“I’ve had a lot of personal growth,” Neebinnaukzhik Southall said about her time at Oregon State University.
Part of that growth was learning about the intersections — or lack thereof — between her major of study and her culture. Another part was discovering how she can bridge that gap.
Southall is a member of the Ontario, Canada-based Chippewas of Rama First Nation.
Her heritage influenced her choice to major in graphic design, and her studies broadened her understanding of that heritage.
After working on a research paper winter term, she realized that only a few Native Americans — notably Victor Pascual and Ryan Red Corn — made a name for themselves in graphic design.
She learned the rest of the field is fairly whitewashed, meaning that traditional native symbols occasionally can be misrepresented. The identities of native people who made significant contributions sometimes are not acknowledged.
“It became more and more apparent that there’s a lot of inequity in the graphic design world,” she said.
These findings ultimately set Southall up for her University Honors College thesis, and she began to research traditional images of the Anishinabeks to answer her ultimate graphic design-driven research question: “How can I benefit my own people?”
The resulting thesis was titled “Then and Now: Asserting Anishinabek Identity through Indigenized Apparel.” In the project, Southall discussed the history of many native images — including how some of the images were suppressed as natives were forced to assimilate beginning when North America was colonized; how young people of the Rama First Nation currently dress; and how clothing can help them claim and assert their sense of self.
To accompany the text, Southall created two T-shirts and a hoodie with traditional native designs and decorations. On one of the T-shirts, she painted a thunderbird at the top and a mythical underwater panther at the bottom, used together to symbolize balance. Another simply read the word “Anishinabe” — the singular word to describe the native peoples of the Great Lakes region.
Although the clothing is meant to be meaningful to native youth, it’s also a reminder to the world that native peoples and their cultures are very much alive and vibrant.
“I want people to realize we’re still here,” Southall said.
Southall recently displayed her project in the Celebrating Undergraduate Research and University Honors College poster fairs, and was recognized as having one of three outstanding posters at the latter. She also was featured in the spring issue of OSU’s research publication, Terra Magazine.
She wants to eventually do design work for a native organization, or even The Smithsonian Institution, but first she’ll join her brother Joel, 24, in walking at OSU’s commencement Saturday. (Their younger brother Meegwun, 19, will continue his undergraduate work at OSU.)
Southall plans to use the summer working on different art and photography projects; art is what brought her to graphic design in the first place, and she currently has a photography collection on display in the Graduating Seniors Exhibit in OSU’s Fairbanks Hall.
She also hopes to visit her large extended family in Ontario for at least a month this summer and keep up her connections with the Rama First Nation.
Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.