July 23, 2015

Meet Native America: Chairman Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

I'm Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe

Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?

It's ˇGvύí (GwoWee). It means Raven.

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman
Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman. 

Where is your tribe located?

The Suquamish Tribe is located on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Kitsap County, Washington. We are located in the central Puget Sound region and are approximately a half-hour away from the city of Seattle by water.

Where was your tribe originally from?

The Suquamish Tribe’s traditional areas encompass much of the Puget Sound region.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share? 

Chief Seattle, for whom the city of Seattle is named, is a hereditary leader of the Suquamish People. Seattle signed the Point Elliott Treaty in 1855 on behalf of the Suquamish and Duwamish People. His father’s village of Old Man House was probably the largest winter house in the Northwest Coast, reaching nearly 800 by 40 feet (32,000 square feet).

Today, the Suquamish Tribe continues to be a leader in government-to-government relations. The Suquamish Tribe is one of the first tribes in Washington to collaborate with state government in order to create a new Tribal-Compact schools system. Suquamish was also instrumental in the implementation of a Native American curriculum in schools across Washington State.

How is your tribal government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?

The Suquamish Tribe is led by a seven-member Tribal Council. Members are elected each March by the tribe’s voting body, known as the General Council. The Tribal Council consists of four officers—chairman, vice-chairman, treasurer, secretary—and three at-large council members. The chairman only votes in case of a tie. Tribal Council officers and members serve three-year staggered terms.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

No, but we have an Elder Council and a Youth Council that advise us on a variety of cultural and social issues.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

Suquamish Tribal Council meets twice each month. Suquamish General Council—the community—meets annually.

Suquamish Tribal Council 2015
The Suquamish Tribal Council, 2015. Left to right: Council Member Rich Purser, Council Member Sammy Mabe, Treasurer Robin Sigo, Chairman Leonard Forsman, Secretary Nigel Lawrence, Vice-Chairman Wayne George, and Council Member Luther "Jay" Mills.


How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

Members of my family, especially my father and older siblings, were very active in tribal government, setting a great example. I was a student-athlete at public school, as well as a member of our tribal baseball, softball, and basketball teams. My oldest sister and brother were involved in education and national politics, which inspired me to get involved in both. I also was exposed to some of our cultural values and teachings at a young age, which led me into my work as a cultural researcher and anthropologist.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

My first responsibility is to organize and lead our Tribal Council meetings and our annual General Council meeting. My second responsibility, in my opinion, is to represent the Suquamish Tribe and its interests within our tribal community, with other tribal governments, and with outside governments on the local, state, and national level. I also serve on many boards and commissions within and outside the tribe, which work to meet the interests of our people and the greater community, including serving as a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation since being appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My parents, who lived through the Depression, met and married during World War II, and raised their family here on the reservation. Also my oldest brother, Jim, who inspired me to go to school and get active in politics, and my late sister, Marion, who taught me to work hard and to learn my culture.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

I am a descendant of the family of Chief Seattle, signer of the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? What are the criteria to become a member? 

There are approximately 1150 Suquamish tribal members. Automatic adoption requires descendancy from a Suquamish tribal member and one-eighth total Indian blood.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

The Suquamish people traditionally speak a Salishan language called Lushootseed.

Several years ago, the Suquamish Tribe had very few Lushootseed speakers. The language was in real danger of becoming extinct. However, a group of dedicated tribal members worked to create a language program. At first the program was volunteer. Now it is a fully funded division of our Education Department, where we have Lushootseed classes for students at our schools and family classes for our community members.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

Over the past 25 years, the Suquamish tribal government has diligently worked to ensure economic opportunities for tribal members. In 1987, the Suquamish Tribe established Port Madison Enterprises (PME) as an agency of the Suquamish Tribe. PME’s operations are aimed at developing community resources while promoting the economic and social welfare of the Suquamish Tribe through commercial activities. What began as a modest retail endeavor has grown exponentially over the last quarter century. PME now encompasses several businesses including Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort, the historic Kiana Lodge, three retail outletsWhite Horse Golf Course, and a property management division.

