Posts in: Block 3

Coburn Gallery Trip featuring Rayna Hernandez

October 25, 2018

Coburn Gallery

Our class met with artist Rayna Hernandez (Yankton Sioux/Lakota) who graduated in 2016 with art and creative writing degrees at the University of South Dakota and is a former student of Professor Natanya Pulley. Her visit to the Colorado College was sponsored by the Fine Arts Center Mellon Faculty Fellowship and by the Provost’s Faculty Visiting Speaker Grant. Rayna had some of her artwork showcased in the Coburn Gallery in the Worner Campus Center. She did a presentation that explained her inspiration for her artwork and also talked about how one of her idols, Oscar Howe (, influences her art.

“Who ever said that my paintings are not in the traditional Indian style has poor knowledge of Indian art indeed. There is much more to Indian Art than pretty, stylized pictures. There was also power and strength and individualism (emotional and intellectual insight) in the old Indian paintings. Every bit in my paintings is a true and studied fact of Indian paintings. Are we to be held back forever with one phase of Indian painting, with no right for individualism, dictated to as the Indian always has been, put on reservations and treated like a child, and only the White Man knows what is best for him? Now even in art, “You little child do what we think is best for you, nothing different.” Well I am not going to stand for it. Indian Art can compete with any art in the world, but not as a suppressed Art. I see so much of the mismanagement and treatment of my people. It makes me cry inside to look at these poor people. My father died there about three years ago in a little shack, my two brothers still living there in shacks, never enough to eat, never enough clothing, treated as second class citizens. This is one of the reasons I have tried to keep the fine ways and culture of my forefathers alive. But one could easily turn to become a social protest painter. I only hope the Art World will not be one more contributor to holding us in chains.” ~Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota; 1915-1983)

One of the main topics we have discussed in our class is how there are certain expectations that most people have for what they think Native/Indian art is and what it should be. We learned how many Native artists are not making their art to meet these expectations and how they are changing the idea of what Native art is and what Native art can be. Rayna shares her life experiences and identity in her artwork. She incorporates written work, beads, and other materials into her paintings.

Hernandez writes her ideas and experiences on anything she can find–napkins, receipts, scratch paper. Then she makes collages from those notes onto a canvas and paints over the top, creating and uneven and rugged background. “So my writing is incorporated in my paintings at least for my ideas and it’s also literally incorporated in the paintings.”…She paints abstract shapes over the written background of her work, leaving only a few words visible. She often adds a female form as the centerpiece–modeling many images after her own body.” (

Rayna and Professor Pulley have done a collaboration together which has been featured in the book “#NotYourPrincess Voices of Native American Women.” Professor Pulley had written “Falling” and had asked Rayna to do an art piece, “Morning Star,” to accompany it. It was a pleasure to meet Rayna and to have been inspired by her artwork.

Natanya Ann Pulley and Rayna Hernandez with her “Morning Star” painting

“#NotYourPrincess Voices of Native American Women” Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

“Falling” by Natanya Ann Pulley

Fine Arts Center Trip

October 25, 2018

Our class had a trip to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC) and we went on a tour with Polly Nordstrand (Hopi) who is the Curator of the Southwest Art Collection at the FAC. We learned about the hierarchy of cultures, how the art world perpetuates elitism, how painting is considered the highest art form, how Native art was not considered “proper art” until the 1920s, and how there are imbalances in art history. When we viewed the Southwest Art Collection, we learned that before 1492/pre-contact, the Indigenous Peoples of what is now called the “Americas” already had trading systems in place. With the colonization of the “Americas” came the destruction of these trading systems and the enslavement/genocide of the Indigenous Peoples who were already there as well as the enslavement of the Indigenous Peoples from Africa. Colonization/westward expansion affected Indigenous Peoples, including their art, because it brought about political/economical transformation, the idea of “owning the land,” the commodification of food sources, new materials, cultural entrepreneurs who made culture part of the economy, and more. The white art market, especially in the Southwest, forced Native artists to make Native art how “Western eyes” saw and valued their artwork. For example, we learned that Native pottery was originally made for utilitarian purposes. Now, Native pottery in general is made to be aesthetically pleasing so it can be sold to art collectors/dealers/galleries and to be used for decorative purposes.

