April 03, 2017

Marking the 400th Anniversary of Pocahontas’ Death

March 21, 2017, was the 400th anniversary of Pocahontas’s death. She was about 22 years old when she died, and both her life and death are being commemorated in London.[1] One key event—a three-day conference titled Pocahontas and after: Historical culture and transatlantic encounters, 1617–2017—was organized by the University of London School of Advanced Studies’ Institute for Historical Research and the British Library, and took place March 16 through 18. Pocahontas spent the last nine months of her life in London and was known there as Lady Rebecca.

Pocahontas & Elizabeth
The famous engraving of Pocahontas (left) made by Simon van de Passe (1595–1647) mirrors the Renold Elstrack (1570–1625 or after) engraving of Queen Elizabeth I (right)—and the other 31 engravings of British sovereigns—published in Bazilioologia: A Booke of Kings (1618), a collection of portraits that was republished with slightly varying titles.[2] The van de Passe engraving of Pocahontas and engravings of other prominent notables were added to a later edition. Few of any editions survive, and all that do appear to vary in content. An “Expanded Bazilioologia” held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford includes the Pocahontas engraved portrait.[3] Left photo: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Right photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Born Amonute, Pocahontas was the daughter of the leader of the powerful Powhatan Confederacy.[4] The confederacy dominated the coastal mid-Atlantic region when, in 1607, English colonists established James Fort, a for-profit colony, along the Chesapeake Bay. Pocahontas, a child at the time, often accompanied her father’s men to the fort, signaling that their mission was peaceful. Amazingly or not, the English arrived poorly equipped, lacked provisions, and were almost entirely dependent on the Powhatan for food. Over the years, Pocahontas was among those who brought food to the fort.

Relations between the English and Powhatan, however, were always fraught. And in 1613 Pocahontas, then about 18 years old, was abducted by the English and held hostage for more than a year. The Christian theologian Alexander Whitaker eagerly began to instruct Pocahontas, already learning to speak English, in the tenets of Anglicanism. While captive, Pocahontas met the colonist John Rolfe, who—according to various English accounts, including his own—fell in love with her. Pocahontas agreed to marry Rolfe and, shortly before her marriage, received a Christian baptism. It was Rolfe who developed the strain of tobacco that would make the colony prosperous, enrich its investors and Britain, and eventually lead to the collapse of the Powhatan Confederacy.

In 1616 Pocahontas traveled to London with Rolfe and their infant son, Thomas. Her trip was sponsored by the James Fort investors. Famously, Pocahontas, accompanied by an entourage of high-standing Powhatan, was feted throughout London. She was twice received in the Court of King James I—to be presented to the king and to attend a Twelfth Night masque. Pocahontas never returned home. She died at outset of her return voyage and was buried in Gravesend, an ancient town on the banks of the Thames Estuary.

Pocahontas statue near St George's Church
Pocahontas was buried in the chancel (near the altar) of the original St. George’s Church in Gravesend. That church was destroyed by fire in 1727 and Pocahontas is now buried at an unknown location on the grounds surrounding the current St. George’s Church. The bronze Pocahontas sculpture outside St. George’s, a copy of the 1923 statue at James Fort, was presented to the church by the people of Virginia on the 350th anniversary of Pocahontas’s death. Photo by Cher Obediah, 2017.

Although the broad strokes of Pocahontas’s biography are well known—unusual for a 17th-century indigenous woman—her life has long been shrouded by misunderstandings and misinformation, and by the seemingly inexhaustible output of kitsch representations of her supposed likeness. Within a few years after her death, the Theodore De Bry family’s 13-volume publication, America, translated into several languages, provided the book-reading public beyond London with what they considered to be their first real and comprehensive glimpse of the New World’s indigenous peoples, including Pocahontas.[5] Four hundred years later, her name has become familiar to children worldwide through Walt Disney Picture’s 1995 animated film Pocahontas, strong on memorable melodies, although weak on historical and cultural accuracy.

It is known that, while she was in London, Pocahontas met Captain John Smith, at one time president of the council for the James Fort colony, and expressed her displeasure with him and those of his countrymen who “lie much.”[6] Those familiar with the facts of Pocahontas’s life, however, are only too aware that her thoughts surrounding the events that dramatically impacted her and her people are largely unrecorded by history. The Pocahontas and after conference brought together approximately 50 international scholars—including several Native scholars—from a variety of disciplines to reflect upon what is actually known of Pocahontas’s life and times, on both sides of the Atlantic, and on the ways in which her life has been construed and misconstrued over the last four centuries.