PME operations are conducted at the direction of a Board of Directors comprised of seven tribal members who are appointed by the Suquamish Tribal Council. With more than 800 employees in fields ranging from information technology to hospitality, the Suquamish-owned company is fast becoming one of the largest employers in the greater Kitsap area.

In addition to PME, the Suquamish Tribe also operates a growing seafood business. Established in 1996 by tribal charter, Suquamish Seafoods Enterprise (SSE) was formed to develop seafood markets for tribal fishermen, as well as market the bountiful harvests of geoduck clams that populate the tribe’s surrounding waters. SSE benefits tribal members by supporting seafood sustainability, subsistence living—the traditional conservation and perpetuation of resources—and the tribal economy as a whole.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

The Suquamish Tribe is one of several tribal governments in the Salish Sea who coordinate the Tribal Canoe Journey. The annual event, where tribes and First Nations travel the waterways of their ancestors in dug-out cedar canoes to share traditional ways with one another, has become a vehicle for cultural resurgence throughout the region.

Chief Seattle Days is a three-day public festival established in 1911 to honor Chief Seattle. The first event was held on the current Celebration Grounds in downtown Suquamish by local tribal members, community residents, and civic leaders from the city of Seattle. At the time, the new town of Suquamish was linked to Seattle by foot-passenger ferries, which allowed city residents to travel across Puget Sound and enjoy the celebration.

Many of the same activities from the 1911 celebration are still featured today, including the traditional salmon bake, canoe races, baseball tournaments, drumming and dancing, and a memorial service for Chief Seattle at his gravesite in Suquamish. 

Throughout the years other events have been added to the celebration. These include a Coastal Jam that brings tribes together from throughout the region, a powwow, and a fun run, craft and food vendors, and the Chief Seattle Days Youth Royalty Pageant. This year's Chief Seattle Days takes place in Suquamish August 14 through 16.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Our location along the shores of Kitsap County in the Puget Sound region provides an abundance of tourism activities. People visit our area for recreational fishing, kayaking, hiking, and camping. Many of our businesses, including the White Horse Golf CourseKiana Lodge, and Clearwater Casino Resort, have been developed to grow tourist activities in the region.

In 2013, the Suquamish Tribe completed a decade-long capital campaign to create a network of structures in culturally significant areas on the Port Madison Indian Reservation. The network includes the Suquamish Museum, Chief Seattle’s gravesite, the House of Awakened Culture, the Suquamish Community Dock, and the Veteran’s Monument.

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

The Suquamish Tribe is a sovereign nation. As such, we have a government-to-government relationship with the United States, as outlined in the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot. We see the U.S. as our trustee, responsible for defending our treaty rights and resources.

What message would you like to share with Suquamish youth?

Know and respect your culture. Listen to your elders and know your family tree. Work hard and get an education and training so you can support yourself. As you go through your life, honor the seven generations that preceded you and leave something for the seven generations that will follow you.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The last ten years of my life as chairman of the Suquamish Tribe have been very rewarding, and I am blessed. I was lucky to be here to oversee completion of our capital campaign to support Suquamish Dock, the House of Awakened Culture, and the Suquamish Museum, and to witness the election of President Obama, resulting in the most progressive administration in the history of U.S.–tribal relations.

Thank you.

Thank you.


Photos courtesy of the Suquamish Tribe; used with permission.

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July 17, 2015

The 6th annual Living Earth Festival is on!

YoughtanundThe group Youghtanund demonstrates women’s powwow-style dancing in the Potomac Atrium during the 2015 Living Earth Festival. Photo by Dennis Zotigh, NMAI.


It’s that time of year again: The Living Earth Festival—a signature program of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC—takes place today, Friday, July 17, through Sunday, July 19. This ecologically friendly family festival has something for every age group! This year’s highlights include a ladybug release in the garden outside the museum, Native dance performances, Native foods, artist demonstrations, a wine tasting, gardening workshops, an Indian Summer Showcase Concert by Quetzal Guerrero, a Native chef cooking competition, hands-on  bracelet-making, and a symposium titled On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future.

