Traditions of service: Master Sergeant and Lipan Apache War Chief Chuck Boers

In 2020, the National Museum of the American Indian will honor Native American servicemen and women by building the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here, Master Sergeant and Lipan Apache War Chief Chuck Boers (U.S. Army retired), a member of the memorial advisory committee, talks about his experiences as a Native American in the military and the traditions that inspired his service.

The design competition for the National Native American Veterans Memorial begins November 11, 2017. Entries will be accepted through January  9, 2018. All information about the competition is available at https://nmai.si.edu/nnavm/memorial/.

MSG Chuck Boers 2007–08
Master Sergeant Chuck Boers (Lipan Apache/Cherokee) during his last deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2007–2008.


Thank you for your military service to the United States, and thank you for being a member of the Advisory Committee for the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which will be built on the grounds of the museum. May I ask you to introduce yourself and to give us your Native name and its English translation?

My name is Johancharles Van Boers, and my nickname is Chuck. My Apache name is Nant’a ’e’e. It means Warrior Number 2.

Where are you from, and what is your tribal backgound?

I was born in Fresno, California, and was a military brat, so we traveled a little bit. But I primarily grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California. My family is Lipan Apache and Cherokee. I’m an enrolled tribal member of the Lipan Apache.

Is the warrior culture strong in your family and tribe?

Yes, warrior traditions are strong within the Lipan Apache and our families. I also know that the warrior spirit and traditions are still very strong throughout Indian Country. One can see those warrior traditions being upheld at tribal events and ceremonies, like powwows, Gourd dances, warrior societies, our willingness to serve in the U.S. military, and in many other ways.

Being a warrior isn’t all about fighting and going off to wars. It is sometimes about keeping the peace. Warriors are people whose internal driving force causes them to serve others selflessly without regard to their wellbeing, while maintaining their belief systems, values and traditions. Warriors also have the moral and physical courage to stand up to injustices, not just for themselves, but for others as well. Warriors display a strong sense of duty and commitment to their family, their community, and their nation. These are just a few of the many attributes of a warrior, and that culture is still very strong throughout Indian Country.

SFC Chuck Boers Shenandoah Powwow 2004
On mid-tour leave from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant First Class Chuck Boers carries in the eagle staff at the Shenandoah Powwow, 2004.

Have other members of your family also served?

My family has served in every war and conflict that the United States has had since World War I. We even had family members who served as Army Scouts in the late 1800s and as Texas Rangers. Lipan Apache and Cherokee family members who have served in the Armed Forces include: as U.S. Army Apache Scouts, my great-great-great-grandfather Juan Guerrero and his brother, who served at Fort Griffin and Fort Clark; in World War I, my great-grandfather Charles Forest (sometimes spelled Forrest); in World War II, my great-uncle Dole Davis and great-uncle Clayton Walker; in the Korean War, my great-uncle Walker; in the Vietnam War and Vietnam and Cold War era, my mom, Virginia Yamato, uncle Darrell Davis Jr., uncle Jim Davis, uncle Charles Davis, uncle Roland Davis, and second cousin Donald Walker; during the Cold War and in Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Somalia, my mom (Virginia Yamato), uncle Darrell Davis, uncle Jim Davis, cousin Rick Davis, second cousin Donald Walker, third cousin Adel Walker, third cousin Penny Heartgraves, some other relatives who are fourth and fifth cousins and so on, and myself; in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, the war on terrorism, Afghanistan, and Iraq, my cousin Rick Davis, third cousin Adel Walker, third cousin Penny Heartgraves, some other relatives who are fourth and fifth cousins and so on, and myself; currently serving, my nephew Nate Williamson and some cousins who that are fifth, sixth, and so on.

I also had a lot of other family members who served, but they were not Native or Lipan Apache or Cherokee: my father, Johan Boers; uncle Nicholas Boers; stepfather Craig Yamato; step-great-uncle Yamato, who served during World War II in the 442nd Infantry, which was made up almost entirely of soldiers of Japanese descent; and step-mom, Judy Boers.

Why did you choose to serve in the armed forces? Did your Native background play any part in your decision to join?

I wanted to uphold our family and tribal tradition as a warrior, learn some technical and tactical skills, gain real-world life experience, and serve our nation. My Native culture played a huge part in my decision to join the military. Growing up I saw how the Native community treated veterans. At powwows during Grand Entry, the veterans would bring in the colors and afterwards do an honor dance. I was taught that we always welcome home our warriors with songs, dances, and other traditional warrior ceremonies. Then too, growing up around some of the warrior societies and along with our family’s long history of being warrior, I knew I wanted to be part of that warrior culture and to carry on our warrior traditions.

Why did you enter your specific branch of the military?

A majority of my family has served in the U.S. Army, so it only seemed natural to join the Army. In fact my mom was the recruiter who put my enlistment in.

What years did you serve, and where did you serve?

