Confronting Colonial Myths in Boston's Public Space

Tuesday, July 21st and July 28th at 6pm

Hosted by Mayor's Office of Arts & Culture Boston, streaming on Facebook Live

During this virtual panel series, Indigenous leaders, artists and allies will speak about their work in the public realm, and address how public symbols perpetuating colonial myths affect the lives of Indigenous people in the city, contributing to the public health emergency of racism. It will be live streamed through the Mayor's Office of Arts & Culture Boston Facebook page.


Facilitated by Erin Genia, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota, Artist-in-Residence, City of Boston


Part 1, July 21st at 6pm EDT

Mahtowin Munro, Lakota, Co-leader of United American Indians of New England and lead organizer for IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org will speak about the “Dismantle Now! BIPOC Solidarity Against White Supremacy: March + Art Action” that took place at Faneuil Hall Square on July 8th, as well as her work calling for the removal of the Columbus statue and other colonial monuments and symbols in Boston.

Lilly E. Manycolors, mixed Choctaw, interdisciplinary artist and scholar will discuss her work “MISKODOODISWAN Red Sweat Lodge: Witnessing/Healing of Missing and Murdered Women,” now installed on Boston Common.

Jean-Luc Pierite, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, President of the Board, North American Indian Center of Boston, will talk about his work advocating for the protection of sacred sites around Boston. 

Part 2, July 28th at 6pm EDT

Elizabeth Solomon, member of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, has spent over 30 working in public health in both academic and community-based settings. Currently the Director of Administration in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Pierre Belanger, Ghazal Jafari and Pablo Escudero of OPEN SYSTEMS. Following a 3-year process of investigation, they will shed light on the corruption of public process, the weaponization of urban space, and racialization of the public sphere in Boston with the Christopher Columbus monument on the waterfront in 1979, in the context of the rise of a 500-year old legacy of veneration of Columbus since 1492. Pierre Bélanger is a settler designer, originally from Montréal and Ottawa, now in Boston, traditional lands of the Massachusett Peoples, territory of the Wampanoag and Nipmuc Nations. Ghazal Jafari is a designer of Persian and Azeri descent and Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia, traditional lands of the Monacan Nation. Pablo Escudero is an Ecuadorian farmer, architect, and Fulbright Scholar in the US from Quito, on traditional territories of Kechwa Peoples. Together, they are part of the co-founders of OPEN SYSTEMS, a design-based, non-profit research organization of builders, educators, and farmers, dedicated to opening systemic knowledge related to complex, socioecological challenges and geopolitical conflicts—at the intersection of land, water, environmental justice, spatial inequality, climate change, and community self-determination.

Heather Leavell (she/her/hers) is a second generation Italian American (on her mother's side) and co-founder of Italian Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day, a Massachusetts-based group supporting Indigenous-led efforts to rename Columbus Day across the state. She also works as an accomplice to help raise awareness of Indigenous legislative priorities, including bills that would abolish Native mascots in public schools and change the state flag. Leavell is a museum director and curator in the Boston area.

Dr. Darlene Flores, mother of three, comes from a lineage of curanderos (healers) from Boriken (Puerto Rico). She is the sole owner of Karaya Wellness Clinic in Brookline, MA. Dr. Flores practices a Holistic approach to Chiropractic medicine, implementing ancestral remedies, including but not limited to, alcolados, banos, and spiritual energy work. She loves to teach classes on Holistic Health and Wellness. She also has a passion for dancing “Bomba” music. Which is the traditional ancestral resistance music from the island of Boriken; rooted in the history of the African and Indigenous slavery. Dr. Darlene Flores is an active registered member of Higuayagua Taino of the Caribbean Tribe. She serves as one of their healers and Medicine women.

