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Community Artist Royce Manuel Receives NACF Grant

(L-R) Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Apprentice Matthew Yatsayte will be mentored by Community artist Royce Manuel for a yearlong artist fellowship.

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community artist Royce Manuel is among 12 Native artists from around the country to receive the 2017 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) Mentor Artist Fellowship grants.

Starting July 1, Manuel and his chosen apprentice, Matthew Yatsayte (Navajo/Zuni Pueblo), 20, will begin a yearlong commitment to powering their artistic growth and strengthening their creativity as Native artists. They will work on a combined project and present it to NACF at the end of the fellowship period.

The NACF believes Native artists are the “creative voices of their communities” and works to enable artists to succeed creatively by providing time, space and financial support. Every year the NACF selects artist fellows through a process overseen by staff and discipline-specific volunteer panel reviewers. The artists receiving 2017 NACF grants come from Alaska, New Mexico, Minnesota, Arizona, Washington, Wisconsin and Oregon. The fellowship includes a monetary award of $30,000 per artist, for a total of $360,000 awarded in fellowships.

Nearly a year after applying, Manuel received word that he had received the grant and would then select his apprentice.

“I was really surprised when I learned that I was selected, because I haven’t heard from [NACF] in a really long time,” Manuel said. “But I was really glad that I was chosen. It kind of pushes you into a place of opportunity to teach, and that’s what I do a lot. It allowed me to further that more, and it’s a continuance of the practice that I have.”

Manuel’s focus has always been to protect the cultural identity of the O’odham, preserve the traditional knowledge, and educate those willing to learn traditional O’odham practices. He has 15 years of experience and research and continues to educate his Community about the uses of agave plants, the medium for his traditional burden baskets, hairbrushes, bow strings, gourd holders, netting/rabbit bags and more. He wishes to preserve the techniques he was taught by his ancestors.

In addition to being fully committed to the project for a full year, dedicating eight hours each month to the project, and being older than 21, apprentices must not be related to or have close relations to the artist. Manuel has many relatives here in the Community, so he found it difficult to find an apprentice who met the requirements.

“It was difficult for me because I am related to almost everyone here in the Community,” Manuel said. “I did ask some people from Gila River and some people that I don’t know here in the Community, but that didn’t work out. I had people who showed strong interest from the Community, but [they either] did not meet the NACF requirements or couldn’t commit a full year.”

“We all have the same skills as Native people when it comes to cordage and fiber art. Matthew is a good candidate because he has been able to show these techniques,” added Manuel.

Yatsayte, from Vanderwagen, New Mexico, is a public service and public policy major at Arizona State University and is also Mr. Indian ASU. As the son of renowned Zuni Pueblo fetish carver Mike Yatsayte, he grew up among Native artists as a child and displays his talents in carving, painting, pottery and, most recently, cordage.

Like Manuel, Yatsayte is interested in rediscovering and preserving traditional Native arts and cultural traditions. “What I’m looking to get out of this program is a deeper understanding of cordage and how it played out in this area, along with the history behind it. What was it used for? How did they come about using it? I want to better perfect my skill at creating cordage the proper way, but also have an understanding and respect for it. I want to be able to teach others how to perfect this art. I want to teach others why it’s important to maintain values and attributes, as well as cultural practices,” said Yatsayte.

“When I look at my culture, we had the Pueblo Revolt. We had a cordage rope that was tied into knots. They would untie it as each day would pass leading up to the Pueblo Revolt, so making those connections to my own culture and learning about another [culture] is something I want to do.”

NACF Artist Fellows “represent the cultural continuity of Native peoples in contemporary contexts and are the creative voices of their communities. Their art brings greater visibility to the realities of their communities, addressing Native identity issues, and sharing the stories of hope, change, and inspiration,” according to the website.

“I look at this as being a mentor to the Community,” said Manuel. “Even though Matthew has been selected through NACF, we are looking at bringing in more men within the Community. Once Matthew learns the basics and the understanding of it all, then we can continue to give that information to others. He will be able to teach others, and that’s what it’s about, the preservation. I’m looking at a mentorship program here in the Community and getting access to certain parts of the Community to gather materials,” said Manuel.

For more information about the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, visit