I joined the U.S Army in August 1982 and retired on 31 December 2009 with more than 26 years of service. I served all over the United States and overseas during my time in the Army. Here are the combat tours and humanitarian and peacekeeping missions I took part in Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada), the War on Drugs (drug interdiction operations within Central America), Humanitarian relief efforts during Hurricane Hugo, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Southern Watch (Kuwait and other locations in the Middle East), land mine extraction and training operations in Africa, Operation Southern Watch (Kuwait and other locations in the Middle East), Operation Restore Democracy (Haiti), Operation Joint Endeavor (NATO Implementation Force [IFOR], Sarajevo, Bosnia), Operation Restore Democracy (Haiti), Operation Joint Guard (SFOR, Tuzla, Bosnia), Operation Joint Guardian (KFOR, Kosovo), Operation Iraqi Freedom, Humanitarian relief efforts during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

What was the highest rank you received?

Master Sergeant (MSG/E-8).

USAF TSgt Sam Stitt and SFC Chuck Boers
U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Sam Stitt (Choctaw) and Sergeant First Class Chuck Boers pose in front of their warrior chalk art, An Najaf, Iraq, 2004.

Were there other Natives who served with you, and would care to talk about them?

Throughout my military career I had the opportunity to serve with a lot of other Natives and develop lasting friendships. It didn’t matter what tribe we came from, there was always some type of connection through our Native traditions that we could relate to. Two good examples are Jason Gambardella (Chippewa) and Dixie Kapayou (Sac and Fox). We served together in the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), at Fort Meade, Maryland, and in Bosnia during Operation Joint Endeavor (IFOR and SFOR). Jason and I also attended Airborne training together and served on the D.C. Chapter Vietnam Era Veterans Inter-Tribal Association Honor–Color Guard, as well as on the Viper Team at Hohenfels, Germany.

Another example would be during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I met Sam Stitt (Choctaw) while on mission in An Najaf and Debra Mooney (Chickasaw) during the first ever powwow held in a combat zone. Debra organized the powwow, which was a two-day event. There was stickball, blow dart and tomahawk contests, dancing, singing, drumming, and of course a huge feed that included fry bread. These are just a few of the Native soldiers I had the honor to serve alongside. We developed lasting relationships.

Were you treated differently in the service because you are Native?

Being Native in the military during the period when I served had its challenges at times, although I’m not sure if that is the same as being treated differently. Over the years the military has done a lot of integration as far as the sexes, races, etc. However people still carry with them a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about Native people. Some of the challenges I faced during my time in the Army were because I didn’t fit that Hollywood version or stereotype of what an Apache should be, or act like, or look like. I was also surprised by some folks’ thinking that Native Americans didn’t exist anymore—as tribes, let alone as a people.

Another challenge was traveling with my family’s eagle feathers, medicine pouch, gourd rattle, and other items like corn pollen, sage, and sweet grass during deployments and going through customs. It seemed I was always being asked to provide my papers and tribal ID and to explain myself. At times folks thought I was doing some kind of pagan rituals, and they didn’t know what to make of that. However some folks would inquire about the traditions and then embrace them. A good example of that happened right before the Second Battle of Fallujah: I was smudging my Iron War Pony (HMMWV) and some of my soldiers asked if I would please smudge their Iron Warrior Ponies, too. Another example is that some folks thought that all Natives were great trackers or had some type of special intuition about when bad things might happen. They wanted to put us out front so that we could use those skills. Sometimes during pre-combat operations briefings someone would remind those of us going outside the wire that we were going out into “Indian Territory” and that we all needed to stay alert. I would always make some type of joke about it not being Indian Country, and people would receive the message and correct themselves.

Hawk feather attached to Boers HMMWV, Fallujah 2004
A hawk feather SFC Boers tied to his Iron War Pony (HMMWV). This photo was taken just before the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, 2004.

Is there a story or incident that sticks out most in your memory?

A lot of things from my time in the military stick out in my memory, some good and some not so good.  One of the most memorable would have to be the powwow in Iraq. I’ve mentioned that it was the first powwow known and documented to have taken place in a combat zone. I was amazed how many Natives came from all over Iraq and Kuwait to attend this historical event. That powwow will be shared with our people for many generations to come. So many tribes came to together despite being in a combat zone to celebrate their traditions and cultures.

Where were you when your service ended?

My last duty station was at Fort Irwin, California.  I was attached to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) for about 18 months, where I was afforded the opportunity to heal emotionally, mentally, and physically from my combat injuries and to prepare myself for retirement.

Did your tribe or Native community do anything special for you upon your return home when your service ended?

When I retired from the Army, the WTU failed in recognizing my military service, and I carried a lot of anger from that. However my tribe and the local Native American Indian veteran community made things right by conducting a traditional Native warrior homecoming and cleansing ceremony for me, as well as a retirement ceremony at our annual New Years Eve Powwow. Following the retirement ceremony my family and I did a give-away to mark the start of a new chapter within my life.

