The cartoons make statements of broken promises to Native Americans

John Gritts also includes subtle images of Indigenous mascots crossed out with a slash. “You hear people say I’m not a mascot, I’m a person,” Gritts said.

COLORADO, USA – Art has the power to make you feel, think and think. John Gritts uses his art to make statements. The first was not planned, but it quickly became evident in 1973.

“There were six native figures and they had a roach and feathers and other badges, and I drew the picture but I left the men out, I did not draw their faces or their bodies. or their hands or whatever, so those images were hanging out, ”Gritts said.

It was the first of many deliberately unfinished drawings created by the Cherokee artist.

“There are a lot of promises made to aboriginal people, but they are not kept,” he said. “From the government, from the church, from the state, wherever it comes from, it’s not guarded, so why should I finish anything if they aren’t going to finish what they have promised us? ”

In some of his works, Gritts also includes Indigenous mascots crossed out with a slash to denounce their use by various institutions.

“Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s very subtle,” he said. “You hear people say I’m not a mascot, I’m a person.”

In 1978, the powerful messages of the drawings made their way to the Oval Office.

Art was something he did at night and on weekends after the birth of his sons. His full-time job was in the financial aid office at Black Hills State University.

While at the university, the university president and Tom Todd, director of elementary and secondary education, asked Gritts if he would create a drawing to give to President Jimmy Carter. He said yes.

“The drawing, I left it undone, and I hid a picture of a peanut in it in his honor, because he is a peanut farmer.”

“He took it with him and President Carter didn’t accept it. He said ‘If I’m going to take this I think I should meet the artist,’ ”said Gritts.

On April 19, 1978, Gritts traveled to Washington, DC, to present his drawing to the President of the United States. He left the drawing unfinished and explained to President Carter why he had not completed the play.

“Because of broken promises, promises that are broken by treaty rights, whatever it is, it’s just broken, and then the president stepped back and said ‘well you can. maybe come back and finish it someday. ” I said ‘well, call me.’ Of course, he never called, but at least I got his attention and made a statement to him.

>> Video below: John Gritts reflects on presenting his work to former President Jimmy Carter

Although Gritts has been drawing since he was in elementary school, he said he only drew evenings and weekends as an adult. Her full-time job was in higher education. He was director of financial aid at Black Hills State University in South Dakota for 18 years. He then spent nine years at the American Indian College Fund as a program officer. This was followed by two years at the Institute of American Indian Arts as Director of Admissions, Recruitment Records and Financial Aid. He then spent nine years with Federal Student Aid from the United States Department of Education.

He loved these jobs because education was ingrained in him, said Gritts.

“I think education is the key to everything. In many treaties signed by the tribes and the United States, education was part of that treaty, ”he said.

Gritts’ home art studio is full of gifts, artwork, and awards recognizing his work as an artist and educator. He has done art exhibitions in New York, South Dakota and North Dakota.

Today, Gritts is retired and resides in Golden, CO with his wife Page and their two dogs. When asked how much time he spent creating art in his studio, he replied, “Not enough”.

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Nohemi M. Moore