By now, local Washington media has covered the internetwith their summaries of a timely – yet still largely ignored – issue involving a particular football team located in this area. While Racial Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports spoke to the broader issues regarding Native American culture and peoples and their use as sports logos and traditions, make no mistake: the local NFL team’s moniker was a lynchpin in the discussion. The topic was subject of one-third of the day’s symposium, and itself is well-covered elsewhere. (You can watch the recording online in its entirety.)
I couldn’t attend in person, so I settled for the live webcast. And I’ve spent time re-watching the panels as well, because there was so much information and passion involved I couldn’t catch all of it the first time around. I could probably write several blog posts about the topic, and may yet in the future.
But what I wanted to really comment here and now, since other outlets are more focused on the local team aspect, is some key comments made by Director Kevin Gover at the start of the day. Thanks to NMAI, I received a full copy of his remarks; they provide a context that is important to the background of the overall discussion. While I won’t simply copy them all here – you can listen to Dr. Gover online for that – I did want to point out some relevant comments. Continue reading →
Celebrate indigenous contributions to environmental sustainability, knowledge and traditions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s third annual Living Earth Festival, presented from Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22. This year’s festival features an organic farmers market, an outdoor cooking competition, music and dance performances, hands-on workshops about gardening, goat cheese and basketry, as well as discussions about the impact of climate change on marine habitats and concerns over genetically modified foods.
In his first performance in the United States, acclaimed Canadian artist Kent Monkman (Cree) will present a new work featuring his alter ego, Miss Chief, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Monkman’s large-scale paintings, faux-antique photographs, silent films, and performance works subvert official histories of Manifest Destiny and “noble savages.”
In the lavishly staged satire “Miss Chief: Justice of the Piece,” Miss Chief—the glamorous, powerful, mythical alter ego of artist Kent Monkman—as well as a host of other performers, illuminate policies that determine Native American identity. Unlike other populations in North America, Indians are defined not solely by self-designation, but by laws (some originating from archaic notions of biological race such as blood quantum) that measure one’s heredity by percentages. Miss Chief has decided to take the ultimate political stand against these laws and create her own nation and is looking for members. But, as is common with Miss Chief, her invitation is a grand event. Continue reading →
I’ll admit, I struggled a bit trying to figure out what to write a “Best of…” article around for this week. Sports? Covered. Food? Taken. I had to look deeper than the usual fare: what was it about DC—and about WeLoveDC in particular—that I really enjoyed over the past year? I realized that one of the perks we have is the slew of interview opportunities we’re given for the site. So why not look at some of the more interesting interviews we’ve done over the course of 2011?
Often, I find that through the glimpse of someone else’s eyes and perspectives, we’re given a mirror to gaze into our own lives and see where we are, what we’re missing, and what we can hope to achieve. We wrote quite a few interviews and features on people who live, work, and/or visit the DC area this year and I wanted to take a moment and point out some of the ones that really stand out. I hope you take a moment to dive into these great features and either revisit some old friends, or find your own inspiration to make a better 2012. Continue reading →
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors this past weekend to a new exhibition, “A Song for the Horse Nation.” The exhibition, nestled on the third floor of the museum, tells the epic tale of the how the return of the horse to the Americas changed Native culture, from lifestyle to war to art and beyond. “For some Native peoples, the horse still is an essential part of daily life,” said exhibit curator Emil Her Many Horses (Ogala Lakota). “For others, the horse will always remain an element of our identity and our history. The Horse Nation continues to inspire, and Native artists continue to celebrate the horse in our songs, our stories, and our works of art.”
To walk the exhibit’s path is to walk side by side with the conjoined path of Native and horse. Though horses were introduced to the Native Americans relatively late in North American history—the early 1700s saw the initial widespread explosion of the horse from captured Spanish mounts in the southwest—the image of Indians astride these graceful animals is one that is common to modern Americans. The “Horse Nation” quickly entwined themselves with Native communities, forever altering tribal culture and the Indian way of life.
The Smithsonian’s exhibit seeks to give us a view into that not-so-distant past. But it’s more than just a simply history lesson: subtly but surely, “A Song for the Horse Nation” reveals how interwoven both horse and man became among 38 tribal communities from the Plains and Western United States. The horse was more than a beast of burden or a tool; the animal became a part of Native culture that still resonates among the people today. Continue reading →
out of the earth / I sing for them
A Horse nation / I sing for them
out of the earth / I sing for them,
the animals / I sing for them.