Are you a member of any veterans groups?

Yes, I belong to several veterans groups. I try to stay active in all of them, but it can be very challenging at times. I’m a life member in the Lipan Apache Warrior and Gourd Society, the Lone Feather Warrior and Gourd Society, the National American Indian Veterans Association (NAIVA), the National Native American Veteran Association (NNAVA), the Southern California American Indian Veterans Association (SoCal AIVA), the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Order of the Cootie (MOC), the Washington D.C. Chapter of the Vietnam Era Veterans Inter-Tribal Association (VEVITA) Honor Color Guard, the Indian Nations Warriors and Veterans Honor Color Guard, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the International Combat Camera Association. I’m also an Alumnus of the Wounded Warriors Project (WWP).

Would you recommend joining the service to your family members or others of your tribe?

Yes, I would recommend joining the military to family, fellow tribal members, and friends. The military provides a lot of opportunities for personal growth, to learn new skills, and to see the world while honing those skills and gaining real world experience. I would also point out that military life isn’t for everyone.

What do you think of the upcoming Native American Veteran’s Memorial?

I feel that Native American Veteran’s Memorial is a great way to honor our Native warriors both past and present, while at the same time preserving our warrior spirit, traditions, culture, and history for future generations. There are a lot of amazing and rich stories Native warriors have to share. Native people have served during every war from the Revolutionary War all the way up to present. Our accomplishments, war deeds, and history as warriors are part of a very complex and unique relationship with the United States, and those stories are not usually shared in mainstream education, media, books, and movies.

A great example of a story that will come to light as a result of the United States’ building this memorial is that of World War II Medal Honor recipient USMC Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the commander of the legendary Black Sheep Squadron, who was an enrolled member from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Another great example would be Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez, who was Yaqui and Mexican.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I earned and received the title of Lipan Apache War Chief from our tribal chairman, tribal leaders, and tribal elders on 31 Dec 2007 while home on mid-tour leave from Iraq. Other tribes also have War Chiefs, but it had been more that 100 years since Magoosh, the last Lipan Apache War Chief, passed away. I was still on active duty and serving in Iraq when I earned and received that title. I didn’t retire from the military until 31 Dec 2009, so for two years I was the only living War Chief serving on active duty. The other War Chief living at the time was U.S. Army W.W. II veteran and Crow Nation War Chief Joseph “Joe” Medicine Crow.

You haven’t mentioned it, but I think readers should know that during your service you received two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts, as well as many other merits and commendations. Thank you again for all you have done for the country, and thank you for helping create the National Native American Veterans Memorial.

Thank you.

—Dennis Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

All photos are used courtesy of Chuck Boers.

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October 24, 2017

Mile-marker from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests makes the point that U.S. treaty history is still being written

On Tuesday, October 24, the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., added a mile-marker post from last year’s Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest to the exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations. Now the final section of the exhibition, the eleven-and a-half-foot-tall mile-marker stands as a powerful symbol of the fact that American Indian treaties remain U.S. law, and that their stories are not finished.

John Richard Edwards at the mile-marker installation
John Richard Edwards (Onondaga) takes part in the installation of the mile-marker post from the Dakota Access Pipeline in the exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations. Washington, D.C., October 24, 2017. Photo by Paul Morigi/AP Images for the National Museum of the American Indian

The mile-marker also serves as a symbol of modern resistance. More than 350 tribes came to rally opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux  maintain that the pipeline threatens their lands and water. Originally the pipeline was to cross the Missouri River above Bismarck, the state capital. But citizens deemed that route unsafe for the city’s water. As a result, the pipeline was redirected to cross the river above the drinking water source of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, just south of the city. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests began in the spring of 2016 after young tribal members organized a run to bring awareness to the issue. In addition to protecting the water, key issues for the Standing Rock Sioux include protecting treaty rights, protecting sacred sites, and exercising the tribe's right to consultation with the United States government. Representatives from other tribes, along with celebrities and allies from around the world, joined the protest. Protesters called themselves water protectors and established three camps near the pipeline construction site on the Missouri River. A new rallying cry was born—Mni Waconi, Water Is Life.

Mile-marker at Oceti Sakowin
Protesters quickly covered the mile-marker with signs showing where they came from and how far they had traveled. Near the Oceti Sakowin protest camp, Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota, winter 2016–17. Photo courtesy of Konwenni Jacobs, used with permission

While at the camps, visiting water protectors proudly displayed their tribal flags, protest signs, and other objects to show solidarity. Hickory Edwards (Onondaga), one of the water protectors, raised a mile-marker post in the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) camp, the largest of the three camps. Handmade signs quickly covered the post, showing the participants’ cities, states, tribal affiliations or countries, and how far they had traveled to join the protest. The mile-marker became a focal point within the camp, as well as a popular site to take selfies and photos of other water protectors.

