September 03, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: Mukluks

Mukluks 255337

Inupiaq mukluks, ca. 1950. Nome Skin Sewers Cooperative Association, Nome, Alaska. 25.6 x 9.8 x 23.2 cm; ugruk (bearded seal), white reindeer, calfskin, red felt, yarn. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/5337


The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) purchased many things from Native arts and crafts cooperatives in the United States as a way to showcase the latest regional work. Like this pair of mukluks, many objects in the IACB Headquarters Collection are products of Alaska.

These mukluks were made by members of the Nome Skin Sewers Cooperative Association. Originally funded by a bonus of $5,000 from Admiral Richard Byrd for clothing they provided for his Antarctic expeditions, the Nome Skin Sewers made skin parkas, pants, hats, and mukluks for sale. Its members were primarily Inupiaq women.

World War II had a profound effect on the arts and crafts of Alaska. In 1943, Alaskan arts and crafts brought in $242,100 in revenue; that figure rose to $420,201 in 1944 (Robert Fay Schrader, The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: An Aspect of New Deal Indian Policy, p. 281). In 1944, the Nome Skin Sewers alone sold $200,000-worth of products to the military (see Alaska History and Cultural Studies, "World War II brings economic activity").

Members of the military stationed in Alaska needed Arctic gear. Mukluks and skin parkas worked better than standard issue military clothing. Waterproof and reaching above the ankles, mukluks keep feet warm in ice and snow. Made around 1950, this pair of mukluks is sewn of ugruk (bearded seal), white reindeer, and calfskin. Red felt and yarn are used for decoration at top.

Emma Willoya
John Nichols, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and Emma Willoya (Inupiaq), Nome Skin Sewers Cooperative Association, 1949. Nome, Alaska. Photo by E. P. Haddon/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2010 Uqaaqtuaq News printed a 1980 interview with Emma Willoya, a founder of  the Nome Skin Sewers Cooperative Association and its manager in the 1950s. After talking about reindeer herding and the use of reindeer hides, Ms. Willoya recounted a disagreement with a customer who chastised her for the strong smell of the home-tanned skins she used to make boots. She explained that although Outside-tanned skins might be softer, they drew in moisture; hand-tanned, Alaska-tanned skins were more durable and warmer:

“You make them for me Outside-tanned anyway!”

So we made them Outside-tanned. Later on, he came in, the big shot, and sat by the heating stove. I was in the other room, taking inventory, when one of the sewers called, “Emma, you have to come out here! This man won’t listen!” Here the man had taken off his mukluks and put them on top of the heating stove!

“Good Lord! You can’t do that! Look what you did!” I went and picked them up. They were shriveled on the bottom. When I touched them, they tore to pieces. I told him, “You spoiled your mukluks! I told you they wouldn’t last! Outside-tanned mukluks draw moisture and freeze your feet!” He wanted to dry them right away and he cooked them.

He began to understand that Eskimos knew a little more than he did. Next time he ordered Alaska-tanned mukluks and his feet were never cold again. Even in wet and snowy weather he wasn’t cold.

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection at the museum.

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September 01, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Abby Malkin, Information Technology Applications

The blog series Interning at the Museum highlights the projects and accomplishments of the National Museum of the American Indian's interns. Each intern completes a 10-week internship in a department at one of the museum's three facilities—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland; or George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The museum’s Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015. These interviews feature members of this year's recently completed summer session. —Sarah Frost 

 

AbbyMalkinNMAI
Abby Malkin during the interns' trip to meet with staff and tour the museum's George Gustav Heye Center in lower Manhattan. July 2015, New York City.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

My name is Abby Malkin, I’m from Columbia, Maryland, and I am a senior at the University of Maryland. 

What department did you intern in, and what projects were you working on?

This summer I worked with IT applications, developing the museum's SharePoint sites, creating surveys and recording their results, collecting and analyzing data to create graphical displays, and working with the NMAI database. 

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Smithsonian because of the vast number of people it reaches and the wide variety of information it holds. Before coming to NMAI, I did not know very much about this particular museum aside from its breathtaking architecture and delicious café. I wanted to intern here to learn about the culture and story behind the museum, and to be a part of the inner workings of its operations. 

What is your favorite aspect of your internship?

My favorite part of the internship was definitely meeting so many new people. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, each person had an interesting story and background. My supervisor, Beverly Lamberson, gave me so many opportunities to explore and so much freedom to learn.