Part 3, August 4th at 6pm EDT

Jenny Oliver has been an artist in the city of Boston for 15 years, moving here after undergrad and working within the community as a teacher, performer, choreographer and advocate for artistic integrity. As a culturally Black person of Cape Verdean and Indigenous heritage with membership in the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag it has become important to her to address the erasure of Native people in her teachings and performances. In 2016 she established Connections Dance Theater as a way to work at the intersection of dance, education and philanthropy towards elevating issues affecting black people, indigenous people and people of color. She was the inaugural recipient of the DanceMaker’s Residency at the Boston Center for the Arts where she debuted her first evening length production, HOT WATER OVER RAISED FISTS; educating audiences about the injustice and urgency of water rights through the protests at Standing Rock and the ongoing crisis in Flint, MI. When she is not creating, she is elevating minds and empowering bodies on faculty at Tufts University, Emerson College, Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center and the Dance Complex.

Kristen Wyman's fight for the right to land, food, medicine and human dignity is completely tied to her identity and responsibility as a Nipmuc woman, mother, and daughter. She is co-Founder of Eastern Woodlands Rematriation (EWR), a network of Indigenous peoples restoring the foundation of sustainable food systems. Her work is deeply personal and motivated by the important roles of womxn as landholders, farmers, culture bearers, artisans and diplomats. As the Global Movements Program Manager with WhyHunger Kristen supports social movement processes at the global level, in their path towards food sovereignty and liberation. She focuses mostly on strategic plans, communication strategies, and grassroots methodologies for building mass power.


State Seal of Massachusetts, with me in it

Massachusetts state seal, as a profile pic, "By the sword we week peace, but peace only under liberty" state motto, in Latin.

I put myself in there because I live here. Any way you look at this seal, it's terrible. Time to change the seal and all symbols glorifying colonization.


Canupa Iŋyan: Falling Star Woman

 6.5mm x 11.5 mm cylinder carved from canupa iŋyan/ pipestone/ catlinite
photo by Sam Genia

Canupa Iŋyan: Falling Star Woman is a piece made from canupa inyan/ pipestone/ catlinite stone. I created this piece for the "Earthlings: Open Call for Artworks in Low Earth Orbit" project of the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative. The piece will be included, as one of nine art works, in a unit called Sojourner 2020 that will orbit the earth on the International Space Station this year. Sojourner 2020 will be launched on March 6, 2020, from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida on the Space X Falcon 9 CRS-20.

For info about the launch, and to watch it live, click here.

Carved from the traditional Dakota material of canupa iŋyan/ pipestone, Canupa Iŋyan: Falling Star Woman depicts the legend of a star gazing young woman who travels to space, marries a star person and gives birth to a star child. Over time, she misses her family, friends, and her work as a plant medicine healer. She decides to leave her home in the stars and return to her people on earth. Using the thread of her woven dress as a rope, she climbs down from the stars. However, the thread is not long enough. She lets go and tumbles down to earth as a wakaŋwohpa/ falling star.

Canupa Iŋyan: Falling Star Woman, front

There are varying versions of this story within oral tradition, each possessing different elements and outcomes for Falling Star Woman. In this piece, I chose the elements that are most prominent in my recollection, in order to recreate her voyage into space, and her path falling back down to earth's gravity field.

Canupa Iŋyan: Falling Star Woman, rear

The carving shows the moment she is transformed into a falling star and becomes Wicahnpi Hinhpayawin/ Falling Star Woman. Her face appears on one side of the cylinder and her hair flows into the shape of an eight-pointed star on the other end. On her body, I carved a Dakota floral pattern to show the strong pull she felt to resume her duties to her people as a plant medicine healer, and the relevance of the stars to planting seasons.

detail of Dakota floral pattern on shaft

This piece is a extension of my ongoing project: "Canupa Iŋyan: carvings of my ancestors," in which I work with pipestone and study its history and cultural forms. This stone comes from the quarry located on Dakota homelands where people of many tribes historically came together to dig stone for their pipes. Today, due to colonization, the quarry is under the jurisdiction of the United States, and it is known as Pipestone National Monument, in Minnesota.

pipestone carving of Wicahnpi Hinhpayawin, through a lens

This project has led me to museum collections around the US, where I have viewed, studied, documented, and spent time with ancestral Dakota canupa iŋyan pieces. According to Dakota philosophy, the historical pieces residing in museums are considered to be ancestors themselves, possessing a life of their own. Likewise, this stone is a vibrant form of life with much cultural significance.