We also got to see and learn about two exhibits that were curated by Joy Armstrong (Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the FAC). We saw Virgil Ortiz’s (Cochiti Pueblo) “ReVOlution – Rise Against the Invasion” exhibit (October 6, 2018-January 6, 2019) and learned about the upcoming “In the Footsteps of My Ancestors” exhibit (October 27, 2018-February 10, 2019) by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Salish).

Virgil ( is the 2018 fall Andrew W. Mellon Artist-in-Residence for the FAC at the Colorado College. He has used different art mediums, including the traditional Cochiti Pueblo method of pottery making, to tell the widely unknown and untaught story of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. He tells the story of this historic event while using science fiction, fantasy, contemporary art, modern technology, and Indigenous futurism components to engage larger audiences. The storyline dates from the time of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 in New Mexico to 500 years into the future in 2180. Some of the characters in the story include the Aeronauts, Po’Pay, Translator and the Spirit World Army, Tahu and her army of Blind Archers, Runners, and Gliders.

“Set in the future of 2180, the pueblos are in chaos, the invasion of Native land continues, the scourge of war rages everywhere. The Aeronauts summon their fleet and prepare for extreme warfare against the invading Castilian forces. Desperately, the Aeronauts search for any remaining clay artifacts from the battlefields. They know that challenges and persecution will continue, so it is imperative to preserve and protect their clay, culture, language, and traditions from extinction.” (



“Jaune Quick-to-See Smith ( is one of the U.S.’s finest indigenous talents and a late-career artist with extraordinary aesthetic, intellectual and curatorial achievements to her credit. Coming of age when Abstract Expressionism with its white male tenor dominated, Smith pushed back and developed a strong personal vision forged from belonging to two marginalized groups by birth (female and Native American) and one by choice (non-urban), aligning them more closely with the mainstream art world. This exhibition mines Smith’s cross-cultural experience and Salish-Kootenai identity and demonstrates the evolution of her lifelong aesthetic investigations in which she simultaneously questions and creates American history. In the Footsteps of My Ancestors examines themes that perennially recur in Smith’s work, including conflict, compassion, peace, the cycle of life, irony, and identity. The artist has always operated on a cusp – culturally, temporally, aesthetically, and from a gender perspective – which gives her work an attention-getting vitality, originality, and relevance. Her role in the shift toward deepening respect for Native American contemporary art cannot be understated, and her work is at once earthy, vibrant, sophisticated, and compassionate. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: In the Footsteps of My Ancestors is organized by the Yellowstone Art Museum.” (

Peace Corps: Togo

Today we had the opportunity to talk to sociology professor Gail Murphy-Giess’s daughter, Patty. After spending two years in Togo with the Peace Corp, Patty returned to the United States in August and came to our class to discuss her experience.

Togo is a small country in the north west of Africa, wedged between Ghana and Benin. With only 8 million people, Togo has over 40 ethnic groups, with two making up the majority. The main conflict going on in Togo currently regards the political sphere. Midterms did not take place as planned, and though elections are supposed to occur in 2020, it is likely that they will not take place due to the intention of the current president to extend his terms. So, in the face of these conflicts, what is the role of the Peace Corp Volunteers?

Patty told us that volunteers are supposed to stay neutral, but that this is impossible. Patty was living in a small village with only a few thousand people. The official projects in the village included health and malaria prevention, english education and gender equity, and agriculture and food security, the latter on which Patty focused. In working on these projects, Patty formed close relationships with the villagers and found that they wanted to know her and, by proxy, the United States opinion on the happenings in Togo. When friends and villagers asked her opinion, she was inclined to engage, rather than stay neutral as the Peace Corp suggests. Patty also found that people had a great interest in the US in general. People felt positively towards the US, but were often misinformed on US intentions and policies. That said, the US was widely perceived as the land of opportunity, and everyone wanted to go there. This was especially true in the villages, where people were less inclined to protest, as they would in the big cities, and more apt to accept society as it is and hope for a better future in the US.

Patty also spent some time expressing concerns about NGOs. Though Patty, as a recent Peace Corp volunteer, comes from a very different background than the other speakers that we have had in this class so far, we found that her concerns lined up with the others that we have heard. First she talked about the concept “biopolitics,” which refers to how people view resources, who has power, and how agency is practiced. Because of NGOs, Patty said, biopolitics have shifted. NGOs often take the role of the state by providing, for example, teachers and health care. This creates a cycle of dependency, and takes the pressure off the state to provide for its people. Furthermore, NGOs often do not listen to what people actually need, but instead are motivated by outside interest. In other words, their work is funder-based. In contrast, the Peace Corp focuses on community based development and, because it is funded by tax-payers, does not have to succumb to external pressures for project.

