Thousands of commuters, riders and walkers will see simply a mural as they pass by and through the light-rail transit station at Cedar and Franklin avenues in Minneapolis.

But to the artists who painted the 18-by-200-foot mural to be unveiled Monday, it is a nascent symbol of cultural independence for American Indians living in the city and the neighborhood.

The mural is part of the "Paint the Ave." project of the Native American Community Development Institute, which is using a series of three murals on E. Franklin Avenue as a rallying cry for youth and residents.

Using art, the institute wants to instill greater pride and initiative in kids and tribal members who live in and around the Franklin Avenue area. Art can be combined with entrepreneurship and community development to help young American Indians direct their future, the institute says.

"There's no title yet," said Dan Yang, a community activist who helped organize this and other mural projects. "But it creates ownership in the community. It's time that Native Americans became architects of their own destiny. They don't need someone else telling them what to do."

Artist Bobby Wilson, a graphic designer who lives and works in St. Paul, oversees the mural work. He has used grant money to hire a number of area young people, ranging in age from 12 to 18, to paint the murals.

"I really enjoy youth work," said Wilson, 26, as he and the youngsters put on the final touches on the mural on Sunday afternoon. "A lot of these kids, I know their older siblings or their parents. The mural, it kind of brings a lot of people together."

Yang said the kids, who are being paid $250 each, have worked about 30 hours a week for the past several weeks on the piece, which is on the western wall of the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center on Franklin and Cedar.

The wall faces the light-rail station and is right next to a popular paved biking path. As a result, thousands of people will see the mural each day.

Wilson said the bison, plains and flora on the mural are meant to represent a number of tribes in Minnesota. He hopes the work will start dialogues between American Indians and non-American Indians.

"We're a really close-knit community," Wilson said. "A lot of people observe us from the outside. It's nice to put something out there that thousands of people are going to see each day."

Gregory (Tubby) Madigan, one of the artists helping Wilson, could not agree more.

"It's cool," he said in between painting assignments. "I like that people come by and admire it. I'm proud of it."

Heron Marquez • 952-707-9994