The events begin at 10 am each day and run until 5 pm. Native food chefs Julio and Heliodora Saqui create traditional Mayan dishes in the Akaloa fire pit outside the museum's first floor. Artist demonstrations are being offered by Janie Luster (Houma), who makes unique jewelry and other items from alligator gar scales found in her home state of Louisiana. Also taking part in the festival are artists Stephanie Madere Escude (Tunica–Biloxi); father and daughter artists Juan and Marta Chiac (Maya) from Belize; Peruvian jeweler Evelyn Brooks (Ashaninkas); and Guatemalan weaver Angelica Lopez (Maya).

Information booths have been set up by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, Traditional American Indian Farmer’s Association, Native Seed/SEARCH, and Twisted Cedar Wines. Navajo Community Health Outreach has a poster exhibit of its work. These presentations take place in the Potomac Atrium and outside the Rasmussen Theater on the first floor. 

Visitors ages 5 and up are invited to make ti leaf lei bracelets in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center on the 3rd floor. This hands-on activity is first come, first served basis.

Music and dance take place in the Potomac Atrium on the first floor: The Youghtanund Drum Group from Richmond, Virginia, will perform powwow-style dances and songs each day at 11 am and 2 pm (2:30 on Friday). At 12:30 and 3:30 pm on Friday and Sunday, 12:30 only on Saturday, musicians from the Washington-area Central American group GuateMarimba join Grupo AWAL to present traditional Maya dances.

Each afternoon of the festival, the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians of Utah host a wine tasting of their tribally owned Twisted Cedar Wine. Times vary, but the wine tastings all take place in the Mitsitam Coffee Bar on the first floor. 

On Friday at 2 pm, the Living Earth symposium On the Table: Creating a Healthy Future features speakers Ricardo SalvadorClayton Brascoupe (Tesuque Pueblo), and Robin Kimmerer, and moderator Tim Johnson (Mohawk). The symposium—a lively discussion covering sustainable farming, the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the conservation of heritage seeds, and traditional Indigenous approaches to the environment and harvest—takes place in the museum's Rasmuson Theater. If you can make it to the National Mall, you can watch the symposium live via webcast

On Saturday at 3 pm in the Potomac Atrium, the museum hosts the first of three Indian Summer Showcase concerts for 2015. Quetzal Guerrero and his band bridge Latino and American music styles, including blues, jazz, and hip-hop.

Sunday's highlights include a Native chef cooking competition between Hawaiian chefs Kiamana Chee and Robert Alcain, beginning at noon on the Welcome Plaza outside the museum's main entrance. This year's secret ingredient is cacao, but don't tell anyone. Beginning at 2:30 pm in the Rasmuson Theater, Navajo young people working with Navajo Community Health Outreach will share their tribe’s effort to improve health education and access to healthy foods in the Navajo Nation. Come by and let them know you appreciate the important work they're doing.

—Dennis Zotigh

Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Events from the Living Earth Festival are webcast live throughout the weekend. Take a look at what's on the schedule or go directly to the museum's Live Webcasts page.

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July 16, 2015

Summer webcasts: Music, dance, and Indigenous approaches to healthy food and gourmet cooking

The National Museum of the American Indian presents live webcasts of music and dance performances, lectures and symposia, storytelling, and other public presentations hosted by the museum, bringing Native scholarship and cultural arts to a worldwide audience. Programs can be seen on the museum's Live Webcasts page. Between events, the webcast page often replays the most recent rebroadcasts.

Here's what's on the webcast calendar for this summer. 

Living Earth 2015LIVING EARTH FESTIVAL 2015 
Friday, July 17, through Sunday, July 19

This year the museum's hosts the 6th Living Earth Festival. Living Earth shares sustainable living practices from traditional indigenous perspectives and celebrates Native music and dance. The webcast program will provide a cross-section of programs and performances from the three-day event. 


Living Earth Symposium—On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future
 
Friday, July 17, 2:00 to 3:30 pm EDT

Green chiles roasting
Green chiles roasting at the museum. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

A healthy diet is a key component of sustainable living. The symposium On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future promises a wide-ranging conversation about sustainable farming, the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the conservation of heritage seeds, and indigenous approaches to the environment and harvest. Speakers include Ricardo Salvador (Zapotec/German–American), senior scientist and director of the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists; Robin Kimmerer (Citizen Band Potawatomi), award-winning writer, scientist, and professor; and Clayton Brascoupe (Tuscarora/Tesuque Pueblo), director of the Traditional Native American Farmers Association. 