To give but a suggestion of their scope, conference papers ranged in topic from American Indian marriage practices for establishing and maintaining political alliances, to the lives of two English boys allowed to live among the Powhatan in order to learn Algonquian, the biblical significance of the name Rebecca, the startling number of American Indians who voyaged to London in the early 17th century, the James Fort investors’ motivations for bringing Pocahontas to London, and the political meanings embedded in the three representations of Pocahontas on view in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Among those taking part was Chief Robert Gray of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe. The Pamunkey people descend from the Powhatan. On the last day of the conference, Chief Gray spoke at the British Library on the history of the Pamunkey. His paper was titled “Pamunkey Civil Rights and the Legacy of Pocahontas.” In the Q&A that followed his presentation, and as a surprise to some, he further addressed the issue of why many Pamunkey people have ambivalent feelings towards Pocahontas. He spoke candidly about Pamunkeys’ general displeasure with Pocahontas’s story having been appropriated by non-tribal members. He shared his people's priority and overriding desire to make known the history of such Pamunkey as Chief George Major Cook (1860–1930), who fought to defend Pamunkey rights during the Jim Crow era, when racial segregation was written into the law, and the period surrounding the 1924 Racial Integrity Act, when the state of Virginia forced all citizens to have their race, “colored” or “white,” registered at birth and forbade interracial marriage. These laws essentially sought to legislate Pamunkeys and other Virginian Indian tribes out of existence. Gray was frank in explaining how Pamunkeys long invoked the name Pocahontas to assert their sovereignty, to no avail, while politically influential Virginians successfully invoked their descent from Pocahontas to have an exemption written into the Racial Integrity Act that classified them as “white.”

Pocahontas continues to hold a singular and singularly contested place in history. The Pocahontas and after conference achieved in conveying to all present that the shroud covering Pocahontas’s life needs to be lifted. For the anniversary week of Pocahontas’s death, and to commemorate her life, the rector of St. George’s Church displayed the church registry that dates back to 1597 and records her burial. In keeping with the Christian and English tradition of acknowledging the death of a person of high social standing, Pocahontas was buried in St. George’s chancel. The registry is poignant evidence of the life of a young Powhatan woman who lived and died in the maelstrom of the British–Powhatan encounter in the early 17th century.

Registry for Rebecca Wrolfe

Registry entry for Rebecca Wrolfe
St. George’s Church registry dating to 1547, open to the entry for Pocahontas's burial, toward the bottom of the right-hand page. Detail: In the list of March events over the year 1617, Pocahontas's entry reads, "21 Rebecca Wrolfe, wyffe of Thomas Wrolf gent, A Virginian Lady borne, was buried in the Channcell." Photos by Cécile R. Ganteaume, NMAI.

It seems likely that we will never fully know what Pocahontas thought of her abduction, instruction in the tenets of Anglicanism, marriage to John Rolfe, and experiences in London. But an understanding can be built around her life based, not on fabrications, but on Pamunkey knowledge and scholarly research that cuts through 400 years of appropriations, misinformation, and romanticism. There emerged at the conference a sense that a picture of early 17th century life in the mid-Atlantic region can be brought to light that gives greater insight into the clash of empires that occurred in the heart of the Powhatan Confederacy and that illuminates the historic processes and legacies of European colonization, and Native strategies for confronting them.

Cécile R. Ganteaume

Cecile GanteaumeCécile R. Ganteaume is an associate curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and formerly at the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, in New York. A recipient of a Secretary of the Smithsonian’s Excellence in Research Award, she has written and curated on American Indian art, culture, and history. She is currently collaborating with lead curator Paul Chaat Smith on the upcoming exhibition Americans. Scheduled to open October 2017, one of Americans' galleries will explore Pocahontas’s unique place in American national consciousness.

The exhibition Americans opens at the museum in Washington on October 26, 2017.

__________________________________________

[1] Based on English sources, Pocahontas’s birth date is estimated to be 1595.

[2] For a history of the various editions of Bazilioologia: A Booke of Kings, see H. C. Levis’s discussion of them in The Grolier Club’s 1913 reproduction of the 1618 edition of Bazilioologia: A Booke of Kings, Notes on a Rare Series of Engraved Royal Portraits From William the Conqueror to James I. It is available online.

[3] The text in the oval frame encircling Pocahontas reads, "MATOAKA AĽS REBECCA FILIA POTENTISS: PRINC: POWHATANI IMP: VIRGINIÆ"."MATOAKA AĽS REBECCA FILIA POTENTISS: PRINC: POWHATANI IMP: VIRGINIÆ". The text below her portrait reads: "Matoaks als Rebecka daughter to the mighty Prince Powhâtan Emperour of Attanoughkomouck als virginia converted and baptized in the Christian faith, and wife to the wor.ff Mr. Joh Rolfe ."

[4] Pocahontas was a nickname given to her by her father. Matoaka was Pocahontas’ private name, which she herself revealed to the English colonists. Rebecca was the Christian name she received when she was baptized. Lady is an English title accorded noblewomen. Pocahontas was recognized as the daughter of an emperor of Virginia. 

