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It’s hard to miss the vibrant mural that now decorates a wall inside the Joe Crowley Student Union at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The mural, like no other on campus, depicts the history of Native American women and their struggle to protect their culture, land and water.

For Reno artist Sana Sana, his mural is an opportunity to educate the public about the history of the indigenous peoples of Nevada and their struggles. It is a way of giving a voice to Native American communities, he said.

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“Whenever I create works of art, I have to be honest and pay attention to the things that people are not paying attention to,” said Sana Sana. “There are enough artists who just paint pretty flowers or make songs about money, drugs or misogyny.

There are enough people talking about these things, so it’s my responsibility to talk about other things that are happening, ”he said. “I used my paint to do this.”

The mural was commissioned to celebrate the Centre’s name change. Every student, every story at the Multicultural Center and has since captured the attention of students and faculty alike.

It depicts the struggle for approval of Thacker Pass, a proposed mine in America’s largest known lithium deposit near the Nevada-Oregon border. At least one Nevada tribe has joined the legal battle, alongside conservationists trying to protect habitat in the area, to ban any excavation at the site, saying the mine would disrupt the site. sacred burial.

The painting shows the silhouette of a woman like a mountain landscape with a gaping wound from an open pit mine.

“It is the friendliest mining state in the country,” said Sana Sana. “The mining industry is the country’s biggest polluter by volume. I thought it was important for people to see this.

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“It’s one thing to see a mine, but quite another to see her as a person and the pain the earth goes through in this non-consensual take on what people value for money and how it is. is correlated with the non-consensual taking of the body of women and the rape of the culture that we live within the society.

Local artist Sana Sana poses for a portrait in front of her mural at the Multicultural Center on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, September 30, 2021.

The mural also depicts Mother Earth as a pregnant Native American woman. Sana Sana said he believes it is important to humanize and personify the landscape to make the issue more relevant.

The woman in his fresco represents life, the earth and creation.

“When I think of the land, I think of a mother,” he said. “Everything comes from the earth, that’s where we were born. When I think of my mother, she is brunette, she has native features because of our heritage.

Sana Sana, whose father immigrated to the United States, said he had an indigenous heritage linked to the Purépecha people of Michoacán, Mexico.

At the bottom of her mural, Sana Sana depicted various indigenous girls. At one end of the mural, they appear to be smiling, but at the other end, a nun with an American flag on her sleeve is depicted cutting the girls’ hair – a burning church burning behind her.

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The coin depicts the history of Native American residential schools and the federal government’s attempts to crush Native cultures.

Most recently, residential schools across the country have come under federal review to investigate student deaths and the effects residential schools have had on Native American tribes. This unprecedented move follows the discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children in what was once the largest Indigenous residential school in Canada.

“I shed a lot of tears while I was creating this piece because this piece also represents me,” Sana Sana said. “That’s why I don’t speak purpecha. This is why I speak Spanish. That’s why I don’t have my ceremonies and was raised in a church going through this same system, not being able to have our songs to honor our water and our land.

Local artist Sana Sana is working on a painting in her studio in Reno on September 30, 2021.

Beverly Harry, a member of the Navajo tribe in the Four Corners region and an Indigenous community organizer for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), said the mural reminded people that they were on Native American lands.

“The most populated areas are occupied by non-indigenous communities,” Harry said. “When we look at the Washoe Valley and Reno area, these are areas where the Washoe people and the northern Paiutes roamed. “

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Harry worked with Sana Sana to promote other social causes, including raising awareness of the impacts of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. She described Sana Sana’s activism through works of art as “artivism”.

“It helps bridge the gap between the beauty of the art and the beauty of our voices protecting these lands,” she said. “We have to keep it for seven generations. “

She said the mural also depicts strong women who fought for their people. It refers to Haunani-Kay Trask, a renowned scholar who fought for Hawaiian sovereignty and recently passed away at the age of 71.

Although there are Native American teachers and student organizations at UNR, there is not enough representation from local native tribes, Harry said.

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“You walk through the university and the buildings and the different levels of each building, there are no areas dedicated to indigenous people,” she said. “There aren’t even any colleges that are dedicated to Native American or Native studies or anything like that.

“We hope this will bring some pride to the people who visit the center and help them understand that brown people are important and that they should be proud of the work done in all of these areas of concern and issues (pictured) in this mural. . “

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Jody Lykes, who teaches hip-hop, family studies and classes on race and gender identity, said he saw students stop and admire the mural.

“In person, it evokes thought, emotion and whatever else you hope art does,” Lykes said. “We have people walking near the center, because it’s new and they haven’t seen it yet, and they’ll stop and focus.”

For Lykes, the most striking piece of the mural was seeing the American flag represent residential schools.

“It’s super punchy, I can’t even explain it,” he said. “We try to make sure that people who have been excluded are included, and especially for indigenous women. It’s just powerful the way he expresses it.

Marcella Corona is a journalist who covers underrepresented local communities in northern Nevada. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com.