Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center
Damien Montaño is a 2017 UCLA graduate who earned an MA in American Indian Studies. He is Yoeme and Purépecha, and is currently working in collaboration with the Torres Martinez Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), where he leads a series of jewelry instruction workshops that integrate traditional and modern materials into creating wearable art.
Cultural jewelry workshops serve as a space for urban American Indian people to meet in the throughways of Tongva land to create and learn, as well as a place where, Montaño says, Natives are “beading the odds,” or using jewelry to create Indigenous futures. “I serve as co-trustee and writer for the Two Sprit Times west coast edition, and also run a small operation titled Blue Mountain Studio, creating my own line of jewelry and artwork, which includes materials from my returns to Sonora. In addition, I also make an annual return to the Yaqui lands of my great-great-grandparents and to the Seri/Comca’ac village of Desemboque/Haxöl Iihom.
I’m not afraid to admit that I struggled at times at UCLA or that I felt less prepared than others. I’m so grateful for the guides I had, and all the support that the program offered to a student like myself. While studying, writing, and creating art and jewelry, I realized my purpose more and more. Every time I create a piece of jewelry for someone, I think about the materials I use with much intention, reflecting on the immense wisdom and knowledge acquired from tribal elders, scholars, texts, colleagues, and the ocean and landscape. I feel like each person in our community is as important as each feather, bead, shell, or bone that is integrated into a piece of jewelry. I believe jewelry is healing, and whenever I gift someone a piece of jewelry, I feel it can empower them to change the world.”