New mural on the bike path in Jackson, WY, honors Northern Arapaho culture
Around 50 students from Wyoming’s Northern Arapaho tribe crowded together on a Jackson bike path as they prepared for a ribbon cutting in early October.
They were next to the Garaman tunnel: the home of the new, colorful, 80-foot-long mural.
The subject? The four hills of life (yeneini3i’ 3o3outei’i) — a key concept for the tribe.
“In our culture, it’s everything, you know? It’s our life,” Arapaho language teacher Lorraine Goggles said to the students.
Wind River artist Colleen Friday, a conservation organizer for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, worked with the students — from elementary to high school age — to come up with the idea for the mural and use paint-by-numbers to fill it in.
In a brainstorming session, she said the students initially sketched pictures of water, mountains and buffalo.
“So through that, I meshed our culture, our Arapaho identity to share with this community,” Friday explained to the crowd on the bike path.
The Four Hills of Life
Friday said depicting the four hills made sense because it includes all of the students’ ideas. Mountains and rivers are depicted throughout the piece.
The first section, the first hill of life, includes a buffalo calf and cow. Friday said it represents childhood and birth, or the spring season, while the second hill represents youth — or summer.
“It’s getting out, doing, gathering food and getting ready to go into fall and the end of the year,” Friday explained.
The colors darken as the mural moves into fall, or adulthood.
“It’s learning to speak up and give back to your community and people,” she said.
The fourth hill represents winter, but also the culture of storytelling. An elder is shown sitting with a cane, speaking to the silhouettes of children. It’s a realistic painting of an Arapaho elder who taught the native language and oral history to youth.
“What’s humbling to me is my dad is in the artwork,” said Pat Moss – that elder’s son – who was also at the celebration.
Moss is the chairman of Fremont County School Board and came to support the students. But he said he was taken aback when he saw his father was included in the mural. He said the art represents the Northern Arapaho way.
“And it will be shared now with everyone in the community and those who walk this path,” Moss said.
A place in the community
The mural was made in collaboration with Jackson Hole Community Pathways and Jackson Hole Public Art, which are trying to make the bike path not just a means of transportation but a place in the community.
Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson, who was at the gathering to cut the ribbon, said she encourages having art in public locations like this.
“I walk or bike this path often with my family and being able to enjoy this art and kind of think about that on my regular dog walk is a really special thing,” Morton Levinson said.
Students from Jackson Hole High School also came to learn about the mural and act as local ambassadors for the art piece, sharing what it is about to their networks.
Some of them worked on the mural on the south side of the Garaman tunnel. That one represents Mexican culture, highlighting parts of Tlaxcala — the Mexican state where many in the community have roots.
“We have a lot of different pieces of culture that maybe haven’t always been highlighted, and it’s really important to me to have them highlighted so that we all know about those cultures,” Morton Levinson said. “All these folks are part of our community.”
‘A memory for a long time’
Bikes whizzed by and dogs barked as Morton Levinson prepared to cut the ribbon, celebrating the new mural.
“Come on over, come on over,” the mayor said to the kids.
Together, they held big, blue scissors around the red and white ribbon.
“Three, two, one,” the crowd chanted, before slicing the ribbon in half and breaking into applause.
And with that, the kids dispersed, some taking in the mural, others playing nearby at Flat Creek under the changing yellow trees. Their language teacher, Goggles, said this was a big moment for them.
“Look, they’re all happy,” she said. “They’re all smiling and they know which parts they did. It’ll be a memory for them for a long time.”
“Hohóu,” Goggles said before walking away to join the kids — meaning thank you in Arapaho.
This storywas shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.