Indigenous Futures: Indian Heritage Murals

Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison


By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

Recently, the Seattle Art Museum presented PechaKucha Seattle volume 63, titled Indigenous Futures. PechaKuchas are informal and fun gatherings where creative people get together and present their ideas, works, thoughts – just about anything, really – in fun, relaxed spaces that foster an environment of learning and understanding. It would be easy to think PechaKuchas are all about the presenters and their presentation, but there is something deeper and a more important subtext to each of these events. They are all about togetherness, about coming together as a community to reveal and celebrate the richness and dimension contained within each one of us. They are about fostering a community through encouragement, friendship and celebration.

The origins of PechaKucha Nights stem from Tokyo, Japan and have since gone global; they are now happening in over 700 cities around the world. What made PechaKucha Night Seattle volume 63 so special was that it was comprised of all Native artists, writers, producers, performers, and activists presenting on their areas of expertise and exploring the realm of Native ingenuity in all its forms, hence the name Indigenous Futures.


Andrew Morrison.Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison
Andrew Morrison.
Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

Andrew Morrison, San Carlos Apache and Haida, is a phenomenal painter and muralist who is proud to call Seattle his home, he is a great 12th Man Seahawks fan, and considers a blank wall his absolute greatest resource. Morrison’s PechaKucha presentation was on the past, present, and future of the great Indian Heritage High School murals he created of Chief Sealth, Chief Joseph, Geronimo, and Chief Sitting Bull.

“Being a Native person, I really take a lot of pride in painting and creating murals. It truly is an honor every day to be able to celebrate the Native American arts through my craft,” says Morrison. “The goal of my painting is to better myself, my family and the community.”

Morrison and many of his friends attended Indian Heritage High School (IHS) in Seattle. In 2001, after attending college, Morrison began volunteering in the art program and noticed there was a void within the school. “I saw there wasn’t a lot of artwork on the walls of the school. The walls were very blank and very dormant, without energy. As a muralist, as a painter, I’m always striving for larger surfaces,” explained Morrison of his motivation to begin painting 25-foot by 100-foot large murals of Native American heroes.

It was a twelve-year project to completely finish the four mammoth murals on IHS, beginning in 2001 and being completed in 2013. The massive portraits of Native American heroes was noticed by news outlets, tribal and non-tribal alike. The portraits are a source of pride for many Native people who don’t see their heroes recognized as they should be. Unfortunately, there were those who saw the massive portraits as an opportunity to vandalize another’s work to showcase their own ignorance, as the mantra goes, ‘haters gonna hate’. Over the weekend of February 24, 2015 a local graffiti crew desecrated the murals by splattering white latex paint all over them.


Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison
Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison


Only days later a cleanup operation, led by Morrison, consisting of 30-35 volunteers worked tirelessly to remove the white spray-paint and restore the murals to their former glory. As if the vandals’ desecrations wasn’t enough, soon after restoring the murals Morrison learned there was a proposal in the Seattle School District to demolish Indian Heritage High School, along with his murals.

“I fought and advocated for a  year straight, twelve months exactly, to preserve these murals. I felt these images of our Native American warrior chiefs were so sacred and so holy that to demolish them to the ground would be another form of desecration. That was a very tumultuous battle and fight, but I give the credit to the community and the people who believe in art and believe in our indigenous culture. Through the power of togetherness we were able to get the Seattle School District to vote to preserve these murals. Now, these murals are presented prepped and ready to go as they will be built into the new Wilson Pacific Schools to be opened next year.

“Especially after living through experiences like these, it actually inspires me to paint bigger and larger and be more creative and go more in depth. It is heartwarming to know that the murals will continue to witness life and be an inspiration at the new Wilson Pacific Schools.”


Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison
Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

Native-American murals at Wilson-Pacific vandalized

The Native-American murals at Wilson-Pacific, a Seattle Public Schools building, have been vandalized. (Andrew Morrison)
The Native-American murals at Wilson-Pacific, a Seattle Public Schools building, have been vandalized. (Andrew Morrison)


By Seattle Sketcher Gabriel Campanario, Seattle Times


Murals painted by local Native-American artist Andrew Morrison at the Wilson-Pacific school building have been desecrated.


Muralist Andrew Morrison filed a police report Monday for damage done over the weekend to his Native American murals on the side of the Wilson-Pacific school building. (Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times)
Muralist Andrew Morrison filed a police report Monday for damage done over the weekend to his Native American murals on the side of the Wilson-Pacific school building. (Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times)


Andrew Morrison’s murals at Seattle’s Wilson-Pacific school building were desecrated over the weekend. The words DAPKILO were painted over, said Morrison, who sent me the photo you see above. DAP is the name of a crew of graffiti artists. It stands for Down Around Pike, said Morrison, and KILO is the name of one of their artists. “We know who did it,” Morrison told me over the phone. “He was stupid enough to write his own name.”

Morrison said the only explanation to the crime is “jealousy and hate.” He said the murals, which the city agreed to preserve intact, have become known and are a celebration of life. “Only someone who is against that could do this.”

The towering murals on the Wilson-Pacific School campus in North Seattle are among just a few notable examples of local public art honoring Native Americans. In 2013, they seemed destined for destruction when Seattle Public Schools announced plans to demolish the buildings to make way for a new campus. The school district proposed taking photographs of the murals and displaying them in the new school so the artwork could be remembered. But officials eventually changed their mind and agreed to preserve them given their cultural and historical value.

Johnpaul Jones, an architect involved in the preservation process, plans to visit the site Tuesday morning to assess the damage.

Below is a sketch of the murals from my article last month.



Andrew Morrison Adds Geronimo, Sitting Bull to Seattle School Mural

andrew-morrisonIndian Country Today Media Network

When ICTMN last covered Andrew Morrison, he was still fighting to preserve the murals he painted on the exterior of Seattle’s American Indian Heritage School.

Yet the fight was not merely about preserving works of art—it was a manifestation of the Native community’s fight to save its school, a key part of its identity. See the article “Will Endangered Seattle School Murals Be Saved?” for more of the story.

On May 31, Morrison made good on his stated plans to complete the wall by adding portraits of Sitting Bull and Geronimo to those of Chief Joseph and Chief Seattle. The feat was accomplished in a day-long painting session, with help from fellow muralists.

“I actually feel like I have lived a fulfilled life,” Morrison says toward the end of the clip. “I really feel like there’s nothing else to pursue at this moment. This is my gift to the Indian country. I really feel, at this point, May 31, 2013, my life was fulfilled.”

Andrew Morrison Adds Geronimo, Sitting Bull to Seattle School Mural (video)


Beloved Native American murals at Wilson-Pacific may disappear

Seattle Public Schools wants to preserve the five large murals of Native Americans painted on the Wilson-Pacific campus, which is scheduled for demolition. But the artist says he no longer wants to give the district his permission.

Posting of the modified page, February 24, 2013 at 10:24 PM
By Linda Shaw
Seattle Times education reporter


Two side-by-side portraits of Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph can be seen for blocks around North Seattle’s Wilson-Pacific school, an aging set of buildings now used for offices and programs, including one that historically has served Native American students.

Painted in black, white and gray, the murals each soar 25 feet high, with Chief Seattle, in his older years, sitting in a chair looking off to one side, and Chief Joseph, in his prime, staring straight ahead.

Andrew Morrison, an artist who grew up in the Seattle area, painted the murals and three others on the Wilson-Pacific campus over a period of about seven years, populating the school’s dull, beige walls with images of friends, acquaintances and a Haida mythical figure along with the two iconic chiefs.

The murals have become a touchstone for the surrounding Licton Springs neighborhood and the Native American community in Seattle, which has strong ties to the area because of the Native American programs at the school and nearby Licton Springs, once a tribal gathering place.