[5] Pocahontas entered European history books before she even sailed to London. In 1614, two years before her transatlantic voyage, Ralph Hamor, one of the original James Fort colonists, published A True Discourse of the Present State of Virginia. In it he described her abduction. In 1619, the Theodore de Bry family published volume 10 of America and not only recounted the abduction story, but illustrated it with an engraving. In 1624, Jamestown colonist John Smith published his, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, and it he included, for the first time, his dramatic account of his capture and imminent death at the hands of Powhatan and his men. He described how his life—and by extension, the colony—was saved by Pocahontas. The Simon van de Passe Pocahontas portrait was published in Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, as well as in certain editions of Bazilioologia: A Booke of Kings.

[6] See Camilla Townsend, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma (2004), pages 154-156.

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

March 23, 2017

The Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854

On March 23, 2017, the Treaty of Medicine Creek (1854) was installed in the exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The treaty, on loan from the National Archives and Records Administration, will remain on display through August 2017. Here, museum historian Mark Hirsch recounts the origins of the treaty and highlights a key provision that secured the fishing rights of the nine Puget Sound Indian nations and bands that signed the agreement. 

NAA Walla Wall 08602800
Gustav Sohon (1825–1903), Coming for the Walla Walla Council, May 18, 1855. Colored pencil, watercolor, and ink on laminated mat. Image 20.3 x 20.3 cm. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. NAA INV 08602800

 

The words “broken” and “treaty” figure prominently in contemporary discussions on American Indian history. For good reason. Today, most historians agree that the United States violated many, if not all, of the roughly 371 treaties with Native nations ratified from 1778 to 1871. Yet the story of Indian treaties is more than a chronicle of coercion and bad faith. As the historian Alexandra Harmon reminds us, the narrative arc of treaty history makes “ironic twists and turns” and produces unexpected outcomes that have bolstered Native rights and tribal sovereignty.

The Treaty of Medicine Creek, with the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, and other tribes and bands of southern Puget Sound, was the first of four agreements the U.S. made with the Native peoples of Western Washington during a 37-day period in 1854–55. Although 63 tribal leaders signed the treaty, they and their people soon came to regret it. For in doing so they relinquished 2.5 million acres of tribal land to the U.S. in exchange for three 1,280-acre reservations, $32,500 paid over 13 years, and other considerations that aimed to assimilate Indians into European–American culture.

Flash forward to 1974. The descendants of the Medicine Creek Treaty signers embrace the old agreement. They consider it a source of Indian rights, a font of tribal traditions, and a recognition of sovereign nationhood.

What a difference 120 years make!

The shift in Native perceptions of the Medicine Creek Treaty turns on language found in Section 3, which states that, “The right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory.” 

Isaac Stevens LOC
Isaac Ingalls Stevens, ca. 1860. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. LC-BH82- 5175 A

We tend to think that foresighted and hard-bargaining tribal leaders pressured American treaty commissioners to include such language in their treaty. After all, the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, and other southern Puget Sound tribes and bands depended on salmon fishing for survival. Yet the evidence suggests that the impetus for recognizing tribal fishing rights at Medicine Creek came from Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818–62), the lead U.S. treaty negotiator.

An ambitious graduate of West Point, the 36-year-old Stevens was the governor of Washington Territory—a vast and sprawling area that included northern Idaho and western Montana—as well as its superintendent of Indian Affairs. To him fell responsibility for negotiating land cession treaties with the Indians of the territory.

Acquiring legal title had become a matter of urgency in 1850, when the U.S. authorized white settlers to claim Native lands under a new homesteading act. Land cessions were needed to “extinguish” Indian claims to their homelands.

When he arrived at Medicine Creek, Stevens brought already-drafted treaty language that would be read to the approximately 600 to 700 tribal delegates who converged on the treaty ground on Christmas Eve 1854. The draft reflected a recent trend in U.S. Indian policy: Rather than removing tribes to far-flung lands, U.S. officials hoped to make treaties that consolidated Indians on small parcels, or reservations, within their original homelands.

Stevens’s treaty also reflected some understanding of the cultures of the Puget Sound Indians. He knew that salmon fishing was central to their lives, that tribal leaders would never countenance a treaty that removed them from their homelands’ streams, rivers, and saltwater bays. He also knew that U.S. Indian officials were stingy and that allowing Indians to fish on their former lands would reduce the government’s responsibility for feeding them. Last, Stevens knew that incoming white settlers would need access to Indian labor. For these reasons, Stevens’s treaty recognized Indian rights to leave their newly created reservations to work, hunt, and especially fish for salmon at their “usual and accustomed grounds and stations.”