What have you learned, and what do you hope to achieve because of this internship?

I have learned an incredible amount here in such a short time—for example, how to write a good project proposal, create an advanced survey, and update accounts in a database. Because of the wide range of projects I worked on, I was able to learn an assortment of skills that I hope to take advantage of in the future. 

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

By working for a summer at NMAI, I have found how important it is to connect with your ancestors. So much of Native culture is based on stories and traditions that took place years and years ago, yet have lived on through the generations. I have learned to hold strong to your culture and to never forget where you came from. 

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

Never be afraid to ask too many questions. You’ll get the most out of your internship by being curious. 


Interviewer Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum as a member of the Web staff, helping launch the Inka Road website and other new projects online and in social media. She will continue to work on the museum's digital projects this fall.

Photo courtesy of Abby Malkin; used with permission. 

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August 28, 2015

Meet Native America: Brenda Meade, Chairperson, Coquille Indian Tribal Council

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 

Brendameade
Chairperson Brenda Meade, Coquille Indian Tribal Council.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Brenda Meade. I'm chairperson of the Coquille Indian Tribal Council. 

Where is your tribal community located?

The Coquille Indian Tribe is headquartered in North Bend, Oregon, on the southern Oregon Coast.  

Where were the Coquille people originally from?

We are originally from Southern Oregon. Our knowledge of the exact boundary and use areas of our ancestors is evolving as we recover from federal termination. Our ancestral range includes lands in Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine, and Jackson counties in Oregon.   

Is there a significant point in your tribe's history that you would like to share?

It would have to be June 28, 1989, the day that Congress finally acknowledged the efforts of my tribal elders and restored federal recognition of the Coquille Indian Tribe.  As a result of that day, a historic injustice—the U.S. government's termination of the tribe as a nation and denial of our status as Indian people—was corrected. We are now the second largest employer in Coos County, Oregon, and an undeniable force for positive change in our communities. 

How is your tribal government set up?

We are governed by a seven-member Tribal Council that is elected by our General Council—all enrolled tribal members 18 years old or older. Our constitution reserves several rights to the General Council. We provide many leadership and government-participation opportunities for our members. One thing that I am especially proud of is that we are forming a youth council to promote leadership and cultural competence among our young tribal members. 

Coquille flag-raising
Chairperson Meade raising the flag of the Coquille Indian Tribe at a ceremony honoring Oregon's nine federally recognized tribes. Oregon Indian Education Association Youth Conference, University of Oregon, Eugene, October 2014.

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

I would say it is in the way we gain knowledge from our elders. We continue to gather as Indian people on this land and share information with each other. We continue to learn and understand as we hunt, fish, and gather traditional foods and materials together. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

All Tribal Council members serve three-year terms.

How often does your government meet?

Our Tribal Council meets at least twice per month. Our General Council has at least two meetings a year, always coinciding with the winter and summer solstices. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

My job is to be, at the same time, a servant and a leader of the Coquille Indian People. I represent my tribe in many different places. I make sure that our excellent tribal staff responds to our members’ changing needs. The Tribal Council adopts budget and policies that safeguard our people and our nation.

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

When I grew up my tribe was not recognized as a tribe by the federal government, and we had very few financial resources. But we had our collective desire to make a change. Coquille people are characteristically kind, generous, humorous, and absolutely unwavering when it comes to tribal sovereignty. These values shaped me and many other tribal members who grew up during that time. I understood how important sovereignty was and how important it was to uphold our cultural and historic values.   

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Many people every day! But I would first recognize my uncle Jerry Running Foxe for teaching me as I was growing up to always fight for the rights of all Indian People. He taught me always with a kind heart and for the right reasons. Also my aunt Sharon—as a child I was lucky enough to spend time with her as she fought for us to be recognized as Coquille people. Her lifelong dedication and personal sacrifices in gathering Coquille people together in support of those efforts will never be forgotten. I watched her and many other tribal members work tirelessly for our people—after mass disbursement to the reservation, termination policies, and very successful assimilation programs—to be recognized again. Thankfully our elders never gave up, and for that reason we must continue to strengthen our nation every day.