On February 27, 2017, a day after the deadline to leave the reservation, the Oceti Sakowin camp was cleared. Edwards took the mile-marker post with him when he left, with the idea of donating it to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Edwards and fellow protesters Konwenni Jacobs (Kahnawake Mohawk) and Bryanna Patinka delivered the mile-marker to the museum’s Cultural Resources Center in Maryland. In 2021, when Nation to Nation closes, the mile-marker will go off public display, but it will remain in the museum’s collections, where it will be cared for and where researchers, tribal representatives, and others will be able to see it upon request.

Hickory Edwards at the mile-marker installation
Hickory Edwards speaks at the installation of the mile-marker. Washington, D.C., October 24, 2017. Photo by Paul Morigi/AP Images for the National Museum of the American Indian

Nation to Nation focuses on the historic treaties made between the United States and American Indian nations. The U.S. Senate ratified more than 370 treaties with Indian nations before the treaty-making process was replaced by executive orders and acts of Congress. The mile-marker serves as a powerful reminder of the exhibition’s themes, and especially of the never-ending struggle American Indians face to preserve their treaty rights.

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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September 29, 2017

The Treaty of Fort Wayne, 1809—a treaty that led to war—goes on exhibit

“It is an honor to come full circle to an article that our ancestors signed. I hope we are fulfilling their hopes and dreams by being here.” —Chairman John P. Warren, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians

Pokagon Band in Collections
Members of a delegation from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians read names of the signers of the Treaty of Fort Wayne of 1809 as the museum prepares to place the treaty on exhibit. From left: Tribal Council Member Wayne (Alex) Wesaw, Council Chairman John P. Warren, Council Elders Representative Judy Winchester, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer; Jason S. Wesaw, and Council Vice Chairman Robert (Bob) Moody, Jr. National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., September 2017. Photo by Kevin Wolf/AP Images for National Museum of the American Indian

On September 19, 2017, leadership of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the National Museum of the American Indian, and representatives of the National Archives came together at the museum in Washington, D.C., for the unveiling of the Treaty of Fort Wayne of 1809. This unveiling marked the seventh rotation of treaties to be installed the exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian NationsAt the ceremony, Director Kevin Gover noted that the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians has been a tremendous partner with the National Museum of the American Indian. James Zeender, senior registrar in the Exhibits Division of the National Archives, described the importance of these original documents: “Treaties are the supreme law of the land. There are 370 Native treaties at the National Archives stored next to treaties with other sovereign nations.” The National Archives has collaborated with the museum to display a series of historic treaties in the exhibition.

In early autumn 1809, 1,379 Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, and Eel River tribal members and their allies gathered to witness the signing of the Treaty of Fort Wayne. On September 30, 24 “Sachems, Head men, and Warriors” put their X next to their names. William Henry Harrison, governor of the Territory of Indiana, led a U.S. delegation of 14 representatives. The agreement called for the four tribes to cede 2.5 million acres of their lands in present-day Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio in exchange for what amounted to two cents an acre. President James Madison ratified the treaty with the consent of the United States Senate on January 2, 1810; a presidential proclamation dated January 16 required “all officeholders and citizens ‘faithfully to observe and fulfil’ the treaty.”

Treaty of Fort Bend 1809
President James Madison’s name stands out in the opening lines of the Treaty of Fort Wayne of 1809. The treaty is on loan to the museum from the U.S. National Archives. National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., September 2017. Photo by Kevin Wolf/AP Images for National Museum of the American Indian

The Treaty of Fort Wayne led to the end of the peace that had prevailed since 1795 between the Ohio Valley Nations and the United States. As Native lands decreased through the westward expansion of the United States, resistance grew under the leadership of Tenkswatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, and his brother Tecumseh, the famous war chief. Not all the tribes in the region were agreeable to the signing. Individual members of the Miami objected, saying it was time to “put a stop to the encroachment of the whites.” Governor Harrison pressured them to rely on treaty-making. “Treaties made by the United States with Indian Tribes [are] considered as binding as those which [are] made with the most powerful Kings on the other side of the Big Water,” Harrison said. Eventually the Miami conceded. Within two years, Governor Harrison let an attack on Prophetstown, the camp of Tenkswatawa and his followers on the Tippecanoe River. The battle at Tippecanoe set off a new war.

By 1846 most of the Native Nations that signed the Treaty of Fort Wayne had been removed west of the Mississippi. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians was an exception. The Treaty of Chicago of 1833 secured the right of the tribe to purchase land and remain in Michigan. The people took the name of the leader who negotiated that agreement, Leopold Pokagon (ca. 1775–1841).

