Hekiu: Indigenous artist collective forms in Arizona

A new Indigenous artist collective unveiled its goals this fall in working with an Arizona city.

October, Hekiu held its first reception, unveiling its goals for
working with the city of Tempe in Phoenix’s East Valley and not far from
the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

The project is
based on what the group calls the Oidbad: Original Peoples Design
Principles, to describe the ancestral presence of the O’odham, Piipaash
and Pascua Yaqui tribes. Oidbad is a translation of Tempe, meaning a
“mountain” or “dead fields.”

To describe the Indigenous artist collective called Hekiu, or “past,”
The word comes from the O’odham language, “O’odham Ñoek,” to describe
the continuum.

Hekiu is a collaborative partnership between
citizens of various tribal communities that neighbor Tempe through
public art projects made possible through the National Endowment of the
Arts: Our Town grant.

The partnership is in its infancy with Tempe, which will be the
location of Hekiu’s public art and design installations. Artist Jacob
Butler, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, said it will allow
them to represent the cultural history of the O’odham, Piipaash and
Pascua Yaqui tribes in an urban environment.

These principles are
based on the following categories: Ancestral Presence, Culturally
Significant Sites, Natural Environment and Creative Expression.

Butler said O’odham artists utilize knowledge about their culture to
represent the tribal communities, like Salt River, the Gila River Indian
Community, the Tohono O’odham Nation and other Indigenous tribes across Southern Arizona.

Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, also from Salt River,
is a Hekiu co-founder and mural artist. He echoes Butler’s perspectives
on equal representation in the public eye.

“We all have been doing this work in our own way and the idea of
putting together some sort of O’odham-based collective is the perfect
opportunity to see it come to fruition,” he said.

To showcase
local Indigenous culture, Marcus has created two-dimensional murals
throughout the Salt River community and was also selected by the Phoenix
Suns in 2021 to create a T-shirt design for Indigenous Heritage Night.

Marcus is enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply his O’odham
designs to the projects Hekiu develops with Tempe. His work can be seen
throughout Salt River’s many public buildings and on walls that dot the

Other tribal communities, like the Piipaash and Pascua
Yaqui tribes, although smaller in numbers, are important because of
their close ties to neighboring Indigenous communities.

“As a people living on the land today, this is something that we have
to be proud of, to have all these different ideas with all these
creatives in one place,” Butler said, harkening back to his journey of
learning about O’odham culture.

He is hopeful that the partnership with Tempe will allow the
continuum to express itself in ways that can only be told through their
lens and history as Indigenous peoples.

Butler is driven by the
belief that his peoples’ past can be celebrated through public projects
Hekiu plans to do in the near future. He maintains that, as a leader, it
allows him to advocate for the representation of culture in a way that
is unique — in a way that can educate others to cement bonds between
municipalities and communities.

When Butler understood what we are trying to do as an artist’s
collective, he understood from his own experience as a cultural source
in his community and a leader, how much representation means these
days,” says Amy Davila. Davila is one of the co-founders of Hekiu, a
citizen of the Gila River Indian Community and a graphic artist.

She said there are times when groups like Hekiu need an advocate who
can make connections with those “across the table” at the local
government level. She added that Butler’s role is essential to the
collaboration with Tempe.

Architectural designer and Hekiu
co-founder Selina Martinez, Pascua Yaqui and Xicana, said Butler’s
experience working with other cities helped the collective engage in
conversations with Tempe about the grant’s vision.

“It’s a great benefit to be able to have somebody, who is not only
like talented and the arts and culture side of it but is also very
knowledgeable when it comes to the history and kinds of agricultural
practices of that community and then obviously now as a leadership role
in in the overall government,” Martinez said.

Martinez leads a local organization called Design Empowerment Phoenix, a program within Sagrado Galleria,
in South Phoenix. Design Empowerment Phoenix is a response to the
absence of cultural diversity seen in the city, where many diverse
pockets of culture exist.

Hekiu, to her, is about building a cultural presence in an environment
where structures already exist. “When projects like Hekiu come along, it
is because there is a need and sometimes, they are in response to a
lack of representation in the ‘built environment,” she said.

Martinez adds that Jacob has given Hekiu a lot of ideas to
collaborate with Tempe, through his own experiences, whether it is
consultations, whether it is working directly with the city, he provides
more depth from a cultural perspective.

“We don’t want to just be
seen as in the past as Indigenous people — we want to be integrated
into the future as we move forward,” Martinez says. “So, I think Jacob
was really spot on with finding that word that could be inclusive but
specific enough to the Salt River community.”

“We are super excited to be collaborating with Hekiu,” Brendan Ross,
Tempe Arts & Culture Department deputy services director says.
“Butler’s cultural values and principles set the framework for how we
can identify a common benefit, a mutual benefit.”

Ross works as the liaison between Hekiu and Tempe on facilitating the
development of projects that will benefit both sides. He said the
partnership with Hekiu offers Tempe a chance to work collaboratively on
projects that recognize the rich history of Indigenous culture.