Showcasing the Arts

Government Award

Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission

Franklin County

The Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission was established in 1996 by the Kentucky General Assembly to recognize and promote Native American contributions and influence in Kentucky’s history and culture. The commission has 17 members, including the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary or designee; and 16 members appointed by the governor, eight of whom are required to be of Native American heritage. Among the activities that the commission promotes are the Richmond and Corbin powwows and the Living Archaeology Weekend.

What does this distinction mean to the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission?

There are no federally recognized tribes in Kentucky, and there are no tribes in Kentucky recognized by the state government. There are, however, more than 90,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives residing in Kentucky. This award is an acknowledgement of American Indian heritage and history. It is recognition of the contributions of individual artists and professionals as well as recognition of the hard work of the commission over the past 25 years to promote education and a greater understanding of Kentucky’s Indigenous people, past and present.

Why are the arts important to the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission and the Kentuckians it serves?

American Indian cultures are steeped in the arts. The American Indian experience can be transmitted through music, dance, sculpture, traditional decorative arts, contemporary painting, photography, fashion design, poetry and literature. Through the arts people express who they are, who they were and who they will continue to be. These artistic works serve as connections to the deep past. They work to dispel stereotypes, correct false narratives and serve to introduce new audiences to the vibrant and complex communities in Kentucky today. The Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission is honored to be recognized as supporting and promoting American Indian art and contemporary artists, both those whose families have been here for generations and those who are new to the commonwealth. It is important that others have an opportunity to experience the contributions and vision of Kentucky’s Indigenous people.

What is the most prominent example of how the commission promotes and elevates the arts in Kentucky?

The “Native Reflections” art exhibit was a collaborative project between the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission and the Kentucky Heritage Council. This exhibit included 23 works of art from 12 Kentucky American Indian artists. From the summer of 2020 to early 2022, the exhibit traveled to 15 venues across the commonwealth, from Paducah to Pikeville, giving hundreds of Kentucky residents the opportunity to view the artwork and chat with artists. Some venues coordinated additional activities in conjunction with the exhibit so visitors could more fully experience and explore American Indian cultures.