I later was able to sit on Tribal Council with my auntie and many with other amazing tribal leaders. One that I must mention is our chief of 23 years who recently passed, Chief Ken Tanner. He taught me to be humble, to be grateful for what we have, and to always save some for the others. I must also recognize my amazing husband who supports me every day and allows me to do the things I feel I need to do. All of my family influences me—my children, my mother, my brothers, and those who have passed. I have also been very fortunate in my life to be able to work and spend time with many of our tribal elders and our tribal youth. I know that we must learn from our elders, teach our children, and never forget!

Brenda Meade fishing
Chairperson Meade fishing for salmon on traditional Coquille waters.

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

My family descends from Old Whiskers from the Nasomah village complex on the Coquille River. He was a headman and a treaty signer. He was marched to the reservation along with his children and many other Coquille people. He later returned to our homelands on the Coquille River. He and the others who returned are the reason we continue to gather on these ancestral homelands today. 

Approximately how many members are in the Coquille Indian Tribe?

Today we have 1,031 tribal members.  

What are the criteria to become a member?

A person must be a lineal biological descendant of an original Coquille member.  

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? 

Restoring the use of our languages is one of our tribal priorities. We have dedicated resources to training our youths in our traditional languages. The key to restoring a language is finding a way to use that language in daily life.   

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

We own the Coquille Economic Development Corporation, which operates the Mill Casino Hotel and RV Park and operates ORCA Communications, a fiber-optic technology company. We recently kicked off K2, a log-export joint venture with Knutson Towboat. The tribe also owns a bowling alley and golf course in Medford, Oregon. Finally the tribe owns approximately 9,000 acres of forestland in the southern Oregon Coast Range.  

What annual events does the Coquille Tribe sponsor?

We sponsor more events than I could possibly list here. Two big events that we host are our annual fireworks spectacular over Coos Bay on July 3—show up early if you want a space—and the annual Mill Luck Salmon Celebration, normally held in the second week of September.

We are a potlatch tribe: It is very important for us to give back to our communities. My tribe is headquartered in a community that was, and is still, economically devastated by the decline of the timber and fishing industries. Shortly after our restoration we made a long-term decision that our members can thrive only if we help our surrounding communities survive. 

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Our number one attraction is the Mill Casino Hotel and RV Park, which is located right on beautiful Coos Bay. We have the nicest hotel on the South Coast of Oregon, and I doubt there’s a better view anywhere in our beautiful state.

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

We interact frequently with federal officials. It is a constant education process, but I do think that things have improved. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?

Be strong. Study hard. Treat your elders with respect. Treat yourself with respect. And never forget where we come from. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is important to know that Coquille people have been here on this land since time began and will be here forever!

Thank you.

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Coquille Indian Tribe; used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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August 27, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Charlotte Basch, Community and Constituent Services

The blog series Interning at the Museum highlights the projects and accomplishments of the National Museum of the American Indian's interns. Each intern completes a 10-week internship in a department at one of the museum's three facilities—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland; or George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The museum’s Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015. These interviews feature members of this year's recently completed summer session. —Sarah Frost 

Charlottebasch
During her internship at NMAI, Charlotte Basch helped create resources for tribal museums.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

My name is Charlotte Basch, and I am a master's student in museum anthropology at Columbia University. I am from Seaside, Oregon, and from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Clatsop–Nehalem Confederated Tribes.

What department did you intern in this summer, and what projects were you working on?

I interned in the Community and Constituent Services Department (CCS) under the supervision of Jill Norwood. My main projects have involved researching and writing for the department's Tribal Museum Listserv. The listserv includes over 200 tribal museums, cultural centers, universities, and similar institutions throughout the country and is used to circulate announcements and resources for the tribal museum world. Much of my time was spent contacting and working with tribal museum professionals to compile a list of current exhibition trends in the tribal museum world. The completed report featured over 20 institutions and exhibition trends such as language, basketry, military, and sports. I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to work with the CCS and offices in the Museum Scholarship Department on the early stages of creating professional development programs specifically for tribal museum staff members.

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

I decided to intern at the museum not only because of the obvious ties to Indian Country, but because of the way the museum works to build relationships with the Native peoples and communities it represents. In both my personal and professional experience, I’ve witnessed negative interactions between tribal communities and mainstream museums. These experiences motivated me to enter the museum field with a goal to strengthen Native voice in the museum world. After reading about NMAI and hearing wonderful stories about the work it does, I knew I had to find a way to work alongside the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to represent indigenous peoples in ways never done before.

What is your favorite aspect of your internship?

