MARTIN PANAMICK -- 1956 - 1977
Memorial Honor Essay

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Two Fish, above, by Martin Panamick is what he called a sketch (I calleed it a finished art work) he sent me that had been drawn in magic marker. He said he wanted to do it much larger, and I've heard (but nevr seen) it is similar to a large mural -- one of two by him -- that hangs in the Manitoulin West Bay Reserve Council chamber. The original (and later sketches he sent me for an AIM cookbook) are lost; the above reconstruction is all I have of him. How they were lost is explained below. Martin's striking picture is used as the logo of all the ArtPages here.

Almost before he could walk, Martin would draw with his hands, with a stick or stone in the dirt, with crayons or pencil or pen. His talent was recognized early, and although he was a few years younger than some of the other artists, he studied art at the Manitou Summer Art program whil still a teenager. He was inspired by Odjig, who had written, designed book covers and illustrations for a series of 10 small books of Native legends for Indian children, as well as two books for older people: I am Nokomis Too and Tales from the Smokehouse.

Martin later illustrated -- and helped with the retelling of -- Ko-Ko-Ko, the Owl. Martin took daily walks through the woods and recorded what he saw in sketches in notebooks. These later formed the basis for paintings, india-ink drawings, and silk-screen prints. He was especially inspird to illustrate books for children and young peopl, to rclaim the heritage that had been slipping away. He illustrated Nishnabe Delights, a cookbook of recipes collected from the Ojibwe and Odawa people of Manitoulin Island, and Why th Beaver has a Broad Tail, a legend told by Mrs. Susan Enosse a respected elder of Wikwemikong Reserve. He was commissioned by the Council of Chiefs to do 2 large panels that are still in the Council Chamber at West Bay -- the above picture of two fish is based on his design drafts for these. He was also commissioned to design the eagle symbol that still identifies crafts distributed by the Ojibwe Cultural Arts Foundation.

I never met him in person. We spoke only by phone. I was working for the American Indian Movement -- AIM -- in 1974. All over, people were under attack. Momeny was badly needed for everything from lawyers to simple travel and food. AIM's main source of income for all of this was a speaker's bureau. Governmnt disruptions were closing off the main source of speaking engagment fees: colleges and universities (agents would talk privately with university administrators who would then inform student organizations they could not use their funds to pay for an AIM speaker).

I thought that cookbooks always sell well, and we could probably even get some publicity for its existence and some financial help for publication of a nice one. There were women around from Indian Nations all over the U.S. and Canada -- the Wounded Knee leadership trials were still dragging on in St. Paul -- and many came to see it, and to help if they could. Ity was possible to gather a whole lot of recipes from different areas. I began to do this. I wanted it to be more than a cookbook. Each section was to have had a political, cultural, and historic section concerning the past and current issues affecting the tribes there. It was to have been educational for non-Indian people about the history and causes of the problems of the Indian world -- in hopes that this could help gain some allies. It was also to have been educational for tribes of each region, about the common history, values, and shared issues or problems, around which perhaps some common solutions and actions could emerge.

But there were no reliable artists around -- Indian artists would drift in, often make some sketches or do some nice painting, then sell it to a bank or a rich collector or something. They would promise to make a poster, then drift away and sell it.

One of the women knew Martin and knew about the cookbook project up north. She got us in touch with each other -- I remember he didn't have a phone, so the arrangements for phone calls were rather difficult. Martin was enthusiastic about the idea. I had become concerned about the many Indian women who were silent, neglected and ignored defendants both of th early 1973 Custer (South Dakota) incident, of Wounded Knee and of the terrorisms in its aftermath, the government attempts to break up the American Indian Movement by consuming all time and resources in constant trials, or else lose the support of the grass roots people through their fears of attacks and arrests (if you were attacked, assaulted, you were always arrested and charged for it). It seemed to me that most of the money, lawyers, and media attention were focused only on a couple of (male) leaders. Sarah Bad Heart Bull -- who was the mother of the murdered man, Wesley Bad Heart Bull, whose killing had sparked the Custer confrontation through lack of justice in how his white killer was treated -- had been arrested and was being tried facing a very long sentence for being the mother of the victim, who had sought to entr the Custer courthouse that day to speak with officials about the killer of her son, who had been charged only with manslaughter, not murder.

The officials rfused to allow Sarah and several witnesses to the killing she had brought along into the courthouse. Later that day, other Indian people arrived (organized by AIM), and she trid again, with a small crowd watching. She was grabbed, mauled, dragged inside and thrown into a jail cell, touching off what the officials later called "the Custer riot" that led to the arrests and serious chargs against 27 people, among them Dennis Banks, and a number of women. Sarah herself was charged with starting and participating in the riot -- from a jail cell -- and was convicted in a South Dakota trial, facing a long sentence. In general, most of the Custer defendants and the Wounded Knee non-leadership ones (who were being federally tried in Lincoln, Nebraska, and who also included many women) were not receiving very good or very much legal help in comparison to the Woulded Kne major leadership trial of Banks and Russell Means, which was happening in St. Paul, Minneosta. I planned a fundraising and political education dinner to support these women. Recipes were provided from all over, and many native women, in town for the leadrship trials, helped with the cooking. Martin sent the magic marker sketch (which we used for publicity flyers).