Living Earth Festival—Performances from the Potomac Atrium
 
Saturday, July 18, 11 am to 2:30 pm EDT

Saturday the festival presents live performances in the museum's beautiful Potomac Atrium. This year Living Earth presents traditional singing, drumming, and powwow style dances by the Youghtanund Drum Group.

Guate Marimba will perform Guatemalan folk music played on the marimba, drums, turtle shells, maracas, and whistles to accompany traditional Mayan dances performed by Grupo AWAL.
 
Youghtanund Grupo AWAL




Music and dance at Living Earth: Left: Youghtanund Drum Group. Right: Grupo AWAL. 

Indian Summer Showcase at the Living Earth Festival—Quetzal Guerrero 
Saturday, July 18, 3 to 5 pm EDT

Indian Summer Showcase intersects with the Living Earth Festival on Saturday afternoon when Quetzal Guerrero (Native American, Mexican and Brazilian heritage) headlines the first of two concerts to be webcast live this summer. The man with the blue violin returns to the Potomac Atrium stage to wow the audience with his fusion of Latino, jazz, blues, and hip-hop originals. 

Quetzal GuerreroQuetzal Guerrero.

Living Earth Festival—Native Chef Cooking Contest 
Sunday, July 19, noon to 2:30 pm EDT

Chef KaimanaOn Sunday the museum will webcast one of the festival’s signature events, an Iron Chef–style competition. Native Hawaiian chefs Kaimana Chee and Robert Alcain compete for bragging rights as they create a full course meal in which every dish features a special ingredient that is indigenous to Native America. The secret ingredient? Tune in to the live webcast to find out! 

Chef Kaimana Chee.


Indian Summer Showcase—The Ollivanders and Dark Water Rising 
Saturday, August 29, 2 to 4 pm EDT

The Ollivanders

Dark Water RisingIndian Summer Showcase features two Native American Music Award (NAMA)–winners. The afternoon concert opens with the rock-based music of The Ollivanders, from Canada's Six Nations Reserve. Last fall Martin Isaacs, Ryan Mickeloff, and Ryan Johnson won the 2014 NAMA for Best Rock Recording for their album Two Suns

Headlining the performance will be Dark Water Rising, members of the Lumbee and Tuscarora nations. The music of Charly Lowry, Aaron Locklear, Corey Locklear, Tony Murnahan, and Emily Musolino  is described as full of soul, blues, and tradition. Dark Water Rising has won three NAMA awards, most recently Best Gospel or Inspirational Recording of 2014 for Grace & Grit: Chapter 1. 

Above: The Ollivanders. 
Right:
Dark Water Rising; photo courtesy of Greensky Records.


Stay tuned for future posts about webcasts planned for this fall and winter.

If you're in the Washington, DC, area this weekend, July 17 through 19, and would like to know more about the Living Earth Festival at the museum on the National Mall, the symposium program and festival schedule are available online.

All photos are used courtesy of the artists unless otherwise credited.

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July 15, 2015

The Great Inka Road: Engaging visitors in the Inka creation story

One of the best examples of collaboration and synergy across a project I’ve been part of is the “Origin Story of the Inka,” an interactive book produced for the exhibition The Great Inka Road : Engineering an Empire. This simple touch-screen experience allows visitors to page through a digital book and see and hear the Inka creation story brought to life through brilliant images, with audio for every page in English or Spanish. People can read it online by scrolling down in the Ancestors section of the Inka Road website, and a printed version is for sale in the museum shop.

8 capas.eng

According to the Inka myth of origin, Inti, the sun, sent two of his children—Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo—to bring order and civilization to humankind. The pair emerged from Lake Titicaca and headed north to found a city. The city was Cusco. Their path was the first Inka Road.

8 capas
Sample screens, in English and Spanish, from "The Inka Creation Story." Design by Juanita Wrenn/WrennWorks, illustrations by Alejandra Egaña.

