3D Scans of Inka Stonework—Live Online at SI X 3D

Capturing 3D data in Cusco, Peru
Jon Blundell, a 3D digitization specialist at the Smithsonian, capturing 3D data points of the Inka archaeological site at Pisac. Pisac, Peru, 2014. Photo by Samy Chiclla.

If you visit Cusco, Peru, the monumental stonework of the Inka capital will give you a sense of the Inka's imperial ambition. If you come to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the exhibition The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire will show you how the architecture of Cusco reflects the empire's understanding of the Andean environment and principles of construction, as well as political administration. 

But what if you never travel to Peru or Washington? You can visit the exhibition website in English and Spanish or read the companion book of essays. Or, for the first time for this museum, you can experiment with a set of three-dimensional digital models of sites in Cusco, created by the 3D staff of the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office

The Cusco models are part of a much larger effort to make the research and collections of the Smithsonian Institution more widely accessible. The institution houses more than 138 million objects, artworks, and scientific specimens. At any given time, less than one percent of these objects are on display. Working with the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, and National Zoo to prioritize material for digitization, the Digital Program Office has set a goal of making ten percent of the collections available online, primarily as two-dimensional digital images. Smithsonian X 3D is targeting far fewer objects. But with web browsers now capable of supporting 3D imagery through webGL, Smithsonian X 3D is breaking new ground.

The Smithsonian X 3D website includes models, as well as a gallery of behind-the-scenes videos about 3D technology in a museum and science setting. Smithsonian X 3D's Inka Road page houses 3D images of stonework from five sites around Cusco, with notes and videos keyed to details of each site and, for Saqsaywaman, a brief tour: 

Waka Pachatusan, a sacred site near Cusco on the road to the province of Antisuyu: 

 


A section of Inka stonework along Hatunrumiyoc Street, including the 12-angled stone that epitomizes Inka dry-stone masonry: 

Screen shot of Hatunrumiyoc


A section of the original wall of the Qorikancha, the religious center of the empire: 

Screen shot of the Qorikancha


A section of wall at Saqsaywaman, the temple of the sun in upper Cusco: 

Screen shot of Saqsaywaman


And an Inka double-jamb doorway, one of three still standing:

Screen shot of the double jamb doorway


To create these models, Smithsonian 3D digitization specialist Jon Blundell joined the museum’s Inka Road project team in Cusco during the summer of 2014. Dr. Ramiro Matos (Quechua), an Andean archaeologist and co-curator of The Great Inka Road, and consulting scholars and other museum specialists on the project team worked with Jon to identify sites around the city for 3D imaging. This was the museum’s first use of 3D scanning technology. “Identifying sites was collaborative,” Jon says. “The team knew that 3D scanning was a tool they wanted to deploy to tell the story. It was interesting to work with them to figure out, What is here that would be compelling as a 3D model, could be captured in the time we have, and has a story behind it?” Once the team had selected the sites, Jon used a combination of laser scanning and photogrammetry—a technique that uses digital cameras and specialized software to create 3D data—to record the surface of each site as billions of 3D data points. 

Jon Blundell on Hatunrumiyoc Street
Jon checking his work on the double-jamb doorway. Cusco, Peru, 2014. Photo by Samy Chiclla.

The Smithsonian X 3D team has digitized other large sites—colonial church burials in Jamestown, Virginia, and a field of fossil whales uncovered at Cerro Ballena, Chile—but working in an urban setting presented different challenges. The City of Cusco provided extraordinary access to the places chosen for scanning, allowing the project team to use the streets at the three in-town sites for long periods of time. The manager of the Saqsaywaman Archaeological Park opened the site at sunrise, long before tourists would arrive, so that Jon and his assistants could collected 3D data, and other members of the project team could film interviews with scholars consulting on the project. And the owner of the modern hotel that uses the Inka double-jamb door as an entranceway graciously let the Smithsonian include that site in the project. 

Back at the Smithsonian, Jon used software to layer the information he had captured in the field and build each 3D model. He began by creating a point cloud. Vince Rossi, a program officer on the 3D staff, describes the data behind the point cloud as essentially a text file with XYZ values for each data point. This durable information will remain useful even as the museum community establishes new standards for archiving data and as software developers write new algorithms to make sense of it. 