My favorite aspect of my internship has been communicating with tribal communities and people throughout the country. It’s been an honor and a privilege to talk directly with the communities that I write about—an experience that has been absent from the museum world for far too long. In every listserv write-up, I tried to get first-person input from those actively working in tribal museums. This was not always easy, and it usually took a lot of time, but hearing how thankful tribal museum professionals were to be involved made it absolutely worth it.

What have you learned, and what do you hope to achieve because of this internship?

I have learned so much from this internship! I’ve learned that both the museum world and Indian Country are very small. For this reason it was so important to make positive connections during my time at the NMAI. Of course, this hasn’t been hard since all the staff are wonderful passionate people. I hoped to learn how a mainstream institution like the Smithsonian works with underrepresented communities to tell the stories and truths that have so often been silenced. This is a huge task that NMAI is undertaking every day, and I have been able to see the many “arms” that make it work. NMAI is so much more than a tourist attraction, and I think I’ve achieved a better understanding of the massive amount of teamwork it takes to make the museum’s mission a reality.

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

As a Native person living very far from home, I’ve come to truly appreciate the rich community that is Indian Country. I was admittedly hesitant about working for any institution, including the Smithsonian, as I wasn’t sure how present Native voices would be in daily work. Being at NMAI, though, has shown me that it is possible for a reputable institution to acknowledge, respect, and implement the historical and modern lifeways of the cultures it represents. All of the staff are incredibly passionate about their work and strive to weave the museum’s mission into everything they do. It has made me truly proud to be a Native person in the museum field and hopeful for the work to come.

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

Always look for ways to make connections! The NMAI interns are so lucky to have the opportunity to meet with various staff, including the director and other senior staff. Remember that you are here to work, but you are also here as an up-and-coming professional and will most likely be working with these people in the future. Their insight will strengthen your understanding of their scholarship and projects, as well as help you get a better handle on your future role in the museum world.


Interviewer Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum as a member of the Web staff, helping launch the Inka Road website and other new projects online and in social media. She will continue to work on the museum's digital projects this fall.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Basch, used with permission.

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August 26, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: Introduction and Tohono O'odham Bowl

In 2000, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) transferred its Headquarters Collection to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. Since its creation in 1935, the IACB—a federal agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior—had collected and purchased examples of Native art. The collection transferred to the Smithsonian is from the IACB office in Washington, D.C., and does not include the collections of the IACB's three regional museums in Oklahoma, Montana, and South Dakota.

The collection contains a wide range of things, including baskets, ceramics, beadwork, textiles, paintings, sculptures, and experimental pieces. Since the IACB's concentration is economic development enterprises for American Indians and Alaska Natives, many pieces were produced for the tourist market.

The Early Collection

It may seem odd that a federal agency has an art collection. The IACB was created during the New Deal era, when the federal government invested in cultural development initiatives such as public mural projects, documentary photography, and graphic arts workshops. The IACB is part of what is called the Indian New Deal, a series of federal policies and programs set to reverse assimilative policies towards Native Americans in favor of promoting cultural pluralism and increased tribal sovereignty.

During its first decade, the IACB conducted surveys on Native art, supported the establishment of tribal arts and crafts cooperatives, and endorsed Native artists for public mural projects. Under the direction of Rene d'Harnoncourt from 1936 to 1944, the IACB curated two monumental exhibitions of Native art—the Indian Court at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, and Indian Art of the United States at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1941.

Initially the IACB did not catalog its collection. There are few records and little other documentation available for its early purchases. This bowl was noted as "number 2" on a card file from 1951 and is one of the few pieces from the 1930s.

NMAI 25-9250

Tohono O'odham bowl, circa 1930. Arizona. 11.8 x 14.8 cm; pottery, paint, tree pitch. Purchased by Indian Arts and Crafts Board representatives from an unknown source at an unknown date prior to 1940. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/9250


Coiled by hand, the bowl gets its reddish color from hematite present in the clay. Mesquite sap is used to paint designs on the surface, and the sheen is from burnishing the surface with a smooth stone. This bowl was created by an unknown Tohono O'odham artist. The Tohono O'odham Nation is one of the indigenous nations in Arizona; the nation's traditional lands extend from the Phoenix area into northern Mexico.

The bowl was exhibited during the 1941 exhibition Indian Art of the United States at the Museum of Modern Art; it appears on page 204 of the exhibition book.

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is the first in a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection at the museum.

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