Published in Indian Country Today Media Network | March 8, 2013 | Circulation: 300,000 unique monthly visitors; Magazine: 22,000 readers
“My people will sleep for 100 years,” prophesied Métis leader Louis Riel before his Canadian execution in 1885. “And when they awake, it will be the artists who give them back their spirit.”
For 36-year old installation artist Dylan Miner, the (in)famous insurrectionist’s words are a guiding force. It is a force which has seen him building and displaying his trademark – and distinctly Indigenous – low-rider bicycles across the continent.
“In many ways,” he tells Indian Country Today Media Network, “that serves at the core of how I see myself as an artist, an intellectual and an activist. Riel’s quote about the role of the artist in giving back spirit is the base of my intellectual and artistic practice. Everything I do is a manifestation of that (…). All of it is about engaging community and engaging history in a way that, if nothing else, tries to reinstall our own humanity in a time when the world seems to be less humane.”
Best known for his prolific production of decked-out bikes – some of which are currently on display at Toronto, Canada’s Power Plant gallery as part of Beat Nation– Miner has also worked with Latino youth on his Remapping the Illegitimate Border, on both sides of the U.S.-Canada frontier, has received a prestigious Smithsonian artist fellowship through its National Museum of the American Indian, and will soon begin collecting, drying and ingesting traditional medicinal herbs for a new project.
For him, the bicycle represents a simple, do-it-yourself form of transportation – but also a “symbol of liberation.”
“When I was growing up and I started riding bikes, for the first time I could get from point A to point B faster,” he says. “I could ride through the woods from my house into the little town (…). I started thinking of the connections between traditional forms of transportation – as a Métis person, we had the Red River Cart, a two-wheeled wooden vehicle to move across the Prairies – and sustainable modes of transportation. The automobile superseded all of this.”
He sees a link between the movement and freedom he found through biking, and the movement and freedom of Indigenous Peoples before colonization and national borders.
“Modern nation-state borders, oftentimes, prohibit our free movement,” he explains. “Even when I’m building a bike and talking about migration and movement, there’s some sort of critique of the existence of settler-colonial nation-states.”
Indeed, Miner’s artist statement describes him as a “border-crossing artist,” story-teller, and “anti-authoritarian.” ICTMN reached him in Santa Fe, where he is preparing to build even more of his “Native Kids Ride Bikes” low-riders during the upcoming Indian Market. His activism beyond the gallery walls includes work with the JustSeeds progressive artist project, the radical union Industrial Workers of the World, and more.
“One of the words the Cree use to talk about the Métis is ‘the people without bosses,’” he explains, when asked about his political activism. “I really internalized that – both as a Métis person, and as an artist (…). The work I do as an artist is about that process of giving back community, and giving back spirit, in response to ongoing processes of colonization. Schools often tell very different histories than the ones we like to tell in our own communities. For me, there’s always different logics: the top-down ones from governments and elite institutions, which are written from a very specific trajectory, and the ones that we have of ourselves.”
Growing up in a Métis family in Michigan, Miner learned his history lessons well: After the War of 1812, he says, his ancestral home on Drummond Island lay right in the middle of the new borders drawn between the U.S. and what is now Canada.
He lights up with enthusiasm when we reference a popular slogan in Chicano organizing: “We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us.”
“Exactly!” he exclaims. “But my family, and Indigenous Peoples throughout the hemisphere and throughout the world, have always been here,” he adds, his hands animated. “The borders have always crossed us.”
Miner’s work Native Kids Ride Bikes is on display at Toronto’s Power Plantuntil May 5. His printmaking exhibition Border Cultures is at Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario until March 31, and he will also be lecturing at University of Iowa Museum of Arton April 18. Miner will also be building and displaying his bicycles at the Santa Fe Indian Market from August 12-18.