The next refinement was to create a black-and-white 3D surface model for each site from its point cloud; laser scanning and photogrammetry geometry data was combined to produce high-resolution geometry using the strengths of each capture method. Next the photogrammetry data was used to projected color onto the geometry. The result is geometrically detailed, accurately colored models. In Cusco, Jon recorded perhaps 40 to 100 gigabytes of raw data for each site. Before posting the models on Smithsonian X 3D, he used techniques developed for digital animators to compress the data and create 3D models that maintain visual fidelity, yet can be downloaded quickly even on mobile devices. 

“That’s what our office does,” Vince explains. “We’re not inventing new technology. We’re leveraging tools that were developed for other industries and developing workflows—the nitty-gritty process of collecting the data and putting together the tool chain that gives us the products the Smithsonian needs. We’re using existing tools in new ways.” 

The Smithsonian X 3D staff compares 3D on the web today to video a handful of years ago. Museums have long had the technology to scan objects in three dimensions at very high resolution. But the ability to deliver 3D content directly to people online, without requiring viewers to download browser plug-ins, is a recent development. People can also download 3D data from the Smithsonian X 3D website, then visualize it in their own software or use it for their own scientific or creative projects, under the Smithsonian terms of use. “That’s more of an experiment,” Vince says. “We’ve already seen people do exciting things—teachers in the classroom creating 3D prints. More and more public libraries have 3D printers.” 

3D-printed Hatunrumiyoc puzzles aside (yes, Jon, Vince, and the third member of the 3D staff, Adam Metallo, have made them), what does 3D imaging bring to Smithsonian research? It provides scientists with new tools to document fieldwork and gives conservators a fast, accurate way to record and compare the condition of objects in the collections. It also enables researchers, and the rest of us, to do things that are impossible to do with actual museum objects. 

To get a glimpse of what that can mean, we have to leave Cusco and look at the 3D model of the Cosmological Buddha. Keith Wilson, a curator at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Smithsonian’s museum of Asian art, explains in one of the tours that accompany the model, what distinguished this sculpture are the narrative scenes that completely cover the monk’s robe. On the Smithsonian X 3D site, we can turn the sculpture around to have a 360-degree view or look at a flat map of the carvings, but that’s just the start. 

“Nothing replaces the experience of seeing the sculpture in the gallery at the Freer–Sackler,” Vince says. “But if we go under the hood and turn off the color, that does interesting things, because the color of the stone was interfering with seeing the geometry of the surface. We can further bring out the geometric detail using an ambient occlusion map, which essentially darkens areas of high curvature and lighten areas of low curvature. We can adjust detail live in the browser. All of a sudden we’re better able to get a much better idea of the carving. This is still an accurate representation of the sculpture. It’s just a different way to visualize what’s really there.” 

Cosmic Buddha

This poster, which is available in large format (500 MB file) via the SI X 3D Download webpage (free and open to the public with registration), shows the components of the digital model of the Cosmological Buddha. From left to right: Photo texture, composite occlusion (note how the surface carvings stand out), geometry, normal map, and individual occlusion channels. A print-ready model of the sculpture in low, medium, and high resolution is downloadable from the same site.


“If we back up and look at 3D technology, it’s really nothing more than a form of measurement. We’ve been able to measure things for thousands of years. If we look at the way research at museums is generally conducted, it has included very accurate point-to-point measurement of landmark points on an object or specimen. With a 3D scan, we’re able to replace those few dozen measurements with tens of millions of data points. We’re able to provide whole new tools to researchers and open up a whole new world of investigation. By putting these models online, we’re also opening that world to the public.”


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.

The SI X 3D website includes more information on digitization projects at the Smithsonian, including a gallery of videos that highlight other 3D projects at the Smithsonian and explain the digitization process in detail. 

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January 31, 2016

Meet Native America: Ken St. Marks, Chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation

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 

 

Chairman Ken St. Marks
Chairman Ken St. Marks, Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. January 2016, Box Elder, Montana.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Ken St. Marks. I'm chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname? 

My great-grandmother gave me the name Skinnyman. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation is in north central Montana. 

Where is your tribe originally from? 

