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Kristina Maldonado Bad Hand speaks on journey as Indigenous artist

A message of change, education, connection and art came with the keynote speaker for Native American Heritage Month.

Kristina Maldonado Bad Hand, keynote speaker for Colorado State University’s Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 12, presented the problems Native American citizens face every day, ranging from missing Indigenous women, enabling problems of stereotypes and drugs within the community and misrepresentation by the media.


Maldonado Bad Hand spoke on how art and education can play a vital role in changing education for Native students and connecting with others of different cultures and perspectives.

“Art exists so people can connect and so we can share experiences that are not our own,” Maldonado Bad Hand said.

As a small child, Maldonado Bad Hand discovered a passion for drawing that led her to her current career. She had siblings that showed her their drawings, and an older brother that taught her the art of drawing “guns and muscles.”

Despite growing up with a loving brother, people change and mistakes are made.

“Sometimes you’re so accepting of your family members that you don’t see if you are enabling or supporting,” Maldonado Bad Hand said. 

Maldonado Bad Hand’s brother began heavily using drugs and became a whole different person to her, and despite her urgent attempts to help him, her cries were dismissed. So Maldonado Bad Hand turned to her last resort.

In her culture, cutting your hair short symbolizes mourning the death of a loved one. And when her family did not listen, she mourned the loss of her brother. Cutting her hair short was her expression of sorrow.

For Maldonado Bad Hand, actions and art speak louder than words.

“You become an artist because you have to … because it’s in your soul,” Maldonado Bad Hand said.


This was one of the events that shaped her life and helped her apply her core values into her art, she said.

“Life; it’s a cycle,” Maldonado Bad Hand said. “Belonging to independence, to mastery, to generosity.”

And it’s an evergreen cycle that has no end, she said.

“Just because you went through this cycle once doesn’t mean you’re not going to do it again,” Maldonado Bad Hand said.

Education and art are closely tied together for Maldonado Bad Hand, and part of her journey has been making mistakes.

“It’s okay to burn out sometimes,” she said. “It’s okay to make mistakes; you just have to learn from them and keep moving.”

One of her mistakes was during college when she dumped water on a girl that was wearing the “skimpiest” Native outfit at a zombie event. At the time, Maldonado Bad Hand had been furious at the girl for using her culture as an outfit, but now she realizes she could have reacted differently.

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to her or talk to her about my feelings,” Maldonado Bad Hand said. “That didn’t accomplish anything. That’s not the best way to move forward and educate people. We need to change, we need to educate instead of getting angry.”

Maldonado believes it should be a two-way relationship. If she’s educating, others need to educate themselves too. When it comes to kids, she takes an even stronger stance. 

“It should not be their job to educate their teachers,” Maldonado Bad Hand said.

She said a lot of the time older generations don’t bother teaching kids their history because they assume they already know it. This leads to children that cannot fully identify their culture.

“If we assume they already know everything about Native culture, we’re going to create a sense of shame within them,” Maldonado Bad Hand said. 

Her path as an artist has led her to meet people of all different cultures and with all different beliefs: some that she can share a sense of unity with and others that refuse to understand her culture. Sometimes this can lead to conflict.

“I try not to take it as a battle or as combative, even when it comes off as combative, and I try to let it go,” Maldonado Bad Hand said. “If I’ve done what I can to educate and try to make that bridge and that connection and they’re not accepting it, then you have to let it go.”

Much of her story resonated with crowd members for the event.

“The event was very enlightening; as someone from a minority (group) from southeast Asia, I think I was able to build a connection,” said Grady Grossman, a student at Front Range Community College. “(The event) allows people to reach more and more audiences, and it’s a great way to bring more awareness to the topic.”

More people came from all over to hear what Maldonado Bad Hand had to say.

“It related to a lot of Native issues,” Yufna Soldier Wolf said, who came from Wind River Reservoir, Wyoming. “It brings awareness to our community and other places that need it.”

Maldonado Bad Hand wants to create ripples in society across different platforms with education and art. 

“As an artist, it’s kind of my job to stir up the pot a bit,” said Maldonado Bad Hand.

Gerson Flores Rojas can be reached at or on Twitter @GersonFloresRo1.

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