~a song by the Teton Sioux
Emil Her Many Horses is, by first appearance, a quiet, unassuming gentleman. A museum specialist in the office of Museum Programs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), he is responsible for the facility’s latest exhibition “A Song for the Horse Nation.” A member of the Ogala Lakota nation of South Dakota, his expertise on the Northern and Southern Plains cultures is well served and seen in the exhibit that opens to the public tomorrow.
NMAI’s latest offering is a touching and brilliant display of how the horse has deeply impacted and affected Native cultures since their introduction to the Americas in the 17th century. “The exhibit tells the history of the horse; that they were here once before, migrated to Europe, and returned as the horse we know today,” explained Her Many Horses. “They changed Native culture. The horse had a major impact on hunting, warfare, travel, spirituality. These were big changes.” Changes that extend beyond the European vision of the animal.
Seen as a beast of burden, a tool, a weapon, the horse was brought and used by European explorers and colonists early in America’s “New World” history. And their introduction, according to many Natives, was probably one of the biggest positive changes brought about by the white man.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is hosting a free outdoor concert to kick off their yearly Indian Summer Showcase. This year, the Indian Country/Country Indian concert will feature Victoria Blackie (Navajo), Rebecca Miller (Six Nations, Canada), and Becky Hobbs (Cherokee). The concert will take place at 5 pm outside on the Welcome Plaza in front of the museum’s main entrance.
I was fortunate enough to squeeze some time from Victoria and Becky to talk about their music, their heritage, and what inspires them in their artistry.
First, there’s Victoria Blackie. Last year’s winner of the Debut Artist of the Year at the Native American Music Awards, she also performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her voice has been described as powerful with lots of soul, hearkening back to the days of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and other female greats of the past. And don’t let her small stature fool you (she’s 5’1”); her voice is strong enough to pull you in and versatile enough to appeal to a wide range of country enthusiasts.
Kicking off last night at the National Museum of the American Indian is a special exhibit about our 50th state, Hawai’i. The exhibition, “This IS Hawai’i” is a collaboration between NMAI and Transformer, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit visual arts organization. Together, they present a multisite exhibition featuring new and experimental works of art that explore what it means to be Hawaiian in the 21st century. The artwork includes sculpture, action figures, drawings, an interactive website and a fictional work titled “Post-Historic Museum of the Possible Aboriginal Hawaiian.” The work of Maika’i Tubbs will be presented at Transformer, opening day Saturday, May 21, and the work of Solomon Enos and Carl F. K. Pao will be presented at the NMAI’s Sealaska Gallery, with artist Puni Kukahiko’s outdoor sculptures presented at both sites. The exhibition is presented in tandem with the museum’s annual Hawai’i Festival, which is this weekend.
There are other events planned around this exhibit through Memorial Day weekend, including the museum’s popular Dinner and a Movie, live performances, a fellowship dance, and interactive discussions. All of the events are free at the museum.
As spring unfolds in DC and the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, the crowds will come to the Tidal Basin area. So if you’re looking for something else to do in town to avoid the tourista hordes, check out some of the great programs at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.
This month at SAAM:
Women Building History: Public Art at the 1893 Columbian Exposition March 3, 7 p.m.
Wanda Corn describes the neoclassical Woman’s Building at the 1893 Exposition in Chicago—which celebrated modern woman’s progress in education, the arts, and science at the end of the nineteenth century—and how the building’s content was used to promote the expansion of opportunities for women. A book signing follows.
Ask someone on the street about Native American history and more often than not, they’ll most likely recall the “Thanksgiving story,” the Indian Wars of the late nineteenth century, “Custer’s Last Stand,” or probably the (abysmal) movie Dances With Wolves. It’s an era of our nation’s history that I think many know little about – or choose to look the other way – and I cannot blame them for it. It’s not a pretty period of history, nor is it exactly the United States’ most proudest collection of moments.
When I saw the National Museum of the American Indian’s (NMAI) press release regarding the variety of activities in celebration of Native American Indian Heritage Month, one of the events that caught my eye was today’s lecture with NMAI Director Kevin Gover and museum historian Mark Hirsch. They were speaking regarding a book the Smithsonian released last year, American Indians, American Presidents: A History, edited by Clifford E. Trafzer. While I couldn’t attend the lecture, I had wanted to interview both Director Gover and Mr. Hirsch regarding the book and its impact but despite both NMAI and my best efforts, we couldn’t quite make things work out.
Nonetheless, I decided to forge ahead with a look at this book – even though it was released last year – for a variety of reasons. Native American history is a subject very close to me, for starters, and is an era of history I feel is mostly glossed over in classrooms. The struggle of Native Americans during this country’s formation and rise to power is something that cannot be ignored and, I believe, contains lessons for our future as a nation and as a people.
