Little Shell artist touched by Indigenous mass graves, donates earnings from Strawberry Festival

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Posted at 10:36 AM, Jul 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-11 19:57:45-04

A Billings artist sold art at the Strawberry Festival on Saturday to help in the investigation of the unmarked graves of Native American children at former boarding school sites.

Jerrid Gray is donating 100 percent of his proceeds to the National Native American Boarding School Coalition.

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KTVQ photo

"After hearing about the atrocities and in Canada and the Indigenous children that were found in mass graves I wanted to help any way that I could," said Gray, a member of the Little Shell Tribe.

According to CBS News, as many as 751 unmarked graves has been discovered at a former residential school in Saskatchewan.

"These children weren't even returned to their homes,"Gray said. "They just disappeared and put into an unmarked grave. The reform schools were there to ship natives to cut off our braids, get rid of our culture, make us speak English, kind of, assimilate into white culture. They tried to erase us."

Earlier in the week, Gray announced he would sell his art online.

His friends at the Downtown Billings Alliance helped get him set up for the Strawberry Festival.

"His heart wanted so badly to do something to help," said Lindsay Richardson, Downtown Billings Alliance events & community engagement director. "It's a big deal for us to first off support our family member. Jared is one of the Downtown Billings Alliance family members. And he's also supporting his culture. And we're 100% behind that."

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KTVQ photo

Many at the crowded Strawberry Festival visited Gray's booth for the cause, the art, or both.

"All the Travertine that I have carved comes from a quarry down in Gardiner that the Little Shell just purchased," Gray said. "These colors of stone, specifically, are unique to the one in Gardiner so that you'll never have another piece like it."

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KTVQ photo

"It's Native American-made and it's a culture that was very much what was trying to be eradicated," Richardson said. "And to be standing here today with thriving members of the Native American culture is very important."

"It's hard to get the closure that we need for the acts that were done upon our people," Gray said.