So was her experience with the Peace Corp in Togo a success ? In many ways and in many places it can be seen as a success, and in others, a potential detriment. A crucial element in this discussion is impact evaluation. This is a fairly new idea. The Peace Corp, Patty explains is working on evaluating their human impact by standardizing methods of collecting data and using a needs assessment in every location. Patty admits that the process of impact evaluation is new and flawed, but essential to understanding how the Peace Corp can make the most change.

Brendan O’Donghue: The Private Sector

It took a second for the Brendan O’Donghue’s face to appear on the monitor, and when it did, we couldn’t hear him for a minute. The whole class was sitting in the Economics Collaboration room, eating Jimmy John’s and eagerly awaiting our conversation with O’Donghue, who was skyping with us from Nigeria. In a few minutes, the internet connection became stronger and O’Donghue’s face and voice game through.

A friend of Neal’s from Afghanistan, O’Donghue was online today to talk to us about development work through the private sector. O’Donghue works for a company called Zipline, which is based in Silicon Valley. Zipline has technology to operate drones that deliver life-saving medication in hard to reach places. The algorithm, which takes into account speed and ease of delivery, operates with incredible speed and accuracy. The drones get life saving medication to the person in need within 15 minutes of being requested, and drops the medication via parachute within two parking spot spaces of the exact GPS location. Right now, Zipline has operations all over Africa and Southeast Asia. It contracts directly with the government, under the assumption that the partnership will save the government money by decreasing health care costs. Right now, it takes the company about three months to set up an operation, but O’Donghue spoke of the companies goal to set up in a day or two. At that rate, Zipline’s technology could be crucial in combatting the effects of natural disasters.

O’Donghue’s professional background is interesting. After graduating from Hamilton College, O’Donghue had experience working on Wall Street, for government, and in the non-profit world before transitioning to the private sector. This diversity of experience gave him the ability to discuss the pros and cons of each sector. While Wall Street provided financial stability, O’Donghue felt like he wasn’t making a difference. He transitioned to the non-profit sector and government, but found both to be corrupt. Governments were especially frustrating, as the high-stakes of governmental decisions make them very risk-averse, which make it hard to get anything done. O’Donghue has had a positive experience in the private sector so far, especially in a Silicon Valley company. The company is risk-loving, which means he can work with speed and flexibility, make mistakes, and still be a success. Zipline is also a socially conscious for-profit company that hires almost entirely local staff in order to be sustainable. For a class of people who are interested in rebuilding economies after conflict, hearing his lived experience in each sector was really helpful.

Zipline has come out with really exciting technology. While they are currently limited to emergency medical supplies, they hope to expand that. Who knows? Maybe one day a Zipline drone will drop your to-go food order on your doorstep.

Major General William Hix

Major General William Hix walked into our classroom last week wearing a brightly colored, button-down shirt and a dark green suit jacket. He is older, soft-spoken, and upon first glance, you would not assume his extensive experience with the US army. Upon speaking with him however, MG Hix’s humble expertise became evident. 

Having graduated from the US Military Academy in 1981, MG Hix has a Masters Degree of Military Art and Science. He currently serves as the Director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy, Deputy Chief of Staff G-3/5/7, Headquarters for the Department of the Army. He is responsible for developing strategies, plans, and concepts that shape the geo-strategic security environment, inform army decision making, and for anticipating and providing forces for national security. Previously, he spent time in other strategy and planning assignments, as well as on operational assignments with both command and staff positions.

Though MG Hix is quite busy, he is a good friend of Neal’s, and graciously took the time the speak with us. One of the most interesting parts of our conversation with MG Hix was his perspective on the global economy. MG Hix referred to the economy as a geopolitical force. He went on to explain how the economy plays a crucial role in shaping the geopolitical climate because it can give people the resources that they need to fulfill greater objectives. He described the world economy as a pie: you can either split it up, and while you might hope that everyone gets an equal sized peace, this will not happen. Or, you can make a bigger pie. The goal, Hix explained, should always be to make a bigger pie.