Pokagon Potawatomi in Nation to Nation
Within a few decades, most of the Native Nations that signed the Treaty of Fort Wayne were removed to lands west of the Mississippi. From left: Pokagon Band Historic Preservation Officer Jason S. Wesaw (in the background), Elders Council Secretary Judy Augusta, and Elders Council Member Catherine (Cathy) Ford read the museum’s account of that history in the exhibition Nation to Nation. National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., September 2017. Photo by Kevin Wolf/AP Images for National Museum of the American Indian

In 1994—185 years after the Treaty of Fort Wayne, almost to the day—the U.S. government, through congressional legislation, restored all rights to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi as a federally recognized tribe. “This Thursday [September 21] marks the anniversary when our tribe was here in Washington, D.C., to be reinstated [as a federally recognized tribe],” Pokagon Elders Council Member Judy Winchester said at the treaty installation. “We are leaving Washington tomorrow so that we can be home to celebrate with our tribal members the reinstatement of our tribe.”

“Treaties are the supreme law of the land.” Thinking about that statement after the ceremony, I wondered if other American Indians believe the United States has fulfilled its promises. To find out, I went to the Internet and asked, Is the United States living up to its treaty obligations to provide adequate health, education, and other basic social and economic services to Indian people in exchange for the land all Americans now live on? Out of 77 respondents—Native people replying from throughout Indian Country—not one person said yes.

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Nation to Nation is on view at the museum in Washington through 2021. The Treaty of Fort Wayne of 1809 will be on exhibit until January 2018. Following in rotation will be the 1868 Navajo Treaty (scheduled to be on view from February to May 2018), then the first of the 370 treaties made between the United States and Indian tribes, the 1778 Treaty with the Delaware (June to November 2018).

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September 18, 2017

The museum in New York and the Embassy of Canada in Washington celebrate Arctic art

Ningiukulu Teevee Sea Goddess WAG
Ningiukulu Teevee, (Canadian [Cape Dorset], b. 1963), Sea Goddess, 2010. Colored pencil, black ink on paper. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery Acquired with funds from the Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Naylor, funds administered by the Winnipeg Foundation, 2011-93

Are you looking for a unique art experience as summer turns to fall? If you can, plan to visit two wonderful exhibitions featuring works by four internationally renowned Inuit artists. The National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York currently hosts the exhibition Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait, and the Embassy of Canada in Washington is presenting Ningiukulu Teevee: Kinngait Stories.

Kinngait (Cape Dorset)—located near the southern tip of Canada’s Baffin Island, just below the Arctic Circle—means “high mountain” in Inuktitut. On the northwest quadrant of Kinngait along a rugged coast is “the community that art built.” Starting in 1950, James and Alma Houston collaborated with local Inuit to bring Inuit artwork to the world’s attention. In 1961, the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative was born from this partnership to encourage the production and distribution of Inuit art. Today the co-operative functions as the longest ongoing professional Inuit printmaking studio in Canada, as well as the oldest arts organization in the Canadian Arctic. Many generations of celebrated carvers, printmakers, and artists have made Kinngait the Inuit art capital of the world. The four artists featured in these two exhibitions—Pitseolak Ashoona (1904–1983), Napachie Pootoogook (1938–2002), Annie Pootoogook (1969–2016), and Ningiukulu Teevee (b. 1963)—have common roots in this community.

Pitseolak Family Camping in Tuniq Ruins
Pitseolak Ashoona (Inuit, 1904–1983), Family Camping in Tuniq Ruins, 1976. Stonecut and stencil. Edward J. Guarino Collection

Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait features 18 works made by a grandmother, mother, and daughter. The Inuktitut word akunnittinni loosely translates to “between us.” The three women share their generational stories through their prints and drawings. Grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona was born in 1904 on Nottingham Island in Hudson Bay. Hunting and fishing for subsistence was her family’s way of life. When she later moved to Kinngait and was encouraged to produce different art forms, she relied on memories of her experiences growing up. In 1960, she produced her first stone cuts. Several members of Pitseolak’s family have sustained the rich tradition as Kinngait artists. Compositions by her daughter Napachie include landscapes and interiors as well as narrative scenes that depict personal and ancient stories. The images created by Napachie’s daughter Annie Pootoogook reflect her upbringing within a contemporary Canadian community experiencing transition; their themes include conflict, mortality, and spirituality.

Annie Pootoogook Family Sleeping in a Tent
Annie Pootoogook (Inuit, 1969–2016), Family Sleeping in a Tent, 2003–04. Colored pencil and ink. Edward J. Guarino Collection

Continuing the Kinngait artist tradition is Ningiukulu (Ning) Teevee, whose art is currently on exhibit at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. Ning is part of a generation of Inuit artists who live in permanent communities, rather than the seasonal camps of generations before them. She takes the inspiration for her ink and colored pencil drawings from Inuit stories and from the changes she has witnessed in contemporary Cape Dorset. This exhibition features 31 drawings and prints created from 2005 to 2012. A new video documenting the artist, her work, and her community is also shown in the exhibition.

