Bunky Echo-Hawk is a Native American artist, devoted activist and galvanizing force. His striking, large-scale paintings, enlivened with pop-culture references ranging from arcade games to cult films, seek to demystify stereotypes about Native culture. A member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Echo-Hawk is also known for his captivating live-art performances, during which he paints vibrant canvases informed by audience participation, social issues and traditional rituals. Earlier this year, he participated in the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C. And recently, he curated a show juxtaposing archival pieces, such as 150-year-old moccasins alongside the Nike AirMax Destiny. Since 2011, the artist has collaborated with Nike in shaping the N7 Collection, including the new Power of Perseverance Collection.
Launching November 7, the Power of Perseverance Collection recognizes the movement of sport on Native lands and drives awareness of Native American culture. It includes men and women’s basketball and running apparel and footwear, as well as a collaboration with NBA star Kevin Durant. Nike News spoke with Echo-Hawk about the ideas at the core of the collection.
What distinguishes your collaboration with Nike?
It’s really unique for a large corporation to work with a Native artist to develop Native-inspired apparel. So often companies just appropriate Native imagery without any kind of consultation. To witness the line grow over the last few years and infiltrate Indian country, to see everyone from small children to grandmas and grandpas in remote areas rocking N7 is amazing. Knowing that resources get funneled back into the community through the N7 Fund seems like a slam-dunk all the way around.
One of the N7 objectives is to inspire Native youth to be more active. Do you see that happening?
I do. I’ve seen the impact first-hand on kids and in communities where issues like childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes are being tackled. A great deal of my work involves traveling to different communities, conducting art therapy workshops and working with Native youth on issues including suicide prevention. It makes me think about my own youth. I was an avid basketball player but it didn’t seem like there were any possibilities beyond college for Native athletes. By highlighting Nike N7 ambassadors, like Jude Schimmel, Lyle Thompson and Sam Bradford, young people can see that there aren’t limitations.
Holiday 2015 is your third collaboration with Nike N7. What was the theme of this collection?
It’s about the power of perseverance, which is something that not only athletes need to succeed but people in general. In our community, perseverance is a strong characteristic. This collection is about celebrating that warrior spirit and the idea that we’re able to not just survive but thrive. In many ways the warrior image has become a stereotype. On our basketball tee, our warrior is war whooping and that’s an action that could signal going into battle or celebrating a victory. They will let out this loud shrill or holler. Its purpose is to intimidate your adversary, but it could also be used to inspire your teammates.
Can you talk about the intricate print adorning the women’s running tights?
The print is inspired by my “painter pants,” which I wear when I’m in the studio or performing live, and my drop cloth. Both are covered in paint splatters and brush strokes. Over time, the random brush strokes, colors and patterns overlap, blend, fade, saturate. Each mark represents an idea, a place I’ve been and the trials we face. Also present in the print is a segment of a blanket design. In our culture, blankets are premium gifts, given to individuals as a way to honor them. I love the combination of symbols and the idea of honoring the individual who is connected to their community. I wish I could get away with wearing them!
What is the significance of the four-pointed star that decorates many of the pieces?
The star equates to the four directions, the four stages of life. Several different tribes use it. [The star] symbolizes the connection that our people have with the heavens and it goes back to our origin stories. Sometimes, we use them ceremonially as body paint to remember where we came from and where we return. My tribe, the Pawnee, paints stars on our shoulders in times of ceremony, and the stars adorning the clothes are symbolic of being on a sacred journey in this life.
How do you feel when you encounter non-Native people wearing N7?
I absolutely love that. I remember, when we launched my first collection in 2011, that the first people I interacted with were a non-[Native] father and his teenage son vacationing in Scottsdale. They came into the Nike store 30 minutes before the event and bought several pieces from the collection. A couple of days later, I bumped into the same family at an airport and the son was decked out in N7 gear. It humbled me. It was such a cool feeling to know that non-[Native] people can connect with the line, and it showed a real solidarity. That’s what the line is about: being inclusive with our culture.
November is Native American Heritage Month. What does it mean to you?
It’s exciting for a number of reasons. As a father, seeing all the activities schools are now starting to plan around the month is amazing, because they weren’t there when I was a kid. It’s a month to celebrate our culture and to share our rich and complex history with anyone who will listen. My November is crazy. I have shows in different cities, and I can reveal the new N7 Collection. I can’t wait.
N7 is Nike’s long-time commitment and mission to inspire and enable two million Native American and Aboriginal youth in North America to participate in sport and physical activity. The N7 philosophy embraces the Native philosophy: “In every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
The N7 Collection, which incorporates organic cotton and recycled polyester into several styles, highlights the N7 philosophy of considering the lasting impact our decisions have on the planet and embodies Nike’s commitment to sustainable innovation by creating product engineered for superior athletic performance and lower environmental impact.
After nearly a decade of partnership with tribes across North America to support programs aimed at physically active lifestyles, Nike deepened its connection to the Native American community in 2007 with the launch of N7 beginning with the Nike Air Native N7 shoe. The N7 Collection followed in 2009, to celebrate Native American and Aboriginal culture and to raise awareness for the N7 Fund, which has raised more than $3 million for Native American and Aboriginal youth sport programs. Later this month the N7 Fund will announce grantees for the fall funding cycle and timing for applications for the spring cycle.
About Nike Community Impact
Nike believes in the power of sport to move the world and unleash human potential. However, the world is moving less and less, and today's generation of children is the least physically active ever. That’s why Nike works to get kids (ages 7-12) active early and for life, because active kids are happier, healthier and more successful. Together with its employees, partners, consumers and athletes, Nike also supports important causes that strengthen communities across the globe. Learn more.