The tribal delegates who attended the Medicine Creek Treaty expected to discuss and negotiate the terms of the agreement. But Stevens was not of a mind to negotiate. Ultimately the treaty was signed as written and forwarded to Washington, where it was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1855.

Medicine Creek 1-2
"Treaty between the United States and the Nisqualli, Puyallup and Other Indians at Medicine Creek, Washington." 1854. First page, recto and verso. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

There is little doubt that the tribal leaders were confused by the proceedings. An interpreter read the terms of the treaty to them using the Chinook trade jargon, a 500-word pidgin language that had no words for Western concepts of land ownership, fishing rights, and other principles invoked in the treaty.

Leschi WA Hist Soc
Portrait of Nisqually Chief Leschi, painted by an unknown artist in 1894. Watercolor on paperboard. Washington State Historical Society, cat. 200.

An X appears next to the name of the Nisqually tribal leader Leschi (1808–58), but there is reason to believe his mark may have been forged. Certainly Leschi was angered by the treaty’s plan to relocate the Nisqually to a small reservation atop a wooded bluff, away from the river where they traditionally harvested salmon. Leschi also visited neighboring tribes who were preparing to negotiate treaties with the U.S., urging them to place no faith in Stevens. As tribal resentment spread through the region, so, too, did white fears of Indian unrest. In 1855 the growing atmosphere of tension, distrust, and cultural misunderstanding led to violence and war. For eight months tribal warriors and volunteer militiamen engaged in skirmishes that cost lives on both sides.

In November 1856 territorial authorities captured Leschi, who was put on trial for allegedly killing an American soldier. Leschi’s attorneys not only proclaimed his innocence, but argued that an act committed during wartime could not be punished in civilian courts. The trial ended in a hung jury.

But Leschi’s troubles were not over. After a one-day retrial, a jury of non-Indians in a different venue found him guilty. Although his lawyers presented new, exculpatory evidence, the Territorial Supreme Court upheld the conviction. On February 19, 1858, 300 people gathered around an outdoor gallows near Fort Steilacoom, south of present day Tacoma, to witness his execution.

Leschi proclaimed his innocence to the end, and many people, including his hangman, believed him. “I felt then I was hanging an innocent man,” Charles Grainger recalled years later, “and I believe it yet.”

QuileuteHookWas
Quileute salmon-fishing hooks, ca. 1890. Washington. Iron, wood, cordage, split plant fiber. 20 x 7.5 cm, cord 120 cm; 20 x 8.4 cm. 5/7591 | NMAI Photo Services, Smithsonian

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Native peoples of the Puget Sound region continued to remember Leschi as a great tribal leader and a wrongly convicted man. Today a neighborhood in Seattle, a city park, a marina, and a school on the Puyallup Indian Reservation bear his name. In 2004, 146 years after his execution, Leschi was exonerated at a historical retrial presided over by the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court.

In the 20th century, the Native peoples of Puget Sound also remembered and continued to invoke fishing rights guaranteed under the Medicine Creek Treaty. Exercising those rights, however, was now challenged by increasingly stringent state regulations that prohibited Indians from harvesting salmon out of season and without state fishing licenses. For state officials, U.S. treaties that guaranteed Indians the right to fish in their “usual and accustomed stations” were vestiges of a bygone era, ancient promises that held no purchase in modern America.

Puget Sound Indians never waivered in the belief that their treaty-recognized fishing rights were inviolate. “We have this treaty right, the supreme law of the land under their Constitution,” the Indian fishing rights advocate Valerie Bridges (Nisqually, 1950–70) declared. “It’s a treaty we’re fighting for.”

It was this fundamental belief in the sanctity and power of the Medicine Creek Treaty that helped inspire the great fish-in protests on the salmon rivers of Western Washington in the 1960s and ’70s. Those acts of resistance fixed national attention on Indian treaty rights and laid the groundwork for the emergence of the modern tribal sovereignty movement that continues to define life in Indian Country today.

—Mark Hirsch


Mark Hirsch is a historian at the National Museum of the American Indian. His research interests include 19th- and 20th-century social and cultural history, U.S. Indian policy, Native–European contact, and the making of the modern world


Source for the observation that treaty history makes “ironic twists and turns”: Alexandra Harmon, “Indian Treaty History: A Subject for Agile Minds,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 106:3 (Fall, 2005): 358.

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

November 23, 2016

Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?

ThanksgivingCircleSlashCrop2
Five years ago, Dennis Zotigh wrote a short essay for the museum on the Thanksgiving story and how he observes the holiday. Since then, Dennis has asked Native friends to talk about how their families spend Thanksgiving Day. Here are some of the responses people gave him this year. Dennis's essay, including people's earlier answers to his question, appears below: 

Wellington, Kansas: Thanksgiving was a blending of two different cultures, one culture helping another to survive. The historical knowledge we have now of what was actually taking place may not be the same as what was being experienced in those days. Our assessment now may not be fair because of all that the Native people have endured. 

