Remembering NACF Artists Lost in 2021

With heavy hearts, we remember two NACF artists who passed last year.

Culture bearer, educator, and fiber artist Royce Manuel (Auk-Mierl Aw-Thum) passed on July 19, 2021, in Scottsdale, AZ. Royce dedicated his life to revitalizing desert lifeways and weaving practices in the Southwest. From years of research and practice, Royce held a rare and extensive knowledge of desert plants and art forms, farming methods, and the landscape. He specialized in agave weaving, an endangered art form, and in 2008, after fifteen years of research, he revitalized an agave burden basket, not woven in nearly eighty years. Through his research, artwork, storytelling, teachings, and partnerships with local nonprofits, tribes, and youth organizations, he helped to perpetuate the rich heritage of Arizona and educate and strengthen his tribal community.

Royce participated in NACF’s Mentor Artist Fellowship in 2017, where he spent a year with apprentice Matthew Yatsayte (Navajo/Zuni). Royce taught Matthew the cultural and historical significance of agave fiber art items and how to harvest desert plants that were more commonly used amongst Native tribes of the Southwest in the past for survival purposes. The NACF team was blessed with the opportunity to meet and share meals with Royce, his wife Debbie, and Matthew several times during their fellowship and after. We are grateful for the time we spent with Royce and for his friendship and support. His passing is a significant loss to the NACF family and Native community, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.

My effort to protect the identity of and indigenous way of life is crucial knowing our world changing so fast, my intent to share with a young people of all ages is essential to their children and grandchildren.  —Royce Manuel

Distinguished Navajo filmmaker, Bennie Klain, passed on September 9, 2021, at his home in Tonalea on the Navajo Nation. In 2012, he was one of the first NACF National Artist Fellows, celebrated as a documentary and narrative film director and producer. Co-founder of the production company Trickster Films, his creative voice, with its distinctive language, is known for its objectivity and sensitivity to the subject matter. His 2011 film, “Columbus Day Legacy”, offers a balanced view of conflicting perspectives between Native protestors and Italian-Americans around the annual Denver celebration, first in the 1800s in the US to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. Other of his films explored issues around Navajo weaving practices, uranium mining, and the Native urban experience.

Of his work, Bennie said, “The projects I undertake demonstrate my willingness to engage the challenging task of bridging Indigenous concerns and social commentary with broader artistic and audience considerations, highlighting universal themes and cultural inequities that deserve a human voice. My goal is to bring new voices and hidden histories to broader audiences, allowing them to engage my stories on their own terms by presenting unflinching portrayals of Native and non-Native characters and institutions from an Indigenous perspective.”

Producer/director Bennie Klain (Navajo), 2012 NACF Film Fellow.