Expressing her Osage heritage through art
As a child, she would swim in its cool waters, accompanied by friends and relatives from her home Osage Indian Reservation. Today, she came to sit among the flat rocks, practicing melodies as she watched cousins romp in the creek.
But when the sweet and husky voice of her instrument sounded above the rushing water, she attracted an unexpected audience.
“They were there all of a sudden,” Filer said. “Dragonflies, hundreds of them. They just suddenly showed up, wings all iridescent blues and reds and greens, sitting on the rocks.”
At that moment, she said, her lifelong admiration for the creatures made sense.
Dragonflies have a special place in Osage legends. They serve as a symbol of transformation and a representation of ancestor spirits.
Part of that folklore may have arisen from the fact that the Osage people, known as the Ni-U-kon-ska or Children of the Middle Waters, resided near bodies of water full of the creatures.
For Filer, witnessing the shimmering swarm of dragonflies was a kind of homecoming, a visible sign that embracing her heritage was making her whole. “It all came full circle,” she said.
Her family had migrated to Southern California at the insistence of her Irish father when she was 5. Physically removed from the traditions of her mother’s tribe, she didn’t begin exploring her Native heritage until she took up basket weaving in her 30s.
While Filer’s three artistic sisters inspired her, it was her mother’s cornhusk dolls, garbed in miniature Osage regalia, that intrigued her. As she began researching Osage traditions and art, her appreciation of her Indian roots grew.
“That’s when everything started to flow,” she said.
From dolls she moved to drums, then began crafting other Native-inspired items. The more she explored her heritage, the more her art became an expression of her Osage roots.
“My culture is a piece of me that’s so embedded, so deep inside,” she said. “I may not be full-blood, but it’s here, in my heart. It’s become part of who I am today, and my art is a way of expressing that.”
Moving to McMinnville in 2005, she was encouraged to pursue her art further by the presence of a Native American gallery, Hawks Gallery and Trading. She assisted the gallery by leading beadwork and doll-making classes until the store closed.
While Filer found teaching a joy, she also appreciated the chance to put it aside to pursue her art. She markets it under the label, “Sister of the Osage.”
She’s also developed a passion for playing the Native American flute, which only grew after her 2008 experience with the dragonflies at the Osage reservation.
“I create because I want to give to the universe,” she said. “It’s a compelling passion that I have. I do it because I love it.”
She has hosted community flute circles once a month, allowing people of all ages and talent levels to listen to or participate in music-making. She supplies rattles and drums and offers impromptu flute lessons.
“I enjoy cultivating an inviting space where people can connect through music,” Filer said. “Because we’re all connected, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Native or not.”
It’s a special delight, she added, when she’s invited to perform her signature song, “Dragonfly.”