So I asked NMAI for a copy of the book, eager to see what new perspectives awaited within. And…I was left wanting. Continue reading →
The following activities and events are at the National Museum of the American Indian, located at the eastern tip of the National Mall at 4th and Independence Avenue SW. (All activities are free.)
Native Dance: “Native Pride Dancers” Nov. 5, 10:30 a.m. and noon (Discovery Theater); Nov. 6, 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (Rasmuson Theater)
Authentic regalia.… rhythmic drumming… skilled footwork… experience the excitement of a Native American powwow! World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie of the Meskwaki Nation, and the Native Pride Dancers perform music and movement celebrated by their American Indian cultures. Reservations are required for Friday’s performances. Call Discovery Theater to reserve seating for groups and individuals: 202-633-8700 or visit http://discoverytheater.org. Saturday’s performances are open to the public, first come, first seated.
Family Celebration Harvest Festival Nov. 6-7, 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
The whole family is invited to kick off the Smithsonian’s celebration of American Indian Heritage Month with a weekend-long festival exploring how Native communities throughout the Americas celebrate the harvest. It includes harvest-related dance and theater performances, cooking demonstrations, and hands-on activities.
Derek A. Bencomo, Hana Valley, First View from the Peaks and Valleys Series, 1997, milowood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Fleur and Charles Bresler in honor of Kenneth R. Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery (1995--2003); photo courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
If you feel the need to groove this Saturday, I remind you that the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is presenting the 6th annual Dance DC Festival. While there will be several free performances of folk and traditional dances held around town between Friday and Sunday, two of particular interest are being hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian at noon on Saturday:
CapoeiraDC is performing the art of capoeira, a unique blend of martial art, dance, and music that evolved from a vibrant Afro-Brazillian culture.
Hui O Ka Pua `Ilima is performing both traditional and contemporary dances of Hawai`i, Tahiti, and New Zealand in an informative and interactive format.
You don’t need to have a sense of rhythm to enjoy these performances, so get out and enjoy the groove! Call the Dance DC Festival for more information at 202.724.5613.
On one of the first springtime Saturdays in April, I managed to slip down to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to catch its associate curator, Paul Chaat Smith, read from his latest book Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong. Not exactly an event to herald the death of a wet, extended winter, but the book title and press release had my attention. I wanted to know more about the book – and the man behind it. Spring, for the moment, could wait.
I wasn’t disappointed.
To understand the author is to understand the book that much more. It’s less a cohesive treatise on any particular point – and if you’re looking for a “top ten” list based on the title, you’ll be sorely disappointed. As Paul stated, “It’s a book title, folks, not to be taken literally. Of course I don’t mean everything, just most things. And ‘you’ really means we, as in all of us.”
Jolene Nenibah Yazzie (Navajo), "Beautiful Shield" 2006. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
Upstairs in the intimate Sealaska Gallery at the National Museum of the American Indian is a fascinating exhibition on the intersection between Native culture and a uniquely modern art form. “Comic Art Indigene,” now through May 31st, highlights over 35 artworks of various mediums from the earliest rock art and clay figurines through to classic comic strip panels. Containing images both humorous and provocative, it’s well worth a visit.
If you’re interested in the history of how traditional methods of storytelling evolved into using comic art as a means of Native expression, the beginning of the exhibit clearly outlines this process. I just urge you to make sure you move beyond that initial area to the back walls and pay careful attention to the incredible pieces by Diego Romero, Mateo Romero, Jolene Nenibah Yazzie, and Rose Bean Simpson. These artists collectively pack a powerful graphic suckerpunch.
Jolene Nenibah Yazzie (Navajo) was a skater girl in high school, and her childhood inspiration was Wonder Woman. Both facets are evident in her supersaturated color contrast and strong female images. I loved “Beautiful Shield” – reminding me of a bit of Patrick Nagel (though these women could kick Nagel’s to the curb!). If I could own one piece of artwork from the show, this would be it. Continue reading →
When Fritz Scholder came to New Mexico in the 1960s, he sword he’d never paint the Indian. When he got there, and saw the condition of the state of Indian art, he changed his mind. A quarter Luiseño, he was invited to join the Rockefeller Southwest Indian Art Project, and would eventually join the faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Scholder’s work would cross all manner of boundaries.
The exhibit at NMAI that opens on Friday is nothing short incredible. The color palette alone should get you out there. Scholder’s palette ranges from day-glo pink to earthen brown and meets in the middle with some incredible combinations. “Red No. 5” pictured above is one of his later pieces, part of his second Indian phase. His works seek to show the reality of the Indian life in the US, from alcoholism to a distorted self-image, Scholder hasn’t found a taboo that he won’t delve into.