The Indigenous Inclusion and Involvement of Meow Wolf

This fall, Meow Wolf, the arts production company known for creating immersive experiences that transport audiences into fantastic realms, opened Convergence Station in Denver. We find out about the Indigenous inclusion and involvement of the new location.
Photo by Nikki A. Rae Photography

Meow Wolf began in 2008 as an informal DIY collective of Santa Fe artists who were considered outsiders of the Santa Fe art scene. These collaborative roots lay the foundation for Meow Wolf’s distinctive style of immersive, maximalist environments that encourage audience participation. Now, Meow Wolf is an arts production company that creates immersive, multimedia experiences that transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms, and has four art installations in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Nevada, and now Denver, Colorado. 

In the Denver location, Meow Wolf’s third permanent exhibition called Convergence Station officially opened to the public in September 2021 and is considered unforgettable and transformational. At Convergence Station, you discover immersive psychedelic, mind-bending art, and an underlying rich narrative as you take a journey of discovery into a surreal, science-fictional epic. Attendees can expect a brand new experience, otherworlds-ly art, and plenty of opportunities to get lost through portals and wormholes.

Aeriel view of Meow Wolf Convergence Station. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell

Meow Wolf is different from any other attraction or exhibition. Meow Wolf employs numerous full-time artists on staff who work in a wide range of media including sculpture, painting, fabrication, digital art, writing, film, and many more. At each location, Meow Wolf prioritizes collaboration with local artists in the area of each exhibition. Meow Wolf also gives back to and participates energetically in the surrounding communities of the locations, actively supporting innovative, community-focused art and social projects. In addition, Meow Wolf acknowledges and celebrates Indigenous people today and every day. Meow Wolf’s three locations all sit on the ancestral lands of the Pueblo, Southern Paiute, Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, and Oceti Sakowin (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) peoples. Meow Wolf has taken steps to include Indigenous people in the creation of Convergence Station. As with the other Meow Wolf locations that have built relationships with the local Indigenous populations in the area, Convergence Station included the Denver Native community in the planning, making, and launching of its newest location. 

To help me understand this effort I talked with Meow Wolf Community Engagement Specialist and Nuwuvi Artist Fawn Douglas, who is a member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. We discussed the many levels of Indigeneity in Convergence Station: Sand Creek Massacre Remembrance Room, exhibits by Indigenous artists, IAIA [Institute of American Indian Arts] and UNM [University of New Mexico] Internships with Native American students, opening ceremonies, land acknowledgments, cultural appropriation training for employees, and more.

Convergence Station at night. Photo by Kate Russell

According to Fawn, Meow Wolf established their first official internship in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which took place over the course of eight weeks. The internship was propelled forward by the work that came out of our Inclusion Diversity Equity Accessibility (IDEA) team, putting words to action in efforts toward achieving equity in our company and community. For this effort, Meow Wolf partnered up with the IAIA and UNM to select nine interns from diverse artistic backgrounds, ranging from sophomores to graduate students. More than half of the interns were Native American: Jazmin Novak (Dińe), Gilbert White (Dińe), Britney King (Dińe), Jeanette DeDios (Jicarilla Apache), and Lindsey Toya-Tosa (Jemez Pueblo). 

There was a land acknowledgment and Indigenous dance performances at the opening of Convergence Station. The land acknowledgment portion of the program was read by Meow Wolf manager Alex Bennett, followed by a prayer song by Howard Bad Hand. Robert Hawk, Stephanie Jerome, Travis Goldtooth, Shotae Teveter, Jourdan Kee, Huitzilopochtli, and drum group Colorado Singers were a part of the opening ceremony’s performances. The land acknowledgment is also a part of the building. Meow Wolf has a permanent sign with a land acknowledgment in the lobby of the Convergence Station, which they consulted with local Indigenous leaders to create. It reads: “Meow Wolf Denver is on the ancestral homelands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute people. We pay respects to the Indigenous people: their ancestors, their thriving communities today, and their knowledge keepers of tomorrow.”

Amongst the gorgeous exhibits created by Indigenous artists and creators, Colorado’s historical treatment of Native Americans is on display at Convergence Station with the Sand Creek Massacre remembrance room. Additionally, there are exhibits that combine elements of visual art, film, music, storytelling, and design which allow guests to participate in multi-ethnic, multi-sensory, and intergenerational experiences unlike anything done before. 

Meow Wolf took it a step further with cultural appropriation training for the employees. “We met with an open heart. I started with a question if anyone had ever been guilty of appropriation, I discussed my embarrassment of that from long ago and how I learned from it,” Fawn shared with the employees. “That’s when others opened up. We had a conversation about the topic and how we move forward as humans. I lectured on history for context and understanding.”

The Indigenous inclusion and incorporation involved language as well. The interior signs of the building included not only English and Spanish translations but Arapaho as well. For example, a sign on the fifth level read: “5 TEEXO’OOWU’, PISO 5, LEVEL 5”. Meow Wolf consulted with the Denver American Indian Commission to use the Arapaho language on all directional signage inside Convergence Station. This joins English, Spanish, and Braille to promote inclusion at the Denver facility.