The museum’s production team worked together to shorten the story into a form that would work well for visitors in the gallery. Illustrations by Alejandra Egaña, an artist based in Chile, bring the story to life. Using reference visuals of museum objects and other Inka material culture, Alejandra produced images based on Inka iconography and colors. Her delightful compositions fit within the scholarly context of the exhibition and, we hope, will excite the imagination of younger visitors. These illustrations so inspired the exhibition team that we reached out to her to create drawings used to visualize aspects of Inka engineering elsewhere in the exhibition.

Juanita Wrenn of WrennWorks designed and programmed a simple, intuitive interactive experience accessible to even early readers. Juanita, who is based in North Carolina, surprised the team by offering to bring an early prototype to the museum, to make sure that what she was producing would work on the gallery touch-screen monitors. Her visit reflects her passion and her dedication to getting all the details right.

IMG_4110

IMG_4107
The interactive book's narrator and her proud mother.

For bilingual audio and sound design we relied on the expertise of the museum’s staff. Veronica Quiguango (Quechua), a collections specialist at the museum’s Cultural Resources Center, offered the talents of her six-year-old daughter. We set up a recording session engineered by NMAI Media Group senior producer Gussie Lehman, and our narrator amazed us by enthusiastically recording the stroy, in English and Spanish, in a single session. She has so much energy we had to take a couple breaks to let her get up and run around the studio a little bit. We felt lucky to capture a wonderfully unique performance that shows off this young person’s fantastic personality. We may eventually add narration in Quechua, since her mother is fluent and she is working on that language as well!

With a wonderful narration in hand, we turned to NMAI Media group producer Mark Christal to add a bit of ambience and sound design. Mark recorded sounds of water, footsteps on a gravel road, and electronic effects combined with music from NMAI Cultural interpreter José Montaño (Qulla [Aymara]) to provide audio details to match the colorful illustrations and the power of the myth.

This project has surpassed our expectations with brilliant contributions from international artists, technicians, staff, and certainly the youngest narrator we have ever worked with. We know that it is an important part of the Inka Road exhibition, helping visitors of all ages access the story of the origin of the Inka Empire and understand the importance of the city of Cusco. Collaborative projects like these are especially exciting, since each contribution complements the others and we end up with something that no single person here could have imagined.

—Dan Davis 

Dan Davis is the manager of the NMAI Media Group.

The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., through June 1, 2018.

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I paged through this interactive in both languages several times. I couldn't get enough! I grew up with this legend. Every elementary school student in Peru must learn it. The narration and sound effects were utterly captivating. I just wanted to find your narrator and give her a big hug! The illustrations are simply beautiful, and so appealing! I feel a coloring book coming. You really captured, in a most charmed way, this well loved origin story and have made it even more accessible for generations to come. Buen trabajo!

July 04, 2015

Do American Indians celebrate the 4th of July?

The museum updated this short essay, originally posted on July 3, 2013, with a few more people's descriptions of how they spend the 4th of July. How do you, your family, or your community observe the day? Share your comments here, or look for the discussion on the museum's Facebook page

How do Indians observe the 4th of July? Do we celebrate? To answer, let’s turn back the pages of time. A reasonable chapter to begin in is July 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and 13 colonies became the United States of America. With the emergence of a nation interested in expanding its territory came the issue of what to do with American Indians. History tells us that as the American non-Indian population increased, the indigenous population greatly decreased, along with their homelands and cultural freedoms.

From the beginning, U.S. government policy contributed to culture and land loss. Keeping our focus on the 4th of July, however, let’s jump to the early 1880s, when Secretary of the Interior Henry Teller developed what has come to be called the Religious Crimes Code—regulations at the heart of the Department of Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Code of Indian Offenses that prohibited American Indian ceremonial life.

Teller's general guidelines to all Indian agents were to end tribal dances and feasts. Enforced on reservations, the code banned Indian ceremonies, disrupted religious practices, and destroyed or confiscated sacred objects. Indian ceremonial activities were prohibited under threat of imprisonment and/or the withholding of treaty rations.

The Secretary of the Interior issued this Code of Regulations in 1884, 1894, and 1904 through Indian Affairs Commissioner's circulars and Indian agent directives. Indian superintendents and agents implemented the code until the mid-1930s. During this 50-year period, Indian spiritual ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and Ghost Dance were held in secret or ceased to exist. Some have since been revived or reintroduced by Indian tribes.