Exeter, California: Being the only Native American classroom teacher at a public school, raised mostly in an urban setting steeped heavy in traditional American holidays, and around many other native people on weekends while traveling to dance, this has always been a challenging question for me that I cannot claim to know the answer for. I see many other teachers I work with who are not native struggle with knowing how to address the issue comfortably. I have to say, I have fear that if we avoid the issue altogether, Native people will be forgotten about. I have seen some teachers decide to stop teaching about Native Americans for fear of offending. I personally get sad when I see that happen. I know Thanksgiving is a controversial subject, and there are so many viewpoints. I share the modern theme of Thanksgiving, which I think has good intentions—family and community. I have also chosen to teach about Native American culture, even more heavily in November because of Thanksgiving, even though it is no longer a part of the curriculum. I have found ways to integrate it while teaching something that I think is important. I do an assembly for the students in which we dance, and I emphasize how it is not possible to teach everything there is to know about Native Americans in just one assembly. I emphasize the diversity among native people. 

San Antonio, Texas: Except for the last four years, the twenty years before that I spent almost all of my Thanksgivings at the table of my brother-in-law. Our gatherings were about giving thanks for what we had. As for Native American history being left out of teaching, it is an outrage. Educate our fellow educators on how to teach it. It would be a great way to help others teach courses and show how to respect the culture.

Edmonton, Alberta: We have family members with addiction issues. The kids get to eat, which my mom loves. And we are thankful not only to survive colonization, but also grateful to feed family.

Norman, Oklahoma: We celebrate and give thanks for our loved ones' being able to be together again. But when my daughter was young and the realization hit, as it does all young American Indians, she said to me , "Do you think we should have helped them?" There will be extra prayers for Standing Rock at our table. 

Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
The Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers, 2011. Salt Pond, Cape Cod National Seashore. Courtesy of the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers. 

In thinking about my earliest memories of elementary school, I remember being asked to bring a brown paper sack to class so that it could be decorated and worn as part of the Indian costume used to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was also instructed to make a less-than-authentic headband with Indian designs and feathers to complete this outfit. Looking back, I now know this was wrong.

The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture. The costumes we wore bore no resemblance to Wampanoag clothing of that time period. Among the Wampanoag, and other American Indians, the wearing of feathers has significance. The feathers we wore were simply mockery, an educator’s interpretation of what an American Indian is supposed to look like.

The Thanksgiving myth has done so much damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Indian people, including myself, by perpetuating negative and harmful images to both young Indian and non-Indian minds. There are so many things wrong with the happy celebration that takes place in elementary schools and its association to American Indian culture; compromised integrity, stereotyping, and cultural misappropriation are three examples. 

Thanksgiving-Ferris
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930), The First Thanksgiving 1621. Color halftone of an oil painting from the series The Pageant of a Nation. Library of Congress. (LC-USZC4-4961

When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. These cultural misunderstandings and stereotypical images perpetuate historical inaccuracy.

Tolerance of mockery by teachers is a great concern to Native parents. Much harm has been done to generations of Indian people by perpetuating negative and harmful images in young minds. Presenting Thanksgiving to children as primarily a happy time trivializes our shared history and teaches a half-truth. And while I agree that elementary-school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classrooms are too young to hear the truth, educators need to share Thanksgiving facts in all American schools sometime before high school graduation.

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe
Jennie A. Brownscombe (1850–1936), The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914). Oil paint on canvas. Courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum.

Let’s begin with Squanto (aka Tisquantum), a Patuxet, one of more than 50 tribes who formed the Wampanoag Confederacy. Around 1614, when he was perhaps 30, Squanto was kidnapped along with others of his people and taken across the Atlantic Ocean to Malaga, Spain, where they were sold into slavery. Monks in Spain bought Squanto, shared their faith with him, and made it possible for him to find his way to England in 1615. In England he worked for shipbuilder John Slany and became proficient in English. In 1619 Squanto returned to his homeland by joining an exploring expedition along the New England coast. When he arrived at the village where he has been raised, all his family and the rest of his tribe had been exterminated by a devastating plague.

What about the Pilgrims? Separatists who fled from England to Holland seeking to escape religious persecution by English authorities, and who later booked passage to North America, are now called "Pilgrims," though Americans did not widely use the term until the 1870s. In November, 1620, the Mayflower dropped anchor in present-day Provincetown Harbor. After exploring the coast for a few weeks, the Pilgrims landed and began building a permanent settlement on the ruins of Squanto’s Patuxet village, now renamed New Plymouth. Within the first year, half of the 102 Pilgrims who set out from Europe on the Mayflower had perished. In desperation the Pilgrims initially survived by eating corn from abandoned fields, raiding villages for stored food and seed, and robbing graves at Corn Hill.