One part of the growing world economy that Hix explained was China. When asked how China’s growth would affect the world economy, Hix said that he expected the focus to shift East. He chalked this shift up to two main concepts: complacency of Atlantic nations and growth in technology. The former is related to aging. Hix talked about how, in Europe especially, Western nations are failing to see how their aging populations will negatively affect economic growth and present unforeseen challenges. In terms of technology, Hix expressed concern that Europe was not using automation to grow like China is. Rather, in Europe, which has some of the some of the most revolutionary robotics companies in the world, China has a large percentage of the shares.

The opportunity to discuss something so crucial and complicated with MG Hix was wonderful. He gave us plenty to think about, as well as a whole list of books to check out, and, with a nod to Neal, one final piece of advice: always find people smarter than you, and get them on your team.

Yá’át’ééh (greetings) from EN252 Topics in Native American Literature!

Yá’át’ééh (greetings in Diné/Navajo)!

Our course during this third block (October 22-November 14, 2018) is EN252 Topics in Native American Literature: Arts and Literature by Native American Writers and Artists taught by Professor Natanya Pulley (Diné/Navajo). Professor Pulley has a B.A. in English and a Ph.D. in English (Fiction Writing) from the University of Utah. We are focusing on poetry, non-fiction, and fiction by contemporary Native American writers as well as contemporary art by Native American artists. We are interrogating curations and critical approaches to Indigenous arts and writing. We are also working on a decolonization exhibit project with the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Here are some of the course texts that we are reading this block:

“Of Cartography” by Esther G. Belin (Diné/Navajo)

“Whereas” by Layli Long Solider (Oglala Lakota)

“American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings” by Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Sioux)


Our course is connected to Professor Pulley’s Fine Arts Center (FAC) Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow position, which includes opportunities for our class to visit the FAC, have consults, and participate in different activities/exhibits. In September 2016, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the Colorado College $1.2M to support programs and CC courses at the Fine Arts Center museum. The grant is focused on the following initiatives:

  • Supporting diversity and inclusion at CC
  • Fostering interdisciplinary inquiry in the liberal arts
  • Expanding innovative pedagogies
  • Incorporating underrepresented voices into CC’s continuing academic conversation
  • Building experiential learning opportunities that serve a multivalent community of learners
  • Helping students engage with broad cultural shifts

Professor Pulley’s creation of this course was made possible thanks to the support and assistance from the FAC fellowship, Provost funds, VWS, and NEH fund.

Chatting with Morgan Wack

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to have a Skype conversation with Morgan Wack. Morgan graduated from CC in 2015 with a degree in Sociology and minors in African Studies and International Community Development. He is now getting his PHD, but what he spoke to us about was his time as a fellow at the program Princeton in Africa.

I am skeptical of the work of international NGOs. While they often have good intentions, many NGOs are seen as a new version of colonialism, with little regard to local culture and customs, and often creating a dangerous cycle of dependency. However, Morgan’s description of his work gave me renewed excitement about the potential of NGOs.

First, Morgan echoed my concerns about NGOs. He acknowledged that often, NGOs create a disconnect between the community and the government by taking away that responsibility of the government to provide basic resources for its people, under the (correct) assumption that NGOs will fill in the gaps. Furthermore, NGOs often don’t have a structure set up for evaluation of their impact, and they are very connected to their ideas and policies. Combined, they have a hard time recognizing when their programs aren’t working.

The most effective NGOs, however, Morgan explained, are those that work directly with the government to increase its capacity. The hope is that this, in turn, allows individual people to take control of their lives. This is, of course, complicated by corruption and conflict, but working to empower the government to then empower the people, should be the goal of the most effective NGOs.

He also made sure to credit his education at CC for a much of his positive experience. “CC taught me to produce work rapidly,” said Morgan. “Be sure to explain that in your cover letters!”

Internal War with Dr. Kalev Sepp

After taking a quick quiz, the whole class piled into the Economic Collaboration room, where our paraprofessional, Cate, was setting up a Skype interview. After a few minutes, Dr. Kalev I. Sepp’s face popped onto the screen. Everyone stopped chatting. Dr. Sepp was online to discuss with us how countries recover from an internal war.

We were very lucky to be on a Skype call with Dr. Sepp. Currently a Senior Lecturer in Defense Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School, Dr. Sepp specializes in special operations, strategy, and irregular warfare. He also served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, as well as a member of the White House Counterterrorism Strategy Group. He is a former US Army Special Forces officer, with a PHD from Harvard University and has many other important accomplishments.