Ningiukulu Teevee Appeased
Ningiukulu Teevee (Canadian [Cape Dorset], b. 1963), Appeased, 2011. Colored pencil and ink. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Acquired with funds from the Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Naylor, funds administered by the Winnipeg Foundation, 2011-98

Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait was organized by the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The exhibition runs from through January 8, 2017, at the George Gustav Heye Center, National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan. Join the conversation with the museum and fellow art-lovers using #Akunnittinni.

Ningiukulu Teevee: Kinngait Stories, curated by the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), with art from the Government of Nunavut, Dorset Fine Arts, and the WAG Collection, runs through mid October in the Embassy’s art gallery. The art gallery of the Embassy of Canada—located at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (next to the Newseum), adjacent to the National Mall and within walking distance of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington—is open to the public Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., free of charge.

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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August 19, 2017

American Indian beliefs about the eclipse

The National Museum of American Indian has received numerous inquiries concerning the upcoming eclipse. Part of the museum’s mission is to provide a forum for Native people’s voices, so we went to the Internet to ask, “Does your tribe have any beliefs or protocols concerning the eclipse?” Here are some of the replies, with the correspondent’s Native affiliation (and where he or she is living now).

Niuam fan detail
Niuam (Comanche) fan with sun and Morning Star designs (detail), ca. 1880. Oklahoma. 2/1617

Laguna–Acoma Pueblo (New Mexico): “My Chacoan and Mesa Verde ancestors were astronomers. They marked Halley's comet, we watched the sun, and we predicted eclipses. The Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon is a prime example of the science of my Puebloan ancestors. I asked my elders recently of any taboos with eclipses. I was told that they are a time of transformation and not to fear them. Those in our tribe who feel fear have done something wrong. They told me to pray with cornmeal, respect the silence, and accept the transformation coming.”

Cherokee (Oklahoma): “Cherokee say it is a giant frog in the sky trying to eat the sun. Everybody is supposed to go outside and make a big noise with drums, whistles, and voices to scare the frog away.”

Shawnee (Kansas): “Our prophet Tenskwatawa, predicted a solar eclipse leading up to the War of 1812. He predicted this to William Henry Harrison, who dared Tenskwatawa to predict the future. He did, and tribes came from all over to hear our Prophet speak.”

Shoshone-Bannock (Idaho): “My gramma would close all her windows. She says that’s when bad things happen to bad people. After that, we would drink water that she prayed for. That’s my young recollection of the eclipse, both lunar and solar.”

Hopi (Arizona): “I am Hopi Sun Clan! We pray to our Dawa every morning. During the last eclipse, our nieces and nephews were given their sacred Hopi names—Red Beautiful Sun, New Colorful Sun, and Little Sunboy! It's very significant to us, a time for ceremony.”

Kiowa (Oklahoma): "The sun and the moon played an important part in our yearly cycle. I seem to recall hearing where a full eclipse happened. All of a sudden some got scared and just prayed."

Kumiai and Yaqui (Maryland): “I was raised outside my traditional community. This is what I was taught by my mother and aunties in Mexico: For pregnant women especially, during an eclipse they are to wear a red sash with a small steel pin or keys and not to go outside at all.”

Coushatta sash
Coushatta sash with scroll and sun designs, ca. 1875. Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. 1/8587

Taos Pueblo (New Mexico): “We are told to stay inside and keep babies away from the windows, to be mindful. We have to wear something sharp.”

Nakoda (Alberta, Canada): “Our elders have said that any meteor and lunar activity are omens signifying events that will come to pass. Rings around the sun and moon may indicate significant weather change. Lunar and sun eclipses have deeper representations. This activity represents some natural occurrence to happen on earth.”

Ho-Chunk (Wisconsin): “Was told to respect both sun and moon eclipses. Time of transformation.“

Crow (Montana): “We believe it's a new beginning. The sun dies and is rejuvenated.”

Pawnee (Oklahoma): “When I was younger I asked an elder about what an eclipse meant to us. He said he didn't know much, but he heard the old people talking about how it was a troubling time when one happened. They said it meant a great leader was going to pass on.”

The Institute for Diné Culture, Philosophy and Government, in Rock Point, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, received so many inquiries that the staff prepared a detailed reply:

Our Diné people have a completely different definition and perspective on this sacred natural phenomenon. The belief is that the Jóhonaa’éí (Sun) is the male and the Tł‘éhonaa’éí (Moon) is the female. The Sun is the most powerful deity amongst all creation, here on earth and in the universe. The Sun is the epicenter of all creation. Nothing will live or function without the Sun. The Sun controls and regulates the universe, whereas the moon controls and regulates the earth.

