In the mid-1900s a Native American warrior and artist, Arrow Top Knot, whose Blackfoot name is Apis-Poch-Kinnaiee, painted a series of pictographs on canvas depicting his wartime exploits.
Originally hung on the walls of the hotels built by the Great Northern Railway in Glacier Nπational Park, Top Knot’s canvases were between 20 and 30 feet long. But Top Knot’s art was taken down in the 1950s when the park adopted a cowboy theme.
Some of his work, as well as the work of a number of other Blackfoot artists who had been featured in the hotels, ended up in museums. Some landed in private collections. But many pieces faded into obscurity.
“They got buried away,” said Terry Winchell, who owns Fighting Bear Antiques with his wife, Claudia. Last year, in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Winchell found one of Top Knot’s canvases, “rolled up, stuck in a corner and kind of hidden away.”
He had just seen another pictographic canvas sold at a Sotheby’s auction, so he knew what they were. Winchell bought it, had it cut up (the canvas was originally divided into individual scenes) and framed, and brought it back to Jackson to be sold.
“They’re contemporary but they’re over a hundred years old,” Winchell said.
But even though the piece is rare and the Fighting Bear owner knew it would be of interest to collectors, he wanted to bring them back for a different reason.
Rather than having a traditional Fall Arts Festival event — setting up shop and selling standard wares during Palates and Palettes, for example — he wanted to do something unique.
“I really wanted to do this as a part of the Fall Arts Festival, but also as a fundraiser for Native American Jump Start,” Winchell said.
This year Fighting Bear is doing exactly that: displaying six part of Top Knot’s canvas throughout the festival and donating a to-be-determined percentage of proceeds from sales to the nonprofit, which provides financial support to Native American students seeking internships.
“Even if people don’t buy them,” Winchell said, “we hope that it raises enough awareness.”
A ‘Jump Start’
Scott Evans, who is Isleta Pueblo, founded Native American Jump Start in 2003. He realized that a number of Native American kids he knew would graduate from high school, go to some form of college for a year or two, then drop out and return to their reservations.
“Two years later they’d be back in the same trouble that everybody else in that community is in,” Evans said, noting that native people have one of the highest per capita rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse and teenage pregnancy in any demographic.
Talking with a friend from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he decided to help “one or two” kids, to start small and try to have a big impact.
Evans knew that there were a number of blanket and athletic programs that benefited people from reservations, but he wanted to focus on something else: employment.
On some reservations, like Rosebud, the unemployment rate has reached over 50%, according to NPR.
Focusing on high-achieving youth, Evans set up a program to provide college-enrolled Native American students $500 travel grants to get to and from internships with partner employers.
Jump Start is independent from state and federal governments and not affiliated with any religious institutions, in keeping with the request of the tribal elders Evans consulted when setting up the program. In addition to travel the nonprofit aims to support interns financially until they receive their first paycheck and provide job-related support — helping with purchases of necessary items, like steel-toed boots, for example — when possible.
The nonprofit has established a network of partner organizations that hire interns, the National Museum of Wildlife Art being one.
In 2019 it placed 69 interns from 50 tribal communities and awarded $35,500 in travel grants. Participating students have gone to Yale University, interned in medical institutions, traveled with Switzerland to work. Some have stayed closer to home, working in the national park system and the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota.
Evans continues to volunteer for Jump Start, though the organization has hired some part-time paid staff, like Executive Director Olivia Ryans (83% of the nonprofit’s expenses are grant-related. The remaining 17% is administrative.)
“I wish we could help every Native kid,” Evans said, though he recognizes that doing so is difficult with a small team like Native American Jump Start’s.
Still, Evans and the team are doing their best to help kids who are in college both “struggling and doing good,” with support from people like the Winchells. Evans described them as among the nonprofit’s “top givers.”
Six years down the road Evans’ goal remains the same as it was in the beginning: to “do more and do more for those in the most need.”
Donors can contribute to Native American Jump Start through Old Bill’s Fun Run for Charities.
You can also drop by Fighting Bear Antiques from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday to visit with Arrow Top Knot’s canvases. ￼