In response to this policy of cultural and religious suppression, some tribes saw in the 4th of July and the commemoration of American independence a chance to continue their own important ceremonies. Superintendents and agents justified allowing reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July as a way for Indians to learn patriotism to the United States and to celebrate its ideals. That history is why a disproportionate number of American Indian tribal gatherings take place on or near the 4th of July and are often the social highlights of the year. Over time these cultural ceremonies became tribal homecomings. American Indian veterans in particular were welcomed home as modern-day warriors. The Navajo Tribe of Arizona and Pawnee of Oklahoma are two examples of tribes that use the 4th of July as an occasion to honor their tribal veterans.

Pawnee Homecoming 07-03-2013
The Pawnee Indian Veterans Homecoming Pow Wow recognizes returning veterans. Pawnee, Oklahoma. The 68th annual Pawnee homecoming takes place July 3 through 6, 2014. Photo courtesy of Pius Spottedhorsechief, vice president of the Pawnee Indian Veterans. Used with permission.


During these celebrations, tribal flag songs and veterans’ songs are sung. More than 12,000 American Indians served during World War I, and after the war, the American flag began to be given a prominent position at American Indian gatherings, especially those held on the 4th of July. This symbol of patriotism and national unity is carried into powwow and rodeo arenas today. It is extremely important to note that before the Reservation Era, when most Indians saw the American flag coming toward their villages and camps, it symbolized conflict, death, and destruction.

Today tribes hold ceremonies and celebrations on or near Independence Day for different reasons. The Lumbee of North Carolina and Mattaponi of Virginia use this time as a homecoming for tribal members to renew cultural and family ties. The Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma holds Gourd Clan ceremonies on the 4th of July because the holiday coincides with their Sun Dance, which once took place during the hottest part of the year. The Lakota of South Dakota and Cheyenne of Oklahoma continue to have some of their annual Sun Dances on the weekends closest to the 4th of July to coincide with the celebration of their New Year. Some American Indians do not celebrate the 4th of July because of the negative consequences to Indian people throughout history, while others simply get together with family and have cookouts, like many non-Native American citizens.

Jumping ahead to the present: To find out how American Indians across the country spend their 4th of July, we went to Facebook. This handful of replies represents both the diversity of responses we received and the direction of the discussion: 

Carnegie, Oklahoma: We celebrate every 4th Gourd Dancing, camping, and visiting my Kiowa people while we’re here, listening to the beautiful Kiowa songs. For three days we are just in Kiowa heaven. Been doing this for years. Now my parents have gone on, but we will continue to attend the Kiowa Gourd Dance Celebration.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Do American Indians celebrate the 4th of July? Answer: Yes, it represents freedom in the United States of America. Freedom to continue to worship Creator, freedom to dance my prayers, freedom to sweat, freedom to rise early and pray the day in and be up late to pray the day out. We, the Host People, celebrate the 4th of July every day!

Prewitt, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation: No, I do not celebrate. Because I as a Diné will never relinquish my belief or understanding that we as a people and a nation have the right to be loyal to the Holy Ones before all others, including the United States of America, since we as a people existed long before there was ever a United States.

Taos, New Mexico: Taos is a very close knit community, and even more so at Taos Pueblo nearby. Both have had many citizens serve in America's military in the heartfelt belief that they are protecting our nation. One of our honored tribal elders is Tony Reyna, 97, who survived the Bataan Death March in World War II. I have been told many times that, for us, the idea of protection goes deeper than for most Americans, because this land is where our people emerged, and that any threat to it is met from a place of deep, deep meaning. People here celebrate Independence Day pretty much as they do everywhere. It's a day off, and there are parades and fireworks displays. But for many we remember WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the sacrifices our people made. I wish all people could remember that, especially those who allow blind bigotry and hate to cloud their judgment.

Parshall, North Dakota, and the Three Affiliated Tribes: The 4th is the celebration of independence, which Native people have practiced as sovereign nations for generations.

