Published on February 24, 2013 by Amy
Alfred Young Man, Ph.D. or Kiyugimah (Eagle Chief) (b. 1948) is a Cree artist, writer, educator, and an enrolled member of the Chippewa-Cree tribe located on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, Montana, USA. His Montana birth certificate lists him as being 13/16th Cree by blood-quantum but one of his full sisters, Shirley, is listed as 16/16ths, illustrating the arbitrary nature of blood-quantum stats. He is a former Department Head (2007–2010) of Indian Fine Arts at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan and former Chair (1999–2007) of Native American Studies, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge and University of Regina.
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Born in 1948 on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, Alfred is the nineth child of fifteen brothers and sisters. His father Joseph Young Man White Horse (Sau-sti-qua-ńis) and mother Lillian Katherine Boushie were both Cree and fluent in Cree and English – they are deceased. Saustiquan was what white scholars in the field of anthropology and screen writers of Hollywood movies call a “medicine man” but he never referred to himself in that way nor did his immediate or Extended Family. It was not until the whiteman invented and began using such vernacular did the succeeding generations of university and college educated American Indian youth begin using those words without giving the ideas behind them much thought. Typically the white public use the words with great authority and determination and normally without qualification. Certainly the traditional grass roots people never used the words medicine man or shaman in daily conversation, words which were about as foreign to them as using the descriptive notion of deficit spending. The word shaman as liberally used by anthropologists and other experts in the field in fact originates with the practitioners of another kind of netherworld-spirituality found in Siberia, however that has nothing to do with the spirituality as practised per se by American Indians in North America.
Young Man’s paternal Cree grandmother Theresa Ground Woman Big Springs, spoke Cree only and was herself, for the sake of argument, a medicine woman married to a Blackfeet Indian man by the name of Don’t Talk Many White Horses. Since Don’t Talk was deaf he went by the nickname Deafy (pronoun: Deé-fee). Deafy was stricken with scarlet fever as a child in the late 19th century as many Blackfeet children of his generation were, rendering him mute. Theresa and Deafy communicated their entire married lives using Indian sign-language and were great conversationalists. Theresa outlived Deafy to the approximate age of 113 years, estimated because exact birth records were not kept by people of her generation before the white man began the practise. Young Man’s maternal grandfather Edward Boushie was Cree/Métis and Edward’s wife Eliza was also Cree from the Erminskin Reserve in Hobbema, Alberta…both were fluent in Cree and English and are deceased.
Young Man grew up in East Glacier Park, Montana and spoke Cree as a child with his Extended Family. Like nearly all Indian children of his generation, when Alfred was six years old he and his siblings were taken away to Cut Bank Boarding School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs government school located a short distance north of Browning where the credo quia absurdum est was “Kill the Indian, save the man!” Physical punishment was an everyday occurrence and Cree and Blackfeet traditions and customs were illegal to practise under US government law, also forbidden was speaking the Cree and Blackfeet languages – this was true of Indians across North America. Young Man stayed in government Indian boarding schools at various times and places until he was 20 years old when he went to the Slade School of Art in London, England in 1968 which was the first time ever that he attended an all white school for any length of time. Alfred’s memory of the Cree language is sparse and he speaks and understands a smattering of it, however, because of the U.S. government decree he was unable to converse with his grandmother Theresa. Fortunately many members of his immediate and Extended Family still speak and understand fluent Cree, the third most widely spoken language in Canada.
Young Man attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1963–1968) where the German painter Fritz Scholder was his painting teacher for two years (1966–68). The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts retains a considerable number of Young Man’s paintings in its collection from the five years he spent there. Young Man went on to study painting, film history and photography at the Slade School of Fine Arts, University College London in London, England for four years (1968 – 72) where he met many famous and influential artists and musicians, amongst these were Pop artist’s Richard Hamilton and David Hockney who were visiting artists and who stopped by his painting studio on random occasions. While at the Slade, Young Man was tutored and mentored for two years (1970–1972) by Bernard Cohen, an idiosyncratic painter; another tutor was landscape painter William Townsend (b.1909 – d.1973). The director of the Slade during Young Man’s time at the school was Sir William Coldstream, founder of the Euston Road School. While in London, Young Man met Jimi Hendrix just a month before the famous rock musician died in September 1970, introduced to Hendrix by Steven Stills of CSN&Y who was cutting what Stills described as his pink giraffe album in a sound studio in London.
Young Man earned his M.A. at the University of Montana (1972 – 74) where George Longfish (Seneca-Tuscarora) was his teacher and mentor in the Graduate Program in American Indian Art. He graduated with his doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.) in Anthropology from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 1997 where he studied anthropology as a student of William Powers.
Young Man has been an art teacher since the early 1970s, beginning on his home reservation at the Rocky Boy Elementary School (1973–1974) after which he moved to the K.W. Bergan Elementary School in Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Indian reservation for a short time. He continued on to the Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana (1975 – 77) where he helped found the Total Community Education television training program. When that program came to a close he moved on to the University of Lethbridge in 1977 where he eventually became Chair of Native American Studies (1999–2010). He taught in the Faculty Exchange Program at the University of Lethbridge/Leeds University Leeds, UK in 1985 and the Faculty Exchange Program University of Lethbridge/Hokkai Gakuen University Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan in 1992. He remained tenured at the U of L up until 2007 when he chose early retirement and began work as Department Head of Indian Fine Art at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan. In addition to his teaching activities at the First Nations University, Young Man also worked as archival curator and custodian of the school’s 1500 piece art collection. In August 2010 his employment at FNUC was terminated along with approximately 52 other professors and support staff, due to financial exigency budget cuts.
Most recently Young Man did an artist/writer’s residency at the Lab 26 Tejiendo Identitdad Entre Las Culturas Originarias de America, Galeria de Arte Contemporaneo Paul Bardwell, Centro Colombo Americano de Medellin, Medellin, Colombia in 2011. He has spoken at numerous conference and other venues on every continent on the planet throughout his career from Aberdeen, Scotland to London to Paris to Rome to Mexico to Australia to South America to Yale University to Ottawa to Toronto to Santa Fe to Japan to Durban, South Africa to Nuremberg, Germany to Spain to Finland and Sweden.
Pedagogically Young Man teaches his courses from the Native perspective, something unheard of when he began teaching Indian fine art at the University of Lethbridge in 1977 and something that, even today, very few if any Native art professionals of whatever category claim to do.