Photo by Nikki A. Rae Photography

Of the exhibits created and led by Indigenous artists that are currently on display at Convergence Station, we spoke with the person who wrote the narrative and concept for the room “Help Save My World,” Erika T. Wurth (Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee descent). Her novel, White Horse, is forthcoming from Flatiron/Macmillan. 

Kelly: How did you become involved in helping bring this exhibit to life at Convergence Station? 

Erika: The people at Meow Wolf have been very inclusive. But I’ve got Lee Francis (Pueblo descent) to thank for my involvement. He worked tirelessly to connect me and others. What’s great is that there are Natives from completely different backgrounds who wrote and designed for Meow Wolf Denver.

Kelly: Ah, so cool! So it was a long process in the making. That’s good to hear. So tell me about your exhibition.

Erika T. Wurth. Photo courtesy

Erika: I wanted to write something that would be fun, speculative, and cool and fit in with Convergence Station. But I wanted it to be grounded in something local and Indigenous in a way that was not just visual, but also narrative. Grace Dillon (of Anishinaabe descent) created this concept of Indigenous futurism. I wanted to incorporate and use that to build the room around the idea that Native people had been given some opportunity to have a life unfettered by colonization on another planet.

In the room, you’re on another planet where all the vegetation is red and pink. The visual designer and I designed one of the murals around the three sisters–a system many Indigenous people use–beans, corn, and squash growing together. Then for the other side of the mural, I looked at different and current contemporary Native American architecture. Therin (the visual artist) drew buildings that were speculatively based on that. So the idea is that on this other planet, Native people and their technology have been able to advance organically. 

In the center of the room is a gigantic red tree with a mirror, projecting three stories.  The first is me as a character named Naiche (a traditional Apache name). She asks people to help save her world and tells them about the opportunity her ancestors were given and how they have this relationship, this new planet, Mother Liche–the Mayan word for red. And they grow their technology instead of ripping it from the earth. The second video features Stephen Graham Jones, a Blackfeet citizen and a local professor, and New York Times bestselling horror writer. In it, he’s talking about Denver and how he’s a professor and a writer. And then the last video is my cousin Abner Goodbear, a Cheyenne/Arapaho citizen, talking about how some of his family died in the Sand Creek Massacre, which occurred not far from where Convergence Station is standing now. 

I wanted to have some really beautiful, fun, speculative, and contemporary elements with a little bit of history that I think is important.

Kelly: Wow! That’s a lot of unique elements. How does Help Save My World tie into the whole Convergence Station? What is the relationship to the station’s story?

Erika: Essentially, it’s just part of the speculative dreamscape that Meow Wolf is. They have their own larger narrative. People can go quantum teleporting to different parts of the universe from the Convergence Station. So my room, “Help Save My World”– theoretically would be a world you would teleport to. 

Kelly: That story sounds like it could be from a sci-fi movie! The story is so interesting. Will you consider writing it into a novel?

Erika:  I’d been writing a science-fiction novel, but, it had died. So I was able to bring it back to life with this opportunity.

Photo by Nikki A. Rae Photography

Kelly: That’s a pretty cool story, and I love the idea of Indigenous futurism, especially in fashion.

Erika: I’ve been waiting all my life for what’s happening in fashion right now. Bethany Yellowtail, Jamie Okuma. All of this is stuff that, as a kid, I had the barest glimmer in my head. 

Kelly: Yes, I am so proud of them. I feel exploring futurisms allows us to look to the future instead of always thinking about our past. Also, I love Natives in science fiction.

Erika: Oh yeah. Every once in a while, a Native character would show up in a book I’d be reading, and usually, they were pretty two-dimensional. What’s coming out now, I think, would have blown my mind. In the work I’m reading by Indigenous speculative authors, we’re allowed to be in the future and to dream forward. My forthcoming novel is speculative, but specifically, it’s horror. Horror has always fascinated me. 

Kelly: I’m glad to see opportunities like this, especially for you as an author, to branch out and participate in an interactive exhibit.

Erika: I love watching Native folks interact with my room in Meow Wolf, take pictures, comment. That makes me really happy. 

Kelly: Something else I also noticed was when I went to Convergence Station for the first time, I saw the Arapaho language on the signs. 

Erika: I approached Han Santana-Sayles [Director of Artist Collaboration] and said, “Meow Wolf has Spanish, English, and an alien language on it’s walls. I’d love to include Cheyenne, Arapaho, or Ute, and I will facilitate it. I will do whatever I need to do to.” So I found an elder through an acquaintance, Eugene Blackbear Jr., who translated for Meow Wolf. 

Kelly: That is very important. 

Erika: That really mattered to me. I love my room, and it was so much fun, and it’s moving, but to me, that made me feel the proudest.