Rocky Boy’s Band of Chippewa came from the Great Lakes area, and Little Bear’s Band of Cree came from the Canadian territories. 

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

Our reservation was created by an Act of Congress in 1916, helped by many prominent political activists in Montana. Both bands of Chippewa and Cree were landless at the time of reservation's establishment. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have an elected chairman and eight elected members of the Chippewa Cree Business Committee (CCBC). The CCBC is the governing body for the Chippewa Cree Tribe. 

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

We do have a group of Peacemakers, elected by the tribal government. The Peacemakers serve as a guiding entity to our traditional belief systems as Chippewa Cree. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Members of the CCBC are elected to staggered terms lasting four years. The chairman is elected every four years. We are a sovereign nation, and we are one of the first tribes in the nation to go into an agreement with the federal government to establish ourselves as a self-governance nation. This was done in 1994. 

How often does your tribal council meet? 

The CCBC has monthly meetings, along with monthly subcommittee meetings. Most, if not all, members of the Business Committee sit on at least one subcommittee. 

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

I wanted to be chairman for the sake of the people and the tribe. I've fought hard to be in this leadership position for the past four years. I would like to have a Native community healing gathering for all tribal members and to have the spiritual aspect of our culture be a central focus. I would like the tribe to be connected and united as one, once again, and to do so through prayer and spirituality. 

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

Before being elected chairman, I served as a Business Committee member. I've run various businesses for the tribe, as well as being self-employed and creating the excavation contracting company Arrow Enterprises, Inc. I am also a Vietnam-era veteran. I served with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Former Chairman John "Roddy" Sun Child. I learned a lot from him and how he handled himself in Washington. Because of who he was and how he treated others, doors were easily opened for him, and with that, it became a better connection for his people. My three grandmothers—Mary St. Marks, Rosanne Saddler, and Gramma Taha Saddler—were also an inspiration for the way I think today. They were prominent figures in my life. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

I'm a descendant of Rocky Boy's Band of Chippewas. Also, one set of my grandparents came from the Cree Nation in Canada.  

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

The tribe has around 6,400 members. Two-thirds of our members live on the reservation, and half are under the age of 18. 

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe? 

To be a member, a person's parents have to be enrolled and living on the reservation at the time of birth. For those living off the reservation, the criteria are 50 percent Indian blood and one enrolled parent. 

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

Yes, Chippewa and Cree are still spoken, with an estimated 20 percent of the people speaking fluently. Chippewa Cree language is a primary reason why our culture is still flourishing and intact. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

The tribe owns Dry Fork Farms, Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation, PlainGreen LLC, and the Chippewa Cree Community Development Corporation. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

The largest event we host is Rocky Boy's Annual Celebration and Rodeo. Our annual celebration for 2016 will commemorate that it has been 100 years since our reservation was established. 

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

There is the Chippewa Cree Recreation Area, in the Bears Paw Mountains, and the Bear Paw Ski Bowl. Also on our land is the sacred mountain Baldy Butte, along with many other landmarks that are sacred to the Chippewa Cree people. Tours that follow the proper protocols can be arranged for visitors. 

Rocky Boy's Reservation

A beautiful spring day on Chippewa Cree land. April 2014, the Rocky Boy's Reservation, Montana.


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

We have established a government-to-government relationship with the U.S. federal government. Because of historical ties, we also have unspoken trust and respect agreements with Canadian tribes. 

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

Our ancestors prayed hard for a place for our people to live and practice our traditional ways and system of beliefs. Take care of this land. It’s our home. And take care to practice self-sufficiency. Our older generation worked hard for what we have today. Follow those ways. 

Our original Chief Stone Child’s last words were, “Be kind to one another and help one another.” 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

The Chippewa Cree Tribe has been through some difficult times while we tried to clean up our government and to see that the business of the tribe was conducted by the legally elected Business Committee, whose members represent the people's interests. It got very personal. 

I’m grateful to my family and many others on the reservation and in neighboring communities who stood by me and helped me fight this. I’d also like to thank the law firm of Fredericks Peeples & Morgan for all their work. With their help, I became the first American Indian tribal leader to receive federal whistleblower protection while we fought to make things right here.