Now the murals’ fate is in limbo, as Seattle Public Schools, with the passage of a capital levy earlier this month, plans to tear down Wilson-Pacific and replace it with two new schools.

District officials hope to preserve all five murals by taking digital photographs of them, then reproducing them at the new school buildings. They have asked for Morrison’s permission and offered to pay the costs and give Morrison a seat on the school’s design committee, which would decide where the reproductions would be placed.

Morrison, 31, said he considered the officials’ offer and, last month, asked them to put their proposals in writing, which they did. But a week ago Sunday, standing in front of the two chiefs in a light rain, he said that after a lot of reflection, he’s decided he won’t give his permission for the district to reproduce his work.

He repeatedly congratulated the district for the passage of the levy, which he opposed. But Morrison said he’s lost trust in the district, in part because no school official approached him about saving the murals until he started showing up at public meetings about the levy. He also said he’s talked with four different officials, and has no confidence they won’t simply continue to pass him along.

“For many reasons,” he said, “it’s in my best interests to step away.”

A labor of love

Morrison, a member of the Apache and Haida tribes, created the first mural in 2001, a portrait of a Blackfeet friend from Canada.

Morrison didn’t attend the Indian Heritage Middle College, the district’s nearly 40-year-old program that has been at Wilson-Pacific since 1989. But he has volunteered at the school and has visited the campus for powwows, dinners, basketball tournaments and other events as long as he can remember.

Neighbors around Wilson-Pacific held a block party when that first mural was finished, and Morrison said that helped inspire him to keep going, even though he has received no pay for any of them.

He finished the second mural — images of friends and relatives wearing tribal regalia — on Sept. 11, 2001, just after the news that two airplanes had flown into the twin towers in New York City. He remembers Indian Heritage students and teachers coming out on the playground, surprised but happy to see something positive on that difficult day.

He finished the last two murals — Chief Joseph and the one with the Haida mythical figure — in 2007.

Morrison’s work also can be seen in Chicago, Portland, Alaska and Idaho as well as many places in Washington state, including the Snoqualmie Casino, El Centro de La Raza and Edmonds Community College.

“Cultural continuity”

During the levy campaign, a number of people urged the district to renovate Wilson-Pacific rather than replace it, and to revitalize the Indian Heritage program, which has dwindled in size and also has an uncertain future. The program’s supporters wanted the murals saved, too.

The murals “are an affirmation of our identity,” said Sarah Sense-Wilson, who chairs the Urban Native Education Alliance and helps coordinate the Clear Sky Native Youth Council, which also meets at the school. Destroying them, she said, “destroys the site’s cultural continuity.”

Bethany Elliott, a 17-year-old member of the council, said she often thinks of the murals as a source of inspiration when she writes poetry.

Still, both of them say they stand by Morrison’s decision to withhold his permission to save them.

Dr. Kelvin Frank, executive director of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, said he supports whatever Morrison decides, too, even though he also values the murals at Wilson-Pacific and the one Morrison created for United Indians at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Discovery Park.

“As American Indians, very seldom do we see this type of work being displayed in urban settings,” Frank said. “When we do, we take it to heart.”

Some of the neighbors who live around Wilson-Pacific helped Morrison get a grant to help pay for the materials for the Chief Joseph portrait.

Morrison is proud of how the murals have raised awareness of Native American history, and says they’ve been one key to his artistic success. He said he went to great lengths to try to find common ground with the district, but didn’t feel those efforts were returned.

District officials say they thought they were on good terms with Morrison, and hope he’ll change his mind.

“It is our desire to save his work,” said Lucy Morello, director of capital projects.

Still, she said, they don’t want to go forward, even if they could, without his cooperation.

Morrison hasn’t told the district that he doesn’t want the murals reproduced, Morello said. She hopes that’s a sign that there’s still a chance they can work together.

There’s time, she says, because the construction of the new schools won’t start for several years.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or On Twitter: @LShawST

View Article and photos of Mural paintings here.