Squanto was introduced to the Pilgrims in the spring of 1621, became friends with them, and taught them how to hunt and fish in order to survive in New England. He taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn by using fish as fertilizer and how to plant gourds around the corn so that the vines could climb the cornstalks. Due to his knowledge of English, the Pilgrims made Squanto an interpreter and emissary between the English and Wampanoag Confederacy.

What really happened at the first Thanksgiving in 1621? The Pilgrims did not introduce the concept of thanksgiving; the New England tribes already had autumn harvest feasts of thanksgiving. To the original people of this continent, each day is a day of thanksgiving to the Creator.  In the fall of 1621, William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, decided to have a Plymouth harvest feast of thanksgiving and invited Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation, to join the Pilgrims. Massasoit came with approximately 90 warriors and brought food to add to the feast, including venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash and maple syrup. Massasoit and the ninety warriors stayed in Plymouth for three days. These original Thanksgiving foods are far different from the meals prepared in modern Thanksgiving celebrations.

Squanto died in 1622, but Massasoit outlived the era of relative peace in colonial New England. On May 26, 1637, near the present-day Mystic River in Connecticut, while their warriors were away, an estimated 400 to 700 Pequot women, children, and old men were massacred and burned by combined forces of the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Saybrook (Connecticut) colonies and Narragansett and Mohegan allies. Colonial authorities found justification to kill most of the Pequot men and enslave the captured women and their children. Pequot slaves were sent to Bermuda and the West Indies. In 1975 the official number of Pequot people living in Connecticut was 21. Similar declines in Native population took place throughout New England as an estimated three hundred thousand Indians died by violence, and even more were displaced, in New England over the next few decades.

Looking at this history raises a question: Why should Native peoples celebrate Thanksgiving? Many Natives particularly in the New England area remember this attempted genocide as a factual part of their history and are reminded each year during the modern Thanksgiving. The United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Grand Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember and reflect in the hope that America will never forget.

I turn to friends on the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. A few of the responses I have received over the years:

Hydro, Oklahoma: Could we just start over and go forward? We can't change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta's great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.

Ecuador via Bozeman, Montana: It's important to share the whole, true story of the first Thanksgiving. Many of us were told a fairytale lie that led us to believe the same old story: Colonization was good for everyone and colonization was relatively peaceful (the violence was necessary, the ends justify the means). Now, a lot of us are learning more, and that comes from educating ourselves with the help from those who do know. I will say this, the generic idea of thanksgiving, or taking the time to be with family and friends and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, the big and small, is a great practice and should happen more often. I wonder how we can turn a negative into a positive? Can we have an honest Thanksgiving? Can we move forward and, if so, where do we begin?

Santa Fe, New Mexico: My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the "Pilgrims" may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator's gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.

Fairfax, Oklahoma: Our folks and ancestors left a good road to follow and prayed for gifts or successes for us that they may not have achieved. We have opportunities even more than them in these days and days to come. Long time ago we sat down in thanksgiving and had a great day. That's what Thanksgiving is to me, to enjoy and continue to achieve for yourself and them. They are smiling when we achieve. Aho.

Sevierville, Tennessee: Yes, I celebrate Thanksgiving. I have a thankful heart and feel blessed, so I give thanks.

Lawton, Oklahoma, with gentle humor: Do we have to feed the Pilgrims? Again?

And here are a few people's thoughts in 2013: 

Aylett, Virginia: It is good to celebrate the concept of gratitude and thankfulness. When the holiday story is based on a lie that covers up the national moral atrocity of genocide, the statement about the people who celebrate is not good. Shining light on the truth will always bring about healing. 

Montville, Connecticut: Thanksgiving was celebrated for murder and slavery rather than friendship and harvest. 

Greenbelt, Maryland: I don't necessarily look at the holiday as pilgrims-meet-Indians-and-chow-down. I celebrate it as the time the cycle of alcoholism was broken in our family, and we have a feast to celebrate that. 

Norman, Oklahoma: It's pretty much a family reunion for me, and there is eating, visiting, being thankful, and having a good time. Because of that, there is no reason to worry about the history. Similar to the idea that our dances fall on the 4th of July and instead of celebrating independence, it is more like a homecoming to our Kiowa people. 

California: When I went to school there was two Indians in our class—me and a Hopi girl. Neither one of us had to endure any of this because her mother and my mother both raised hell with the principal. No fake headbands or feathers for us. 

