TRIO students, Indian Center partner on mural project

· 3 min read

TRIO students, Indian Center partner on mural project

A 15-foot-wide colorful, Native-themed mural created by students from UNL’s Regular Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math-Science programs now decorates a wall of the Lincoln Indian Center at 1100 Military Rd in Lincoln, Nebraska.
A 15-foot-wide Native-themed mural created by students from the university's Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math-Science programs now decorates a wall of the Lincoln Indian Center at 1100 Military Road in Lincoln, Nebraska.

High school students enrolled in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Upward Bound program, through TRIO, left their mark at Lincoln Indian Center, having completed a 15-foot-long painted mural along one of the walls that welcomes visitors.

Students first took part in a service project at the center in February, where they made Indian tacos to raise funds for a new basketball court. They also assisted with an ongoing renovation there. During those initial projects, Erica Leon, an Upward Bound art teacher, got the idea for a student art project during the summer program.

When Deveron Baxter Sr., chairman of the Indian Center’s Board of Directors, heard the idea, he was very supportive.

“I thought it would be really cool to have something like this so when people start to come in for events (after renovations are finished), they’ll see this mural and everybody will talk about it,” Baxter said.

Baxter provided some direction and inspiration for what should be included in the mural.

“He gave me key words like ‘Native’ and ‘community’ and I did a little bit of preliminary research on some common Native American terms and some Nebraska symbolic imagery as well,” Leon said.

Student artists Ace Ahmed, Kaylee Laravie, Friday Htoo, Rebeca Delgado, Rawan Saarien and Emma Kincheloe completed the mural June 30.

On a background of a Nebraska sunset, the mural incorporates images of a meadowlark (Nebraska’s state bird), a bald eagle — a common symbol for many Native people, but also the symbol for the Indian Center — a bison, traditional fancy dancers and shawl dancers, and even features one the center’s own. The shawl dancer is based on a photo from the center’s Facebook page of the daughter of a center employee.

“I thought that’s so cool that there are people here who are active at the center depicted in this mural,” Leon said. “Floating behind it is the world with people of different cultures around it holding hands.”

Baxter wanted the mural to emphasize multiculturalism and unity. Many cultural events have been celebrated there recently, and he hopes that people of all cultures will feel comfortable visiting and participating.

“We had Juneteenth last year,” Baxter said. “The Latino Community uses it for rentals and quinceañeras, and we have the ability to practice our Native American culture here, but it’s really a cultural center in general for everyone. I want the Indian Center to be a community center more than anything,”

Based on the work they did, the students may do another mural.

“Deveron saw it and got really excited and connected us with the Women Are Sacred group who are in the same building,” Leon said. “One of their people walked by it and fell in love with it too and asked if we could do a mural for them too.”

Upward Bound is a federally funded pre-college program that targets first-generation high school students and students who meet federal economic guidelines and have the potential to succeed in college. The students participate in an on-campus summer program, which introduces them to the college atmosphere and includes taking classes, eating in the campus food service facilities, and living on campus in residence halls. Joan Mendoza-Gorham is the project director for Upward Bound.

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