25-8436 Sun Spirits
David Chethlahe Paladin (1926-1984, Diné [Navajo], Sun Spirits, 1971. Albuquerque, New Mexico. 25/8436

The Sun is vested with the concept of and in control of death (anoonééł), and the Moon is vested with and in control of birthing (oochííł). When a solar or lunar eclipse occurs, it is believed that a death occurs. That is the reason why an eclipse is termed daaztsą́, either Jóhonaa’éí daaztsą́ (solar eclipse) or Tł'éhonaa’éí daaztsą́ (lunar eclipse). A death is a very sacred occurrence. There are certain necessary protocols, but most important is the strict and comprehensive reverence in observing the occurrence of death (yéego dílzin dóó hodílzin). During a solar or lunar eclipse, strict and comprehensive acts of reverence must be carried out.

In addition to the concept of death during an eclipse, it is also believed that during an eclipse, the Sun and the Moon are mating. After the passing of the eclipse, when the sun or moon becomes fully bright once again, it is believed that a birthing has just taken place. It is believed that the mating is to give birth to, or renew, the universe and all creation. During this birthing/renewal process, the universe and all creation are reborn, realigned, and there is growth and development amongst all of creation as well.

Due to the very sacredness of death and birth, the reverence required to be shown during an eclipse is very strict and comprehensive (ts’ídá yéego hodílzin). There is only one way to be reverent during an eclipse. No shortcuts exist. We cannot simply smudge ashes or corn pollen upon ourselves and exit our homes and carry on as if it is just another day. The following acts of reverence must be carried out during an eclipse: We must stay inside, preferably in our home; we cannot eat or drink anything, cannot be asleep, cannot brush or comb our hair or wash ourselves, cannot be in an intimate act with our spouse or anyone of the opposite sex, cannot needlessly move around, are required to remain calm and still, cannot look outside, cannot look at the sun while the eclipse is occurring—yes, it also means the shadow of the sun, through a pinhole or other apparatuses; and we cannot be using the restroom.

During the eclipse, we must be in full prayer and reverence. Prayers must be focused on the concept of the Sun or Moon going through an ending, and we are to pray about the ending of bad or evil, or the ending of phases of life. In addition, our prayers must be focused on the birth and renewal that will arrive when the eclipse ends. Moreover, prayers must be about a better future. Most of the time, we pray for and about ourselves and loved ones. It is advocated that prayers during an eclipse must mostly be about this creation: the ending, renewal, and the future of this creation and the divine presence. If we know the songs for use during eclipses, those songs can be sung at that time.

Moreover, during the eclipse, we must always look down at the ground, cannot be looking up or outside. The animals, the insects, the birds will not be active during the eclipse. The birds will not fly; the insects will hibernate; horses and dogs will be calm and look down at the ground.

When the eclipse ends, we will end our prayer and say hózhǫ́ náhásdlį́į́ four times. At that time, we must take our corn pollen (tádídíín) out and use it as an offering to acknowledge our prayer and to acknowledge the sacred phenomenon. The corn pollen will be the first meal taken after the eclipse, just as corn pollen is the first food eaten in a new period of life. We will feel the renewal of life, the rejuvenation of life, the feeling of going on, and a positive outlook of the future.

It is tremendously amazing how our people knew when the eclipses were going to happen through their prayers, songs, and belief systems without technology. Today we have to rely on the media to inform us when these eclipses are going to take place. Our prayers and songs are very powerful.

Our traditional Diné teachings instruct us that if a person does not observe the eclipse in accordance with the cultural protocols that have been outlined here, the nonobserver will certainly develop eye problems. Unexplained sunburns or rashes will develop, digestive problems and unexplained migraine headaches will develop. If a woman is pregnant and follows the proper required protocols, there should not be any problems. However, if the protocols are not followed, prenatal problems may develop, and when the child is born, the child will certainly develop digestive and skin problems. There are ceremonies to put people back in harmony. It requires a two-day ceremony, however, with an overnight portion and sand paintings.

The Diné Institute is merely sharing our sacred and still relevant cultural teachings. An individual always has a choice to observe or not to observe the eclipse. We hope that our brief synopsis has clarified, reaffirmed, or educated our readers about the upcoming eclipse. On behalf of all of our resident Diné Institute Hataałiis and staff, we thank you for your understanding and encourage all of you to keep our cultural protocols alive and sacred by observing the upcoming eclipse in accordance with these requirements. We thank all the school districts and other agencies who concluded that it would be in the best interest of our children and our sacred cultural belief systems to close schools and offices on the day of the eclipse. May the Holy People be with you and bless you.

Reprinted with permission courtesy of the Institute for Diné Culture, Philosophy and Government


After the museum first published this post, the Comcáac Project shared the beliefs of Comcáac/Seri elders of Sonora, Mexico: 

They do a ritual: Older people in the family sit on the floor in meditation position and make noise with drums to call or communicate with the sun, and talk prayers so the sun can feel it and return brightly. . . .  For the ancestors an eclipse of the sun is zaah quij cooxi, which means "death of the sun," and when the shine returns, it is considered as a new stage, fresh new life for the sun.