The chairman’s office and the Business Committee are working well together now, for the welfare of our people. That’s the most important thing I’d like people to know.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.

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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January 24, 2016

Thinking of Maria Tallchief on Her Birthday

 

"I'm very proud of my Indian heritage. I think it is an innate quality that Indians have to dance. They dance when they are happy, they dance when they are sad. They dance when they get married, they dance when someone dies." 

—Maria Tallchief

 

Today we celebrate the birthday of Maria Tallchief (Osage, 1925–2013), one of America’s greatest ballerinas, and—with Rosella Hightower (Choctaw, 1920–2008), Yvonne Chouteau (Shawnee and Cherokee, b. 1929), Moscelyne Larkin (Shawnee–Peoria, 1925–2012), and her sister, Marjorie Tallchief (Osage, b. 1926)—a member of a remarkable generation of Oklahoma-born Native American ballet dancers.

Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn
Maria Tallchief and Eric Bruhn, Dance Magazine, July 1961

Critics who saw Maria Tallchief dance praised her grace, energy, strength, and musicality. Dance historians describe her as a bridge between Old World traditions and a new, American ballet. Certainly Tallchief saw herself as an American artist: “A ballerina takes steps given to her and makes them her own," she is quoted as saying."Each individual brings something different to the same role. As an American, I believe in great individualism. That's the way I was brought up."

Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief was born to a wealthy family in Fairfax, Oklahoma, on the Osage Indian Reservation. She studied piano and dance in Fairfax (the dance teacher came weekly from Tulsa) and in Colorado Springs, where her family spent the summer, then Los Angeles, where they moved in 1933. Her mother hoped she would be a concert musician, but she fell in love with ballet. In 1942, she went to New York and was accepted by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. (She refused the director's suggestion that she change her name to the Russian-sounding Tallchieva, but she did use the simpler Maria Tallchief.)

When George Ballanchine became the choreographer of the Ballet Russe in 1944, her artistic course was set. She became Ballanchine’s student—relearning the most basic elements of ballet in the classical Russian style—and his muse. "I always thought Balanchine was more of a musician even than a choreographer,” she later wrote, “and perhaps that’s why he and I connected."

Maria Tallchief—Eurydice
Maria Tallchief as Eurydice in Balanchine’s Orpheus, c. 1948. The estate of George Platt Lynes/The George Balanchine Trust/New York City Ballet Archives

In 1947, Tallchief joined the American Ballet, soon to become the New York City Ballet, under Ballanchine's artistic direction. There she helped Ballanchine achieve his vision of the City Ballet as one of the great ballet companies in the world.

Tallchief also performed with other companies in the United States and abroad. In 1962, with the American Ballet Theatre, she became the first American to dance at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. After she retired, Tallchief became director of ballet and founder of the ballet school of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and, with her sister, Marjorie, founder of the Chicago City Ballet. In 1999, Maria Tallchief received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government

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January 22, 2016

One Hundred Years of History: Going Digital

A question I'm often asked as an archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian is, “How do I find what I’m looking for, and once I find it, how do I access it?” The Smithsonian is one of the world’s largest repositories of primary sources, with archival holdings measuring somewhere in the area of 137,000 cubic feet, spread across 14 museums and other research centers within the institution. These amazing resources include letters, journals, scrapbooks, photo albums, and sound and video recordings, with subjects ranging from art and culture to science and technology. The scope can make searching for specific information a daunting task. Luckily, Smithsonian archivists have been hard at work making it easier to find the material you are looking for, and making it increasingly possible to view a digital version of the letter, field notebook, or photograph in question.

In October 2015 the Smithsonian launched the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA). This online interface provides access to archival finding aids—inventory lists that provide context and detail to the many pieces that can make up a collection. Currently the NMAI Archive Center has 101 archival collection records, including photographic, paper, and media collections, available via the SOVA. Of these 101 records, 28 collections have full finding aids.

You can browse the SOVA by Smithsonian unit, making it easier to focus your search on NMAI’s archival holdings specifically.

SOVA homepage

 

If there is digitized content available within a collection, a symbol will appear in your search results next to the collection name.