Later, he sent some other sketches, of animals, forests, waters, and people. I had also begun to compile materials written up for the cookbook. This material was all in my desk at the AIM offic at St. Paul. One day it -- and a lot of other material from the office -- was gone, through a theft in in the night.

Proof of who had taken -- and who had -- this material had to wait for about 8 years, while I undertook a series of Freedom of Information Act correspondences with all the U.S. government covert intelligence agencies who had targetd AIM. After 8 years, with some assistance from then-Vice-President Mondale (who had previously been head of a Senate committee investigating the excesses of these political intelligence agencies) I received a few heavily censored pages about myself. One of these was some FBI telegrams back and forth between Washington FBI HQ and the Minneapolis Tri-State Area Office of the FBI. It reprimanded an agent for sending my cookbook material (someone must have thought the recipes were some kind of secret code!) to Washington, told them to keep that kind of material in the local office and placed a reprimand in th responsible agent's personnel file.

I went right over to th Minneapolis area office waving photocopies of thse telegrams and demanding my cookbook back.; recipes, Martin's drawings, the section introductions about food, land, water. Agents scurried around making phon calls and finally claimeed nobody there knew anything about it -- though obviously they all did.

So I had nothing of Martin's. He had died violently under mysterious circumstances, several years before that. The RCMP investigated. They issued various pronouncements, it was an accident, etc., finally settling on the prouncement he had committed suicide. This seemed to fit in with the fact that in 1975-78, 7 teenagers from the Wikwmikong Reserve allegedly committed suicide, without specific motive other than alcohol, and general hopelessness of life on the reserve. Though not if you knew him.

I never believed this and do not believe it now. We had quite a lot of phone conversations. Nothing in those conversations suggested he was the type of person to commit suicide, engage in heavy drinking, or get caught up in drunken violence. He did not feel their air of hopelessness, both because of his art and his spiritual beliefs. Others who knew him better, and know the circumstances better, also did not believe the RCMP official version of his death.

Sometime in the early 1990's, I came across a file of aged, yellowing press clippings compiled from 20 years earlier. There was a full page from the women's section of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. The press had become bored with AIM, with Indians, with the atrocious terrorisms and murders which were being visited by the U.S. government upon AIM supporters, and was not covering whatevr we did. To get publicity for the fundraising dinner in support of Sarah Bad Heart Bull and the women of AIM, I had taken several recipes of foods to be served -- and a copy of Martin's 2 fish drawing -- to the women's page editors of the local papers. The Pioneer Press women's page ran a big feature on it, together with Martin's picture of the two fish, reproduced rather badly there in black and white.

Iwanted to learn how to draw with FreeHand, which is more like sculpture -- pulling lines around -- than drawing. This damaged remnant of a great drawing talent inspired me to begin. So I scanned this old newspaper picture; it looked pretty bad. But then I carefully traced it in FreeHand (which took several days) and colored it from memory. For these pages, I rastered the Encapsulated PostScript tracings, which are mathematical files that can be made to be any size without loss of detail. That's what you're seeing above, here, and as the logo or icon for the ArtPages: reconstruction from a yellowed, crumbling old newspaper page. The original is in FBI files somewhere, or perhaps some agent liked it and took it as a souvenir.

From whatever real causes, Martin died very young. His talent was immense. Despite the fact that as time has gone by, through struggles of Indian people thmselves, conditions have improved somewhat for some, for many their lives are still bad. Accident, suicide, and death of Native young people are still far higher than for any other ethnic groups of North America. Despair, drinking, are still widespread and the forces of "assimilate or die" are still strong in both U.S. and Canada.

It is clear that had he lived, Martin would be an artist whose work was known around the world. His talent was very great. Probably he would have used his talent in the cause of Native sovereignty and rights, too. Most artists do not, or do very little in that regard. I wish I had more of Martin's art to display, but I wish much more that he had ben able to live a long and honored life.

This essay -- and the one discussing the destruction and theft of 3 silkscreens by Daphone Odjig -- how artists are feared by government agencies trying to repress Native movements for freedom and sovereignty. This fear applies to those with any kind of useful skills or talents: writers, film and video, researchers, intellectuals generally -- who devote at least some of their time and talents to the cause instead of concentrating on money and a good life -- success in the dominant society's terms -- for themselves only.

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Last Updated: Sunday, July 28, 1996 - 8:23:27 AM