In discussing internal war, Dr. Sepp used the example of the US Civil War. He shed light on the build up of the Civil War, the war itself, and then how the economy recovered. One aspect of this lecture that I found particularly interesting was the need to consider the residual effects of war and what actions must be taken to address these effects: are there still ethnic tensions? Who address them, and how? Who is responsible for law enforcement? Should there be trials for the separatists? Should they be re-accepted into society?

Sepp answered these questions by recalling the US response. But he said that the thing that allowed the US economy to rebuild was this idea of a shared culture: both sides of the civil war believed in the validity of constitution and its ability to protect human freedoms. This connection was what caused the South to step down. However, Sepp pointed out, not countries with internal war have a similar experience.

It was a wonderful opportunity to talk with Dr. Sepp about the difficulties of internal war. We are very lucky to have such an expert in our classroom (even when its electronic!).

Conversations with Major General Randy George

The first thing that Major General Randy George did when he walked in the room, was shake everyone’s hand. It was 11:30am on October 23, second Tuesday of Block 3, and we were all excited for the opportunity to meet him (as well as to have been able to sleep late!). Major General George had come to class to discuss rebuilding the economy in Afghanistan. He was the perfect person to discuss this subject. After holding command positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, MG George served on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, and as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also has a Bachelor of Science from West Point, a Master’s in Economics from Colorado School of Mines, and a Master’s degree in International Security Studies from the Naval War College.

Despite all these qualifications, MG George is very humble. Soft spoken, with a sharp jawline and kind eyes, MG George talked about growing up in Iowa, his relationship with his wife, and the difficulties of war. He spoke of his efforts in Afghan villages to ensure that Afghanistan could stand on its own. One of the ways to he worked toward this goal was by giving $250,000 to each village. This allowed the people to autonomously decide the best, most sustainable ways to spend the money in their community. People built schools, roads, and more.

MG George was proud of the work he did in Afghanistan, but he admits that it is very difficult and often there is no clear path to success. Though he is nervous to return to Afghanistan, he believes that the consequences of the US leaving the county could create a dangerous power vacuum and destabilize neighboring countries. When he returns to Afghanistan in a few months, he will be working on training the Afghan police force and military.

As MG George prepared to leave, he gave our class a few pieces of advice. “Become an avid reader,” he said, “and learn another language.”

The Road Forward

After two full weeks of exploring the COP23 in Bonn, I can say that I learned a lot from leaders in various categories of climate action. It was a great opportunity to observe a convention on such a scale. As I make my way back to the United States, I want to share some of the biggest things that resonated with me:

1. There is still a lot of work to be done. There is a clear difference in opinion on a lot of matters. I saw this through arguments after talks, protests during speeches, and a conversation I had with a man from Iran. One day on my way to Bonn, I had to abruptly get off one train and wait for a connecting train. Shortly after, a man approached me and asked if we were still going the right way to the COP23. This sparked a conversation on energy and finding a balance between fossil fuels and renewables. He explained that he was from Iran, worked in the energy sector and was heading to the convention to negotiate for fossil fuels – makes sense given the Middle East’s dependence on oil and natural gases. The most interesting part of my conversation with this stranger is that he kept mentioning the importance of “finding a balance” between fossil fuels and renewables. I asked him how he thought we could achieve that and he immediately responded with, “Well what do you think?” The fact that he didn’t have a clear answer indicated that there is a lot of work to be done in order to achieve ambitious climate goals.

2. The US is ‘Still In’ in a big way. The US made a huge splash in the conference with the US Climate Action Center and hosted over 30 events including business leaders, governors, and senators. In light of current climate politics, it was an impressive display of non-federal commitment. Leaders such as Michael Bloomberg and Jerry Brown made a promise to continue funding initiatives to achieve Paris Agreement goals.

3. US businesses play a leadership role in sustainability. Large corporations such as Microsoft, Mars Inc. and Walmart are still committed to their own targets. Last Friday a panel of sustainability officers from the aforementioned companies described their sustainability efforts. Without going into too much detail, Walmart is committed to a 100% renewable energy future and currently sits at 26% renewables with a 2025 goal of 50% renewables. Similarly, Mars Inc. aims to decarbonize factories and be net zero by 2040 in a large part through changing the way transactions occur in the supply chain. Corporations must continue to other businesses and organizations.

Thanks to Mark Smith and Colorado College for an unforgettable journey filled with learning and networking.

Signing off,

Sam Sheridan ’18

Pictured above: Senator Ben Cardin and Sheldon Whitehouse sharing that the US is still committed.