Tibbles screen shot

 

The papers of the journalist Thomas Henry Tibbles (1840–1928)—the husband of Indian rights writer and orator Susette Bright Eyes LaFlesche (Omaha) and a progressive figure in his own right—are one example of a fully digitized collection now available online. You can browse the full collection here.

One of the museum’s largest archival collections is the records of our predecessor institution, the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation (MAI) in New York City. The MAI records include collectors' field notebooks, catalog lists, and expedition records, as well as exhibition and organizational files. (For a more in-depth look into what this massive collection holds, take a peek at the earlier blog post Finding Treasure in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation Records.)

As many of you may know, in 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the MAI. As a part of a year-long anniversary celebration, every month the Archive Center is putting new digitized content from the MAI records up on the SOVA. These records will be accompanied by stories from the 100-year history of the MAI. As our first offering the Archive Center has made available the MAI’s annual reports from 1917 to 1989. These annual reports give a keen insight into the activities of the museum from its earliest days up until it became a part of the Smithsonian Institution.

The MAI annual reports offer an great opportunity to learn about conducting research using the SOVA. For instance, say you want to know what expeditions the museum funded in 1924. You can easily find this information by following the digitized content boxes in the MAI finding aid to the Publications Series: 

MAI screen shot

 

You can then select the annual report folder you're interested in. If you're looking for 1924, you’ll want to click on Folder 2.

MAI screen shot3

 

You can then browse through the annual reports until you find 1924.

MAI screen shot2

 

MAI exp 1

 

The annual reports are just one of the many treasures among the MAI records. Make sure to check back with us every month for new and exciting stories from the archives!

—Rachel Menyuk, archives technician, NMAI Archive Center

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January 15, 2016

Meet Native America: Jeff L. Grubbe, Tribal Chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

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

Chairman Jeff Grubbe
Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Me yah whae (hello), I am Tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

Where is your tribal community located? 

The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation is located in the Coachella Valley, in Southern California, and crosses the municipal boundaries of Palms Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City, as well as portions of unincorporated Riverside County. 

Where is your tribe originally from? 

We have deep roots here. The Cahuilla name for the area was originally Sec-he (boiling water) for the nearby hot spring. The Spanish who arrived named it Agua Caliente (hot water). Then came the name Palm Springs, in reference to both the native Washingtonia filifiera palm tree and the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring. 

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

A significant turning point in the tribe’s history was when the Agua Caliente Band adopted its first Constitution and By-Laws in the mid 1950s. The first all-woman tribal council in the United States was formed in 1954. This group, and subsequent councils, successfully opposed federal termination efforts, obtaining the first long-term land lease legislation in the United States for Indian lands and clearing the way for tribal land development across the country.

How is your tribal government set up? 

The Tribal Council is the governing body that sets policy, makes laws and implements the direction voted upon by tribal membership. The structure of the Tribal Council is composed of five positions and four proxy members. The council includes a chairman, vice chairman, secretary–treasurer and two council members. 

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

No. 

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Tribal elections are held each year. Officers serve two-year terms, and council members serve one-year terms. 

How often does your tribal council meet? 

We meet weekly, with some exceptions throughout the year. 

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

My responsibility as chairman is to ensure that the decisions we make today improve the lives of our future generations. That’s why we are investing in educational opportunities for our tribal members, economic development for the future vitality of our tribe, and community organizations that provide much-needed services in and around our community. 

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

I had the opportunity to grow up in and around tribal government. My grandfather, Lawrence Pierce, served on the Tribal Council, so I was able to learn from him. I also became interested in serving my tribe at an early age. 

Chairman Grubbe 2
Chairman Grubbe. August 2014, Palm Springs, California.

Upon completion of college, in 1999 I entered the Agua Caliente Resort and Spa Tribal Intern Program, where I worked in the casino as a table games shift manager. My experience there led me to my involvement in other tribal service, including the Agua Caliente Child Development Committee, the Agua Caliente Election Board, the Gaming Commission, and the Tribal Building Committee. I later joined the Agua Caliente Development Authority. I was elected to Tribal Council in 2006 and elected chairman of the Tribal Council in 2012.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

An important mentor has been former Tribal Chairman Richard M. Milanovich. He shared with me over many years how to lead with diplomacy and grace. My grandfather also played an important role of inspiration, but he passed away while I was in high school. My mother also inspired me through her work on the board of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and on our Enrollment Committee.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

We have approximately 480 enrolled members.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe? 

