And then I found out why they waited and it was because of a jurisdiction, because the Navajo nation did not implement the AMBER Alert. The 911 people did not know what to do. And we can’t wait till a crisis to find out that our system is like completely in crumbles, you know?

[00:41:16] And we need to also remember that Ian Mike, Ashlynne’s younger brother, is still a survivor of that kidnapping that took the life of his sister. And so, my beads are able to like to have that conversation of why is this not implemented in all 574 tribes? Why do our tribes not know about this federal funding is there?

[00:41:37] They can’t come and let you know about it because of all the little jurisdiction laws, but it’s there and we should share that. Every time we talk about an Amber alert, we should mention Ashlynne Mike Amber Alert in Indian Country Law and I’m happy to share that with you. I think we as parents and community members need to start taking the lead instead of waiting for our tribal councils and leaders to take action on behalf of our children.

[00:42:00] And being an advocate for Pamela Foster, which started with that bead and checking in: “What do you need? Does Ian need anything?” You know, this is long term. It’s not just like it happened twenty years ago. For us, this is long term. This is the care we need. The one way that we can really uplift Warrior Pamela Foster is by implementing this law, making sure every tribe has checked it off their box and that parents know what to do within the first three hours of their child going missing.

[00:42:32] There should be no more loopholes because of Pamela Foster, and so I have a whole display there. I do workshops where we make beads out of the bill, the actual law so that people can know what to talk about in their community and ask, “Do we have this?” Because there’s millions of dollars sitting there and we can’t let the government suck it back up.

[00:42:51] We need to put this back into Indian Country. Everybody should have this. So, I hope that helps, and I’m really happy to share information with people to start having that conversation. And children will see, children will see their parents and their community rallying around to protect them. You know the man who took Ashlynne Mike looked like her.

[00:43:14] We need to remember that he was one of her people. So, we need to start having those conversations and uplifting this law. 

Emily Withnall: Thank you. 

Tara Trudell: Thank you too for yeah, everything you’re doing. 

[00:43:28] Bobby Brower: Thank you. Yeah. I am honored. I’m so honored to be speaking with you. Likewise. This has just been amazing. 

[00:43:35] Tara Trudell: Likewise. Likewise.

[uplifting electronic wash with soft feminine vocals]
[Theme music: End credits]

[00:43:37] Emily Withnall: Bobby’s work can be seen at the Museum of International Folk Art until April 7th, 2024. The museum is open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM Tuesday through Sunday. Visit to learn more. That’s M-O-I-F-A dot org. You can also learn more about Bobby’s work and the work of the other Indigenous artists in the Protection, Adaptation, and Resistance exhibition by visiting

[00:44:08] Tara’s work is on view at Roxanne Spencer’s Tower Gallery through March of 2024. The Tower Gallery is open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Monday through Friday. Visit 

Thank you to Canyon Records for the use of “Kinship Honor” and “Mother’s Words” written by Herman Cody and Radmilla Cody, performed by Radmilla Cody. 

[00:44:34] And to learn more about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People epidemic visit the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and the Sovereign Bodies Institute at

[00:45:09] Encounter Culture is a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. 

Our producer is Andrea Klunder at the Creative Imposter Studios. 
Season five is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder and Alex Riegler. 
Our recording engineer is cabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe. 
Technical direction and post-production audio by Edwin R. Ruiz.

[00:45:32] Our executive producer is Daniel Zillmann. 
Thank you to New Mexico artist El Brujo D’Santi Nava for our theme music.

For a full transcript and show notes, visit or click the link in the episode description in your listening app. 

I’m your host, Emily Withnall. 
New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs is your guide to the state’s, exceptional museums, historic sites, and cultural institutions.

[00:46:00] Find inspiration from the rich folk-art traditions from across the world at the Museum of International Folk Art. Visit for tickets, events, and more. 

And if you love New Mexico, you’ll love El Palacio magazine. Subscribe at 
Thank you for listening and if you learned something new, send this episode to a friend or share it on social media.

[00:46:28] We love celebrating the culture of New Mexico together.

[Sound effects: crows]

Special music in the episode: 
“Kinship Honor – K’é Biyiin,” written by Herman Cody & Radmilla Cody, performed by Radmilla Cody. Courtesy Canyon Records. 
“Mother’s Words – Amá Bizaad,” written by Herman Cody & Radmilla Cody, performed by Radmilla Cody, courtesy Canyon Records.