Steph Littlebird, an inspiring artist from Oregon’s Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes, transcends the boundaries of traditional artistry, embodying the roles of illustrator, painter, curator, and writer. Through her multifaceted work, she not only weaves vibrant illustrations but also uses her creative prowess to advocate for Indigenous rights, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Reduced Inequalities. 

Photograph of Steph Littlebird. Image courtesy of CanvasRebel.

In an interview with Latinitas Magazine, Littlebird explained how art has been a foundational presence in Littlebird's life since childhood, a medium through which she navigates personal and collective traumas. 

"I started using art as a way to heal myself and work through things that are hard to express in words... I could translate that feeling of being uplifted, feeling positive about myself and my community, my culture. I could do that through my art," shared Littlebird in the interview.

The Butterfly Maiden by Steph Littlebird. Image courtesy of @artnerdforever/Instagram.

Littlebird shares most of her art through her Instagram page where her commitment to vibrant colors and contemporary illustration styles are apparent. She shared that this stemmed from a desire to defy norms imposed during her art school years, reflecting her resilience in preserving her very own unique Indigenous artistic expressions. 

Her vibrant illustrations and paintings, like her piece The Butterfly Maiden, are adorned with  geometric patterns associated with various design movements. This challenges preconceptions of Indigenous art, embracing aesthetics that most people are familiar with and rejecting expectations from Indigenous art, such as the use of earth tones and sacred Indigenous patterns.

Historical panels from This IS Kalapuyan Land, an exhibition curated by Steph Littlebird. Image courtesy of Five Oaks Museum.

Littlebird's artistic journey extends beyond illustration and painting. By combining her writing with images, she has found a powerful mode of advocacy. Her late-diagnosed autism prompted her to adapt, highlighting the intersectionality of her experiences through various art forms, including children’s books and even exhibitions.

Her versatility is evident in projects like This IS Kalapuyan Land, an exhibition that challenges stereotypical narratives about Indigenous communities perpetuated by institutions through contemporary Indigenous art and historical panels. Within the exhibition that was originally made in 2019 at Five Oaks Museum,  Littlebird meticulously corrected historical inaccuracies, fostering a dialogue about the erasure of Indigenous resilience.

and Back stickers by Steph Littlebird. Image courtesy of Steph Littlebird’s Etsy shop.

Her Etsy shop further extends the reach of her art, offering original stickers and artwork that represent Indigenous narratives and movements like Land Back, a movement that has spanned across generations to get Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands. This further reinforces Littlebird’s commitment to create accessibility and exposure that matters for her community.

Littlebird has also recently illustrated a published children’s book, My Powerful Hair, which intertwines personal and collective histories. The story, through a celebration of hair in Indigenous cultures, addresses the traumatic legacy of Indian boarding schools, symbolizing the resilience of Indigenous people.

Cover of My Powerful Hair, a children’s book illustrated by Steph Littlebird. Image courtesy of @artnerdforever/Instagram.

Her art becomes a powerful conduit for addressing historical injustices and fostering understanding, aligning with a vision of reduced inequalities for Indigenous communities.

"As an Indigenous artist, my work often relates to my community. Native people deserve to see themselves reflected in the world," she affirms in an interview.

Steph Littlebird's revolutionary art transcends mediums, intertwining narratives of personal healing, cultural representation, and advocacy for Indigenous rights. Through her vibrant illustrations, curatorial initiatives, and written works, she is not only challenging stereotypes but actively contributing to the reduction of inequalities faced by Indigenous communities. Littlebird's journey exemplifies the transformative power of art in reshaping narratives and fostering inclusivity.

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