Falling Star Woman in the Mesosphere, acrylic on canvas, 42"x 30"

Canupa iŋyan is a sacred material to Dakota people for many reasons, and it is my goal to send this piece into orbit around the earth as a symbolic prayer for peace and for the strengthening of Indigenous peoples all over the globe, as well as the resurgence of Indigenous knowledge and ways in this time of global crisis. Canupa Iŋyan: Falling Star Woman was prepared for this task through protocols of working with this stone. When it returns back to earth after its time in the thermosphere, I will observe and document any changes in the work, and then honor its journey through ceremony.

Piece with hand for scale

The piece was made to fit into the Sojourner 2020 capsule, it measures  6.5 mm x 11.5 mm, and weighs only 0.86g. It is the smallest piece I have ever done, smaller than my fingernail, about the size of a pill. Sojourner 2020 is a unit built to hold art work investigations in a small space, it consists of three layers, the first that remains still in weightlessness, the second and third that rotate at the speed of the moon and Mars, respectively. Falling Star Woman is on the first layer and will experience zero gravity for the duration of her time on the ISS.

Sojourner 2020, photo courtesy Xin Liu

Canupa Iŋyan: Falling Star Woman is one of nine projects by international artists included on the International Space Station payload. Featured artists are:

Luis Guzman, “bioarchitectures,” Chile
Xin Liu, Lucia Monge, “Unearthing the Futures,” China & Peru
Levi Cai & Andrea Ling, “Abiogenetic Triptych,” USA, Canada
Kathleen Kohl, “Memory Chain: A Pas de Deux of Artifacts,” USA
Henry Tan, “Pearl of Lunar,” Thai
Janet Biggs, “Finding Equilibrium,” USA
Masahito Ono, “Nothing, Something, Everything,” Japan
Adriana Knouf, “TX-1,” USA
Erin Genia, “Canupa Inyan: Falling Star Woman,” American, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate

More information about Sojourner 2020 is on the MIT Media Lab website, and information about the entire MIT payload is located here.
detail of Falling Star Woman painting


Colonial Legacy: Uncontrolled Burn

Colonial Legacy: Uncontrolled Burn
pastel on paper
9" x 12"

The work depicts a wild forest fire from above. The increasing number and severity of forest fires stems from the colonial legacy of destroying earth-based ways of knowing that are carried by Indigenous peoples. One of these ways of knowing is a centuries-old practice of stewarding landscapes through a variety of methods that include controlled burns to manage forests. The loss of Indigenous peoples practicing these methods over widespread areas, accompanied by a prevalent view that the natural world is a set of natural resources meant for human and industrial consumption alone inevitably leads to uncontrolled wild fires and eventually, ecosystemic collapse.



My first solo exhibition, Okoŋwaŋžidaŋ is at the Urbano Project. The exhibition opening was on October 24th. My latest work on view, include paintings, sculptures, textiles, a video projection of Earthling and an installation of sound vessels.  This solo show is one aspect of my artist residency at Urbano, working with youth artists.

For more information about the show and the residency, check out this news coverage from my alma mater MIT Art Culture and Technology program, Broadway World, Art Fix Daily and Jamaica Plains News.

The show was also reviewed by Boston Globe arts journalist Cait McQuaid, in the article "At Urbano Project, artist Erin Genia ties together 'everything in the universe.'"


Unseen Dimensions of Public Space

Anpa O Wicahnpi: Dakota Pride Banner
Seattle Center, 2017 by Erin Genia
My new article, "Unseen Dimensions of Public Space: Disrupting Colonial Narratives," is published in the Boston Art Review Issue 04 this fall. It discusses the meanings of public space in the United States settler colonial society, and how the concept largely excludes Indigenous people and the ways public land was obtained.

The article references "Monuments in Perspective," the workshop I gave this past spring for "Experiments in Pedagogy," a series of curricular events marking the 150th anniversary of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. The workshop consisted of regional site visits to places of cultural and historic significance to the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, Massachusett and Ponkapoag people. Through the wisdom and words of Jonathan James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag) and Jean-Luc Pierite (Tunica-Biloxi), students and community members learned about the history and character of the land, as well as critical approaches for respecting it in their work as artists, designers, urban planners and architects.