Pala, California: When my kids were in pre-school is when I decided I needed to represent our people at this time of year more than any other. I would be damned if my kids were gonna wear paper bags like the other students. I wasn't having that. I learned to get the story across at their age level and show them the beauty and generosity of our people. I remember growing up and my mom getn upset with me because on Thanksgiving day I would come to the dinner table in my PJs and hair unbrushed, knowing the day was not a celebration. But now that I'm a mother of 3 and a grandmother of 1, I understand as Native people we give thanks to the Creator every day. On Thanksgiving Day I'm just grateful our people are still here and still stand strong. 

Salt Lake City, Utah: Thanksgiving, to me, is to be grateful for all the good blessings that came my way. Good health. Gift of family. Regardless of history, there are still many Natives in the land, and that shows how resilient we are. To honor those who went before us, let us share our culture and stories, teach the youth to learn from the past and to make our lives so our ancestors are proud of us. Example is a great educator. 

Alberta, Canada: It is an opportunity for those who do take note . . . . There will be those who roll their eyes, and others who may gain deeper appreciation, to honor (maybe even emulate) a more giving nature . . . , that of their Creator. 

Crow Agency, Montana: My Dad used to say, "We give thanks everyday, so if they want to give us a holiday to give thanks, I'll take it." 

Unfortunately, I didn't include where people were writing from in the essay when it first appeared in 2011:

I was infuriated when my daughter’s school had a mock feast complete with paper mache headdresses and Pilgrim hats!

When they did that to my kids in elementary, I TORE those items up and signed my kids out of school for that day.

For Thanksgiving I was the Indian. Umm Go figure . . . .

Someone took a picture of me in front of the class, and to this day . . . it bothers me. Don't get the whole making a fest in school.   

Tonight I have to lead a children's Bible class, and they want me to theme it around Thanksgiving. I will, but it's not going to be about the happy pilgrims and all that stuff. Thankfulness to God is one thing, but elevating pilgrims to hero status is out of the question.  

When my daughter Victoria was in grade school she had a teacher give them the assignment to write a report on Thanksgiving dinner, and Victoria wrote hers as to why our family doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. Victoria got an F on the paper, and I threatened to go to the school board if the principal didn't get it changed. Victoria got an A, and the class got a lesson on Native American heritage. 

Ignorance and not near enough education in the school systems! It is very sad that a majority of what is taught is very superficial and the dark aspects of our history are neatly tucked away.Very sad!

Considered a day of mourning in our house.

For skins [American Indians], Thanksgiving should be the Last Supper. 


The United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Grand Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember and reflect in the hope that America will never forget.

Do I celebrate Thanksgiving? No, I don’t celebrate. But I do take advantage of the holiday and get together with family and friends to share a large meal without once thinking of the Thanksgiving in 1621. I think it is the same in many Native households. It is ironic that Thanksgiving takes place during American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month. An even greater irony is that more Americans today identify the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday than as National American Indian Heritage Day.  

—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.

The original version of this essay was published on November 23, 2011.

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

November 01, 2016

Meet Native America: Vinton Hawley, Chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, President of the Executive Board of the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, and Vice-Chairman of the National Indian Health Board

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 

Chmn Hawley US Capitol
Vinton Hawley, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, president of the Executive Board of the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, and vice chairman of the National Indian Health Board (NIHB). NIHB Board of Directors meeting, January 2016, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Chairman Hawley.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Vinton Hawley. I'm chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, or Kooyooe Tukaddu (Kooyooe Eaters); president of the Executive Board of the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada; and vice-chairman of the National Indian Health Board (NIHB). I am an enrolled member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and also Hopi–Tewa (Tobacco Clan). 

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

Two Native names I've been given are Sahkoo Penge (Black Pipe) and Saah Ehnoo (Tobacco Boy). There are many other names that were given, as well. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

Pyramid Lake is located 27 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada. We have three towns that comprise our reservation—Wadsworth, Nixon, and Sutcliffe—and a huge water base in rural Nevada. On the Hopi–Tewa side of my family, I come from the Tewa Village First Mesa, Polacca, Arizona. 

Where is your tribe originally from? 

Pyramid Lake is the traditional homeland of the Kooyooe Tukaddu (Kooyooe Eaters). The arid desert and mesas in Arizona are the traditional homeland for the Hopi–Tewa people. 

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

Pyramid Lake has been at the forefront with water rights. The tribe recently finalized the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA), a 20-plus-year water negotiation between the tribe, local governments, the City of Reno, and the City of Sparks that will provide economic development opportunities and funding to the tribe. We are working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Department of the Interior Office of the Special Trustee to gain access to the economic development funds that are attached to the finalization and implementation of TROA. 

The tribe’s Section 17 Corporate Charter was also recently approved by the BIA. 

In somewhat older history, the tribe recognizes battles that took place on the reservation against settlers and the U.S. Army. 

