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Young Native American’s artistic work inspires the community

Native Art
Posted at 2:43 PM, Nov 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-11 16:43:01-05

MISSOULA - Seventeen-year-old Alishon Kelly has been creating art for as long as she can remember, and Missoula’s skateboarding community has embraced her work.

Kelly’s artwork is featured on stickers, shirts and now skateboard decks sold at Board of Missoula skate shop.

Before she was an employee at Board of Missoula, Kelly recalls spending time after school and during her lunch at Hellgate High School just hanging out at the shop.

About a year ago, she was hired by Board of Missoula owner Chris Bacon, seemingly on the spot after he saw some of her artwork.

“He’s always been really supportive of my art and is always excited to see what I’m working on,” said Kelly.

Kelly said what drew her to skateboarding was the aspect of individuality and the creative community that it fosters.

She grew up on the Flathead Reservation and before moving to Missoula in the summer of 2020, she would often have her parents drive down so she could skate.

Kelly said her tribal affiliations of Blackfeet and Pend d’Oreille have an influence on her art, but one of her biggest sources of motivation and inspiration is her mom.

“Everything I do I kind of just want to make her proud and make her happy,” said Kelly.

Kelly’s mom Alyssa dropped out of high school to raise her as a single parent.

Kelly and her mom lived in an area of the Flathead Reservation dubbed the “Pablo Projects,” an area known for high rates of poverty.

Despite these circumstances, Kelly said she rarely saw her mom cry or complain.

She and her mom frequently visited art galleries, museums and protests growing up, and her mom always provided her with sufficient art supplies.

Kelly’s mom wanted to give her the opportunity and the tools to hopefully change and improve the conditions of poverty that many indigenous communities have been inflicted with for generations.

“In Native communities, art and activism are things that go directly hand in hand with each other,” said Kelly.

Kelly works with many types of mediums: markers and ink, oil and acrylic paint, and clay.

She also enjoys knitting and creating collages

Kelly also helped design a homecoming parade float for All Nations Health Center, a non-profit organization committed to aiding Native Americans adjust to life off of the reservation.

Her design was hand drawn onto an 8 x16 piece of plywood and cut out with a jigsaw.

Kelly spent two hours after school for a week completing the entire process of drawing and painting the horse design.

“Since as far back as my memory goes I’ve been making art,” said Kelly. “It’s just always been there for me as a means to express myself and to communicate the things that I want to communicate.”

Kelly will be selling some of her art at the Indigenous Peoples Market on Nov. 25 at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.