Our enrollment requirements include that the applicant must be one-eighth degree of Indian blood and the issue of a legal marriage. 

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

Like many other tribal nations, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is working on recovering our language and teaching it to others through language classes by our Cultural Preservation Committee. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians owns and/or operates the Spa Resort Casino in downtown Palm Springs; the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa and The Show in Rancho Mirage; and the Indian Canyons Golf Resort and Tahquitz Canyon and Indian Canyons recreational areas. In addition we manage land leases throughout the reservation. 

Chairman Grubbe

Chairman Grubbe standing at the entrance to the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa. May 2014, Rancho Mirage, California. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians provides hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to support many community and nonprofit programs and events. In addition we host an annual Celebrity–Charity Golf Tournament that benefits five charities each year, as well as the annual Richard M. Milanovich Legacy Hike, which benefits an educational scholarship within the Native American Political Leadership Program at George Washington University.

We also support the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and the events they put on every year, including the Dinner in the Canyons, the Native American Film Festival, and the Singing of the Birds. These are all great events that share not only our culture, but also cultures and traditions from throughout Indian Country.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

The most unique are Tahquitz Canyon and the Indian Canyons. The tribe is steward to more than 60 miles of hiking and walking trails in the beautiful Southern California desert. The canyons include the world’s first and second largest groves of Washingtonia filifera palm trees, the only palm tree native to California’s desert. Tahquitz Canyon features a 60-foot waterfall. These canyons are also our ancestral homes. 

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

We have government-to-government relationships with local, state, and U.S. federal government. We have important and close relationships with decision-makers at all levels. 

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

The future success of our tribe and our tribal members is with our youth. We are making decisions and investments now to provide opportunities so that our young people can grow up and become strong, proud, educated, and successful adults. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I am honored to a part of this project. You have interviewed many great leaders, many of whom I know and work with today. We have a long, proud history in this country, and we have overcome so many injustices to get where we are today. Although we have come very far the last 10 to 15 years, we have so much farther to go. I look forward to those challenges and to working with our past, present, and future leaders in Indian Country. Alowah (thank you), and God bless. 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, 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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January 08, 2016

Meet Native America: Francis Gray, Tribal Chairman of the Piscataway Conoy 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  

Sen. Campbell and Chariman Gray, NCAI 2015
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) and Piscataway Conoy Tribal Chairman Francis Gray at the Tribal Leader Reception during the White House Tribal Nations Conference. 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Francis Gray (Bear Clan), the eldest son of Charles and Regina Gray. I am currently the Tribal Chairman of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname? 

I have yet to receive a Piscataway name. When I do, it will be determined by how I exhibit my character within our tribal community. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

Currently our main core is located within the southern region of Maryland in Charles, Prince Georges, St. Mary’s, and Calvert counties.

Where is your tribe originally from? 

We are the people from where the waters blend. This encompasses all of the area on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay from our northern boundary of the Patapsco River watershed (just south of Baltimore) extending south and west to the Potomac River watershed (to include the Virginia, District of Columbia, and Maryland tributary creeks) and west to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

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

January 9, 2012, the date of the official re-establishment of the Piscataway Conoy people with the State of Maryland. Some people like to refer it as recognition. However, we have always been here, so that day actually reflects when our people and the State of Maryland reinvigorated a relationship that began over 300 years ago. This historic relationship is well documented in Maryland's rich history. 

We, the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, formally revived our official, duly elected Tribal Council as our governing body and reinstituted a government-to-government relationship with Maryland. Today the Piscataway Conoy people continue to embrace our culture and traditional values. 

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have a Tribal Council made up of a seven members elected by our people based upon a democratic process. 

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

Yes, we have traditional Clan Mothers and an Elders Council, as well. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet? 

The Tribal Council meets on a monthly basis. 

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

As a young man, I was instilled with strong principles while growing up in our community—knowing who you are and where you came from and making those important connections of culture and relationships that define the Piscataway Conoy people. While traveling up and down the East Coast with my family, I interacted with other tribal nations and took part in the Trail of Self-Determination and the Longest Walk during the 1970s, to name a few important events.

