The ‘Unity’ design was inspired by the artist’s Lakota culture and roots.
Denver, Colo.—November 16, 2021— The American Indian College Fund and Pendleton Woolen Mills, the international lifestyle brand headquartered in Portland, Oregon, have selected Chelysa Owens-Cyr’s “Unity” as its 2021 Tribal College Blanket Contest winner. Chelysa is a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Dakota Sioux/Pasqua First Nations Cree Nations, an American Indian College Fund scholar, and a student attending Fort Peck Community College, a tribal college in Poplar, Montana. She is studying business administration.
Pendleton creates wool blankets in partnership with the American Indian College Fund (the College Fund) for its American Indian College Fund collection. In addition, Pendleton has provided nearly $1.65 million in higher education support for American Indian and Alaska Native students. The College Fund and Pendleton launched the Tribal College Blanket Design Contest in 2020 to further elevate the voices, work, and representation of tribal college and university (TCU) students while providing additional scholarship opportunities. Owens-Cyr’s design is the second winner chosen for the annual competition.
Owens-Cyr says the design represents unity with the border comprised of multiple Lakota-style geometric tipis depicting a village. The squares represent the people or families that live in the village. Above the tipis, geometric morning stars represent those still visible before the sun rises (with the yellow-to-orange background fade symbolizing sunrise). In the middle of the design a Holy Dog, or horse, indicates strength and unity, with the lightning on the horse symbolizing speed and agility, and the circle around the horse’s eye demonstrating strong vision. Owens-Cyr says the overall design depicts how nature and Native people are one, which inspired the title “Unity.”
Owens-Cyr is a self-taught contemporary ledger artist, bead worker, graphic designer, and painter whose work is influenced by her family and culture. She uses art to share her personal teachings, beliefs, stories, and visions. She said, “The College Fund has helped me a lot through scholarships. And Pendleton is one of my favorite brands. They work with the artist to get it [the work] as close to our vision as possible. I’m living the dream at such a young age because I have always wanted to be a graphic artist. This just adds to my art journey, which is a good feeling. I would like to give a huge thank you to Pendleton Woolen Mills and the American Indian College Fund for giving this amazing opportunity to tribal college students and allowing others and me to showcase our art and talents and share our visions with you.”
President Haven Gourneau of Fort Peck Community College said, “It was a proud moment for Fort Peck Community College for Chelysa to be chosen from so many other talented student artists.” She noted that Owens-Cyr also designed the college’s logo, and her artwork is part of the community, social media, and her education. “It’s all part of the circle.”
Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “Our students are gifted in their artistic abilities and the College Fund appreciates the opportunity to work with Pendleton to highlight those gifts and to support the resources students need to succeed in college. We are especially appreciative of the abilities of our students to take their life experiences and their cultural knowledge and create beauty that can be shared with others.”
Unity will be available for purchase in spring 2022.
The Tribal College Blanket Design Contest is open to all Native American TCU students. The contest provides a new, high-profile platform to recognize and develop the work of promising artists and to raise the voices and representation of Native students and TCUs through internationally distributed products. Located in remote, rural areas and on Indian reservations, TCUs provide a critical link to higher education, career advancement, and Indigenous knowledge for some of the nation’s poorest and least-connected Native communities. Every year the College Fund provides millions of dollars to thousands of TCU students; the blanket design contest adds to that support while elevating Native art, culture, and stories.
Indian Country Today interviewed the American Indian College Fund’s 2021 TCU Student Blanket designer Chelysa Owens-Cyr. Her award-winning design is called “Unity.” Check out the interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyN8okNyF6k&t=319s
Applications are now being accepted for the 2022 Tribal College Blanket Design Contest. Submission guidelines and applications are available on the College Fund’s website at https://collegefund.org/pendletoncontest. Any Native TCU student can submit up to two designs. Formal artistic study and textile design experience are not required.
Design winners are selected each year by a committee comprised of Native American artists along with College Fund and Pendleton staff. Prizes include:
- Grand Prize winners: $2,000 cash, a $5,000 scholarship, and six of the winning blankets.
- Second Place winners: $500 cash and a $2,500 scholarship.
- Third Place winners: $250 cash and a $1,500 scholarship.
About Pendleton Woolen Mills—Pendleton Woolen Mills is a heritage brand and the leader in wool blankets, apparel, and accessories. Founded in 1863 and located in Portland, Oregon, Pendleton weaves iconic designs in two of America’s remaining woolen mills, located in Pendleton, Oregon and Washougal, Washington. With six generations of family ownership, Pendleton is focused on their “Warranted to Be a Pendleton” legacy, creating quality lifestyle products with timeless classic styling. Inspiring individuals from the Pacific Northwest and beyond for over 150 years, Pendleton products are available at Pendleton stores across the U.S., select retailers worldwide, and at pendleton-usa.com.
About the American Indian College Fund—The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 32 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $15.5 million in scholarships and other direct student support to American Indian students in 2020-21. Since its founding in 1989 the College Fund has provided more than $259 million in scholarships, program, and community support. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit www.collegefund.org.
Journalists: The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund.
Photo 1: Chelysa Owens-Cyr, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Dakota Sioux/Pasqua First Nations Cree Nations and a college student at Fort Peck Community College in Montana, created “Unity,” the winning design in the American Indian College Fund’s 2021 Tribal College Blanket Contest.
Photo 2: The award-winning Unity blanket design, created by American Indian College Fund scholar and Fort Peck Community College student Chelysa Owens-Cyr. The blanket is being produced by Pendleton Woolen Mills.
Video: Meet American Indian College Fund scholar Chelysa Owens-Cyr and learn more about her life and the inspiration behind her award-winning Unity blanket design. https://youtu.be/RzD7k37ZPdc