Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations) by Darrell van Mastrigt

Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations) by Darrell van Mastrigt

Medium: Acrylic on canvas panel
Size: 18″ X 24″

Artist statement: This title is the primary prayer I offer on my walk on the Red Road. It is used to begin and end ceremonies and is how we finish our prayers. It reminds us that we all come from the same place, and that we all rely on one another. What one person does impacts us all. Mitakuye Oyasin reminds us that we are all related to all things. Through the sacrifices of the people we are able to live. We must take care of the things in this world, taking only what we need, from the food we eat to the shoes we wear, everything comes from a living being in this world. We must honor their sacrifice and be mindful not to be greedy, but rather to share and support this world. One of the most beautiful aspects of life is being grateful to all our relations in this world. When something is freely given, it builds a relationship between the giver and the person receiving the gift. It allows us to take a moment and recognize those people and spirits who have helped us on our path. Having given a gift freely and without any expectation of return, you will be blessed and your needs will be met. The act of giving and sacrifice puts into motion the energy which returns to you four fold. The same happens when you receive a gift, you allow an opportunity for another person giving the gift to be blessed. In this way, both the giver and the gifted receive blessings, and together are strengthened. Much of the symbolism in this painting is a reminder to me that we are not judged by what we say, but rather by what we give and how we sacrifice.

Image description (Alt Text): This Acrylic on canvas panel features the busts of two Native Americns surrounded by wild mustangs, buffalo, bears and wolves, eagles, a dove and a turtle. The background depicts a Native American village at sunset in three different seasons: spring, winter and fall. A dream catcher is suspended in the sky. The work is captioned “Mitakuye Oyasin”.

Artist statement/bio: My definition of freedom is: The ability to see beauty in every person, every thing, and every situation you find yourself in each day. It is your choice to be in beauty, accept a part in making beauty, and end each day knowing you made the right choices to help those you love, those you encounter every day, and those still to come after you. Freedom is not free.

Making the right choices of sacrifice to help others, and yourself, create beauty is a hard thing to do. Letting go of hate, anger, bias, selfishness, destructiveness, depression and the virus of popular culture is required if you truly seek freedom. When I had just turned 18, society threw me away and almost succeeded in snuffing my spirit, taking my voice, and stopping me from seeing any beauty in the world or myself. I wanted to die because I was reacting to other people’s views being imposed upon me and letting them influence my actions.I had no idea who I was. Our justice system, while better than most, is blind to truth, fairness, innocence, compassion, or restoring balance to the people caught up in its machinations. doesn’t care about the victim’s needs or offender’s future actions. It leaves behind families from every walk of life that are torn apart and left to heal on their own (or not!) Thirty-five years later I know the true and honest reality. My family saved me. My friends saved me. My faith saved me.

And, most importantly, the beauty that surrounds us always saved me when I chose to see it and accept it. No matter where I am, that’s my true freedom. I am trying to free myself physically from prison through commutation. My confidence in that process is not very high. I received one vote at my last merit review hearing. But, taking any chance at being with my family and giving back even some of the love and support they’ve given me is better than no chance at all.

Much of my daily freedom comes literally from creating beauty others can enjoy, be inspired by, and share with others. The mural arts program I created at SCI-Fayette allows prison artists the opportunity to share their creativity, skill and vision of beauty with others. Our large projects cover the walls of the prison to convey hope and possible better futures and better relationships amongst the population. Some of our projects are community based and a way for “thrown-away” people to give back to their communities in a positive and good way. A way for the forgotten to be seen and heard through beauty. My personal work (paintings and cards) is freedom. I paint beauty to share with others. Most of what I paint I’ve never experienced.

Besides trips as a kid to Disneyworld, Niagara Falls, and Sea World in Ohio, I never left Pittsburgh before being locked up for life. Never even owned a driver’s license. So my freedom, my traveling, my observance of natural beauty is done through my paintings. I love to paint my desires, my hopes for a better future, my well wishes for others, my dreams and my heart. Beauty really does exist all around us when we choose to see it and be part of it. unbroken and free. Regardless of being locked in a cage, for decades, my spirit remains. My life has meaning for others in my actions and I choose to embrace any opportunity for good despite the likelihood that I will never be free of this physical prison. Freedom is about much more than just your physical environment.