I also witnessed the removal of a cinderblock structure that was built over one of our ancestral ossuaries located on National Park land. Inside this cinderblock structure, visitors could look through windows and view the bones of my ancestors which lay upon the ground. Schoolchildren and tourists would come and view these remains. In 1976, our tribal leadership requested that the National Park Service tear down this structure, and our demand was granted. The National Park Service demolished the blockhouse in the summer of 1976, and my elders reinterred the remains back into the ossuary.

These life experiences bring me here today.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

I am responsible for bringing about positive change and moving the tribe forward while at the same time preserving our history. It is my focus to ensure the betterment of the tribe by making certain that the development of cultural awareness is a priority and to sustain a strong governing structure for our tribe’s present and future. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Wow, naming just a few would not be justified as there are so many who have played important roles throughout different phases of my life. I can say my elders are my mentors, as well as other tribal leaders throughout Indian Country; I am honored and humbled by their being here with me. There is a constant theme as we progress through life that we must stand up and carry on what the elders have provided. We must protect it so that their efforts were and are not in vain.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

There are approximately 3,000 enrolled tribal members today. 

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe? 

The criteria to become a tribal member are based upon genealogy. The Elders Council has a stringent process that determines one's eligibility. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

We currently do not have any economic enterprises, but we are working towards such endeavors. There are many Piscataway Conoy people who own successful businesses in almost every industry. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

We host several internal, cultural ceremonies, including the a Seed Gathering in early spring, a Feast from the Waters in early summer, and a Green Corn Festival in late summer, and we finish off our year paying tribute and celebrating our elders (Elders Dinner). When we are contacted, we also host many tribal nations coming to the Washington area from as far away as Hawaii. 


 

Francis Gray, 125th Anniversary of Indian HeadChairman Gray holding a ceramic bowl made by his ancestors and dating to between 2500 and 3000 BC. Archaeological surveys show that Native peoples have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. Celebration marking the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Naval Support Facility at Indian Head, September 2015, Charles County, Maryland. 

What attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

There are a few attractions all within an hour-and-a half drive south of Washington. Jefferson Patterson Park on the south end of the Patuxent River in Calvert County, Maryland, displays a Piscataway Conoy villageHistoric St. Mary’s City, in St. Mary's County, also has a Piscataway Conoy village. Piscataway Park in Accokeek, Maryland, is only a half hour south of Washington in Prince Georges County. These are a few of the attractions that are rich in our culture. 

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

Our interaction with the federal government has always been somewhat schizophrenic. At times our tribe received federal funding for instituting Indian education programs in the local county school systems. In the past we have received job placement grants to help reduce the unemployment rate in our community and to teach our members marketable employment skills. And we received grants to help address other needs within our tribal community. Our individual tribal members have been eligible to receive federal funding for college scholarships based upon both need and merit. Then, administrations changed and the eligibility criteria in federal programs became more restrictive, creating a situation in which we have less direct interface than at other times during our recent history. 

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

I would want to ensure that our youth truly understand all of the efforts that generations of our ancestors expended to retain our identity and culture as Native people. When I was growing up in our historical homeland in southern Maryland, like many generations of Piscataway Conoy before me, we were a third race in a two-race society. Prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we had little opportunity to tell our story. As a tribe we were not included in official state demographics. But our ancestors persevered in the face of this onslaught upon our identity. 

I want our youth to know that following the traditional ways for over 13,000 years has sustained our tribe over the last 400 years of European, Colonial, and American control. I want our youth to know that learning, practicing, and embracing the traditional ways will be our path to a brighter future. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

As tribal hosts to indigenous nations who visit our historical homeland (which includes Washington and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian), the Piscataway Conoy people are proud to see Native people from the Western Hemisphere come to this area and experience the beauty of the natural world here. My ancestors enjoyed and preserved this part of the world for so many thousands of years. As tribal people, we no longer have physical control over our historic homelands, but we retain the stories, the legends, and the relationships with the lands and waters that make us who we are today, "The People from Where Waters Blend." 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Piscataway Conoy 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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I love the interview Mr. Francis Gray gave. I came to know a lot about his tribe from his interview.

 
 
 
 

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