Shawnee, Oklahoma: No, I do not celebrate Independence Day, simply because the Declaration of Independence labels my people "our enemies, the merciless savages of our frontiers." You notice they were already calling the frontiers "ours" when the land was not theirs. Because I do not celebrate Independence Day does not mean I am not proud of our Native American veterans and soldiers. I am very proud of them and of the fact almost all Native American families have a family member who is a veteran and/or an active member in the Armed Forces.

Anadarko, Oklahoma: I am Kiowa/Delaware/Absentee Shawnee, my mom is a Kiowa/Comanche, my uncle is a vet, as many of my other relatives are, as well as my stepdad (Comanche/Caddo). My Delaware grandma always said, “This is not our holiday. Out of respect we will honor their day, because our people helped them.” She said, “I will mourn on this day.”  She would wear a black dress that day.

Laguna, New Mexico, and the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna: I celebrate the 4th of July and I do so proudly. . . . When you have been lucky enough to travel and see life in other places, you come to appreciate the home and land you live on. Maybe I'm not as bitter as some of my other Indigenous brothers and sisters because my tribes were not relocated and have been lucky to remain on ancestral lands. Our Pueblo people . . . fought against the Spanish in the Pueblo Revolt, but also learned to harmonize with the Catholic Church. Many years—even centuries—of healing have taken place to get us to this point. And I think by celebrating the 4th of July, I feel I am honoring that healing my Pueblo ancestors have prayed for. . . .

Sawmill, Arizona, and the Navajo Nation: I recognize Independence Day as a day off, as time with family. I recognize that the United States declared its independence on that day, but Native people weren't a part of their envisioned emancipation. As Native people, we recognized our independence through our prayers and practicing our traditions. We didn't need a special day to mark our freedom, we just were. So on the 4th of July, I will practice my American heritage and celebrate this country's Independence Day. But my heart knows I don't need a day to recognize my autonomy.

Oklahoma City and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma: I think of the 4th of July as American Ideals Day. If only America would live up to its own stated ideals, none of what happened to American Indian people would have happened. Today, if those ideals were finally acted upon, American Indian sovereignty would be fully recognized and the treaties would be kept intact. The fireworks celebrate the great ideals that could be America, if only greed were not allowed to pervert them.

Norman, Oklahoma: My 13-year-old son (Comanche/Cherokee) is currently reading the U.S. Constitution (just because). When I asked him about the 4th the other day, he kind of shook his head and said that most people just don't get it. Reading the comment above on American Ideals Day made me think of how true it is—how little we know about America's ideals of the past and where we hold them now.

Wichita, Kansas: My people, Kiowas, have always held this time of the year as a gathering of all our bands. They would celebrate for a week, indulging in each society’s dances, renewing friendships, visiting relatives, and so on. As we progressed into this modern society we are a part of, we recognized the importance of this celebration even more so. To honor our freedoms and the men and women who sacrificed for us today is truly a reason to celebrate the 4th of July. Does it mean we are to forget our struggles and the plight of our people? NO, but it commemorates the beauty of our land and the resolve of this nation we call America.

Pawnee, Oklahoma: [It's a day] to celebrate all our Native men and women who served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, our Native men [the Codetalkers] without whose tribal language, [World War II] might have been lost. To honor our fallen ones, who sacrified their lives for us, and the veterans who are buried in our tribal cemeteries. . . and overseas. To honor my daughter . . . in the U.S. Army, a proud Native American woman who is serving our country. 

Waikoloa, Hawai'i, via the Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge, South Dakota: It is a sad time, . . . thinking of all the treaties never honored. I try to hold my children and grandcubs near and invite others who are alone or ill or elderly to eat lots of food that I cook until I am very tired and thank the Creator for another wonderful day.

As Americans everywhere celebrate the 4th of July, I think about how many American Indians are taking their yearly vacations back to their reservations and home communities. All across Indian Country, tribes hold modern celebrations— including powwows, rodeos, and homecomings—that coincide with the United States’ Independence Day celebrations.

As for me, I’ll be with my two daughters, and we'll watch a huge fireworks display!

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI

Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.


How do you, your family, or your community observe the 4th of July? Share your comments here, or look for the discussion on the museum's Facebook page.

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