GALLERY: Behind the Entrance Wall: Native American History Told

Photo taken by Artemis Huang.

By Artemis Huang
Boston University News Service

This year’s Boston Marathon is special for a number of reasons: it’s status as the 125th edition of the race, it being the first hybrid-Boston Marathon, with both an in-person race and a virtual option offered and, most obviously, that it is happening in the fall.

Instead of being held on Patriot’s Day in April, participants are now running on Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the time being. Announced in January, the decision received a fair amount of backlash, with the Boston Athletic Association later offering an apology for the decision, acknowledging the holiday and its significance for Indigenous people.

Part of that acknowledgement was on display during Marathon weekend, visible to the thousands who attended the Boston Marathon Fan Festival. Many noticed the artists painting the west entrance wall of Copley Square Park; a work put together by Wings of America, a non-profit organization that promotes running for Native American youths and more.

Below is a gallery describing the making of the mural, what went into its development and some of the people both on and behind it.

Wings of America artists could be seen painting the entrance wall throughout the Boston Marathon Fan Festival. Founded in 1988, Wings of America teaches Native American children to take care of their body and to familiarize themselves with the ancestral lands when they are on their feet. According to the organization, it also takes the most talented runners across the country to some of the best competitions they can attend. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Artist Yatika Fields (left) and Wings of America Executive Director Dustin Martin (right) worked to add historical figures to the banner via pre-printed cutouts. Many of the figures are Native Americans who have made important contributions to the race: Some won the marathon; some finished high, and some used the event as a platform for advocacy. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Among the cutouts was Jordan Marie Daniel (right), a fourth-generation Native American runner who uses her running to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous people. Martin believes that advocacy is, in many ways, an important part of history to honor. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Yatika Fields, a professional artist and mural wall painter, is also running the marathon. He said that he hopes to raise awareness to Indigenous Peoples’ Day with his painting. The wall portrays Indigenous history at past Boston Marathons, with paintings that touch on Indigenous resilience throughout the history of America and in running. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Wings of America artist Yatika Fields added to the entrance wall throughout the weekend. Regarding forms of speech, Fields said he believes that images approach people in different ways than words. He said he wants to tell Indigenous stories through a visual narrative. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Fields also invited the audience to join the effort. “This is a community-based effort,” he said. Wings of America hopes to inspire not only adults but younger generations to formulate a new way of thinking through this activation project. At one point, Fields (left) could be found instructing three-year-old Sydney on adding to the entrance wall herself. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Among the mural visitors was David List (left), seen teaching his children Emma (middle) and Nathaniel (right) Native American history. List, a Fan Fest participant fascinated by Wings of America’s work, used this opportunity to teach his children Native American history. Although he knew the marathon was taking place on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it wasn’t until he saw the wall that he learned about the connection between the marathon and Indigenous people of the country. “It is important to recognize the events and explain how they connect,” David said. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Other moments included Wings of America Executive Director Dustin Martin discussing Native American involvement with the Boston Marathon to a runner. Martin’s attitude towards the issue of the marathon moving to Oct. 11.

When the Boston Athletic Association announced the switch in January, he said he was initially happy about it since he knew that Native Americans are an important part of the marathon’s history. However, it wasn’t until one month before the event that a dialogue between the B.A.A. and Wings happen regarding recognition to Indigenous People’s Day in the marathon. Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
Fields said that the organization communicated with the B.A.A. and asked to have an individual space to celebrate the Indigenous People’s Day. In the end, BAA could only work to give them part of the entrance wall to paint on.

Photo taken by Artemis Huang.
“We just wish that we have a longer timeline to formulate how that celebration is going to look,” Martin said. “They should have known [that October 11 is Indigenous People’s Day].”

“Each mile you run is (on) indigenous land,” Fields said.

Photo taken by Artemis Huang.

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