Pregnant women cannot look at the sun or be in the sunlight. They use red paint (xpaahjö) to paint crosses and red spots on various parts of the body except the face. Mothers hide babies less than a year old, but they do not use paint for them. Girls from one year to until puberty they paint with dots using white paint (hantixp), because the ancestors say that if they do not do that during the eclipse, when the girls are older they might not have children or never marry. . . . To older girls who already have puberty nothing happens, because their blood is active and there is strength to protect them.

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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The Gwich'in Indian people of Alaska always respected, what the great creator has provided for us and this also involved cycles and things displayed in our skies and the moon is very important for it provides warmth for all animals in extreme cold weather.

Chi Miigwetch for the Teachings of Respect

August 13, 2017

Doing "what I could," Wilma Mankiller changed Native America

Review by Sequoia Carrillo

Wilma Mankiller
Wilma Mankiller. Photo by James Schnepf, courtesy of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation.

“I hope that when I leave it will just be said: I did what I could.” –Wilma Mankiller

In Mankiller, by filmmaker Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, the legacy of a true female powerhouse is explored. Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1945, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Wilma Mankiller was the sixth of eleven children. When she was 11 years old, her family moved to San Francisco under the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Relocation Program. The move was supposed to relieve the family of the poor living conditions in their homeland and bring them to a “modern world.”

Through archival footage and photographs, the documentary depicts the obvious flaws in the BIA’s reasoning. The Mankillers’ move to the Bay Area resulted in dangerous conditions and the striking realization that they were poor. In Oklahoma they often lacked running water and electricity, but they consistently had a community of people who lived the same way. They quickly found that what was poor in Oklahoma was destitute in California.

“It was in San Francisco during the Civil Rights Era that she found her voice and the power to make change.” —President Bill Clinton

A teenage Wilma Mankiller acclimated to an environment with elevators and societal unrest as the 1960s roared around her. Although she was a peer with many of the student activists who gave the San Francisco Protest movement its voice, by the time she was 20 years old she was married and a mother of two. Despite this, she assisted and supported the early Black Panthers in their mission to feed elders and children. In fact, her daughters emphasize in an interview clip that the political and activist side of life was always a given with their mother.


“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival begins to play as archival footage of the occupation of Alcatraz rolls. The film does a brilliant job of depicting the spark that Alcatraz set off inside Wilma Mankiller. She and her family participated in the protests alongside such activists as John Trudell and Richard Oakes. Many Indians herald the occupation, which began in November 1969 and lasted 19 months, as the event that brought Native America into the modern era. The occupation yielded direct results in federal policies signed by President Richard Nixon.

“More than anything it was like coming home and I felt that I was where I should be.” —Wilma Mankiller on the occupation of Alcatraz

Following the occupation, Wilma Mankiller continued to volunteer frequently in the Indian community. She and her daughters eventually moved her back to Oklahoma to work for the Cherokee Nation. Much of the film’s dialogue following her return to Indian Country is from her peers. I found this particularly poignant because of the widespread reverence she received from Natives and non-Natives, Democrats and Republicans. This support is unusual for any politician, but especially for a woman more than a generation ago.

After successfully initiating and raising the funds for a clean-water project that reinvigorated unemployed tribal members in Bell, Oklahoma, Mankiller gained recognition. As a result, she was approached to run as deputy chief in Ross Swimmer’s 1983 bid to be principal chief. Despite rampant sexism, including death threats, she won alongside Swimmer.

Groundbreaking as deputy chief
Deputy Chief Mankiller (center) at the groundbreaking for a new development project. Photo courtesy of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation.

After Swimmer stepped down in 1985, Mankiller ran two successful campaigns earning her a decade as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. In her last race, she won 83 percent of the vote. The headlines flash across the screen as a victory that ten years before was scoffed at becomes a reality.

“In a just country, she would have been elected president.” —Gloria Steinem

Wilma Mankiller was the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. President Bill Clinton awarded her the Medal of Freedom in 1998. She revolutionized the largest Indian-run health care system in the country. She doubled annual tribal revenue and tripled tribal enrollment. Under her leadership the Cherokee Nation became what her parents had set out for decades earlier—a modern world.

The voices of her peers depict the life of a woman who surmounted societal pressure to make her life a living example of achievement and dedication to others. The film successfully documents this challenging rise to power by honoring her in remembrance. Mankiller is impactful and soft-spoken, just like its namesake.

 

Mankiller will open the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 15. Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl will be in attendance. To watch for other screenings, follow the film on Facebook or Twitter.

Sequoia CarrilloSequoia Carrillo (Navajo/Ute) is an intern in the Office of Public Affairs at the National Museum of the American Indian. In the fall, she will be a junior at the University of Virginia, where she is specializing in History and Media Studies. During the school year, Sequoia works for the American History podcast and public radio program BackStory.

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