The article also discusses the work of two artists working in the public sphere whom I admire a great deal, Lillian Pitt (Warm Springs/ Wasco) and Toma Villa (Yakama). The Confluence Project, a series of public art sites and interventions along the Columbia river, led by Maya Lin, features their compelling art pieces and promotes the work and voices of Indigenous people of the area.

My work, Anpa O Wicahnpi/ Morningstar - Dakota Pride Banner, which celebrated diversity and the urban Indian experience at Seattle Center from 2017-2018, also makes an appearance in the article. I am proud to be one of six writers that the public arts organization Now +There supported for this publication.


Wokiksuye: The Politics of Memory in Indigenous Art, Monuments, and Public Space

This year, I have fulfilled the requirements of my Masters degree program in Art, Culture and Technology, at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. One of the requirements was to produce a thesis. Here is my thesis abstract:

The powers of creativity and symbolism that art draws upon have been used in the public realm to uplift and also to oppress. Within this context, art, from Indigenous perspectives, can positively influence the collective imaginations and wokiksuye (memory) of society. Indigenous intervention into the practice of public art can powerfully contribute to the process of decolonization and Indigenization in America. Considerations embedded in notions of public space within a settler colonial society, such as the attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples and histories, and the supplanting of Western doctrines over Indigenous cultures, influence the production and reception of this work. Erin Genia, a Dakota artist, analyzes the politics of memory in public space by scrutinizing monuments celebrating the American colonial project and describes the impacts of Western imperialism on Indigenous arts and cultures. By presenting her own artwork, as well as that of prominent Indigenous artists working in the public sphere, she shows how understandings of place and relationship underpin Dakota/Indigenous methods, and argues that public art is an arena where an evolution of thought and practice in approaches to the world can come to fruition.

I created the image above for the 2019 SA+P Thesis show. You can see information about this thesis, and other students theses here.

You can read more about my graduate work, including my thesis, here.



"The imminent and expected destruction of the life cycle of world ecology can be prevented by a radical shift in outlook from our present naive conception of this world as a testing ground of abstract morality to a more mature view of the universe as a comprehensive matrix of life forms."
- Vine Deloria, Jr. God is Red, 1973
Earthling performance at MIT building 7, Art, Culture and Technology Program, photo by Chelsea Polk, June 2019
Earthling is a character, a person, a being, at once playful and unnerving, who uses sound to claim space.
Earthling with thundertube, 2019

Earthling is a reminder, that underneath people's closely held ideas, underneath the systems that capitalize upon us and colonize us, our adopted ideologies, we are earth-based beings.

We are not just of the earth – we are the earth.
Earthling Mask
acrylic and architectural model vegetation on canvas

Human understanding has come far away from the reality that we are not separate from the earth. How would our responsibilities to ourselves, each other and our world change if this reality was the basis of our collective thought and action?

Earthling in Joy Parade through Boston, by artist Nick Cave, photo courtesy Now + There, 2019
Looking back through history, all cultures of the world stem from earth-based ways of knowing. For the past couple centuries, earth-based ways have been targeted for erasure and indeed nearly erased by dominant societal forces, in order to prop up false hierarchies. Part of the decolonization process involves understanding this historical perspective, and working to shed those ideologies that have been harmful to us and the world around us.
Earthling drawing waves, at Futurity Island: Amphibian Pedagogies and Submberged Perspectives, MIT Walker Memorial, photo by Juan Necochea, 2019

Earthling drawing waves using pipestone pigment, at Futurity Island sound sculpture photo by Juan Necochea, 2019
Can we shift our orientation to creating economies, scientific practices, technology, social structures and culture that is based upon this fundamental aspect of life?

Earthling asks us to consider these questions. Earthling has been performed at "Futurity Island: Amphibian Pedagogies and Submberged Perspectives" at MIT, organized by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas in collaboration with Indrė Umbrasaitė, Nicole L’Huillier and Tobias Putrih. Earthling appeared in artist Nick Cave's "Augment: Joy Parade" organized by Now + There and Ds4si in Boston.

Embodying transformation with the earthling mask and a water soundscape, March 2019