O'Sullivan, 1867, Pyramid LakeThe Pyramid and Domes, 1867. Pyramid Lake, Nevada. Photo by Timothy O'Sullivan. Collections of the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/98503891/.


How is your tribal government set up? 

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is governed by ten Tribal Council members who are elected biannually in December to staggered two-year terms. The officers, including the chairman and vice-chairman, are part of the ten-member council. The tribe operates under the Indian Reorganization Act Constitution and By-Laws approved in January 1936 by the Department of Interior. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet? 

The Pyramid Lake Tribal Council meets three times a month. Council meetings are held every first and third Friday of every month, and we have a Water Team meeting on the third Wednesday of every month. The Water Team meeting is held with the tribe’s water attorney and addresses only water issues. 

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

Unfortunately, we have lost a large portion of our people who have this kind of traditional knowledge. The majority of our members are now involved in Native religions outside of our own Paiute culture. They are mostly involved in the Native American Church and Sundance religions. There are a few families who continue to practice our old way, but Paiute life is simple and I think that is why it can’t compete with the more popular and glamorous Native cultures. 

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

I was raised in most part by my great-grandmother Gussie Dunn Williams, who lived the old ways. We would get up in the morning and eat breakfast and then go visiting our relatives on our reservation. We didn’t own a car and we walked all over. Each visit involved conversations in Paiute about everyday happenings, dropping off food for those who needed help, checking on others who might not be able to leave their homes, and just plain old visiting. 

I learned traditional activities such as weaving, gathering, doctoring, etc. It wasn’t the show that it seems to have become today; it was just day-to-day living. I learned the priorities of our old people and I was taught what is really important to our tribe to ensure our survival. My life was simple, and our life is simple, but what is most important is that our people survive, that our environment is protected, and that water is life. I learned to understand the language at an early age and began speaking. I learned the survival arts of the Pyramid Lake Paiutes. I also learned a lot from my Hopi–Tewa grandparents, who were very hard workers and have instilled in me what exactly a simple life is. 

Lower Truckee River at Nixon—Paiute ReservationThe Truckee River shortly before it drains into Pyramid Lake. Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation near Nixon, Nevada. Photo courtesy of truckeeriver.org. 


What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman? 

It is my responsibility to make decisions that ensure our way of life continues. So many people associate money with success, but that isn’t our way. The level of our lake is our success. To ensure that our tribal language and traditions are sustained is my priority. My people are my responsibility. It is my commitment to this that I carry each day. 

Decisions made must ensure that the future membership is cared for and protected, our lake is sustained, and our land and its boundaries remain as close to their original state as possible. 

I continue to advocate for the sustainability of the Paiute culture. However, despite my position, culture is not funded by the tribe, nor do we have a grant to assist cultural sustainability. Tribal members in our community volunteer to maintain the culture and have classes on a weekly basis. I have to give high praise to those individuals who are as passionate about cultural preservation as I am. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I am inspired by my elders, by our old people who have lived a simple life filled with our beautiful language and traditions. 

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

All Natives are historical leaders. Without their leadership and courage, none of us would be where we are today as Native peoples. We are still here! 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

Currently our tribe has increased to 2,803 enrolled members. 

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

All persons of Indian blood whose names appear on the official, certified Constructed Base Roll of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation as of January 1, 1935; or all children born to any enrolled regular member of the tribe who is a resident of the reservation at the time of the birth of said children, provided it is proven that said children are direct lineal descendants of a Base Enrollee as identified above.

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

A handful of tribal members still speak Paiute. The number of tribal members who understand Paiute is a lot higher, but they do not speak. Our language is going to become extinct if we do not take measures to sustain and teach our people! 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

Currently our Tribal Enterprises comprise three stores on our reservation. We are in the process of increasing our economic development and are looking at a multitude of business opportunities that will generate revenue for the tribe. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

We have an annual powwow and handgame tournament in the summer and a rodeo in the fall. 

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

Pyramid Lake is widely acclaimed as North America’s most beautiful desert lake, but it’s actually the world-class fishery that has brought Pyramid Lake worldwide fame. Pyramid Lake is the only habitat in the world for the kooyooe (cui-ui) fish that has been around for over two million years. 

The Pyramid Lake fishery also includes the famous Lahontan cutthroat trout that have grown to record sizes and have lured fishermen from all over the world for several decades. Celebrities, foreign royalty, and even a U.S. president have come here in hopes of catching trophy fish at Pyramid Lake. 

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

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe has a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. The tribe contracts with or receives grants directly from federal agencies or the State of Nevada, to provide services to tribal members and residents of the reservation addressing issues that will impact the tribe. 

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

To learn your language and your traditions; to commit yourself to higher education and to bringing back your knowledge to sustain our tribe; and to see what you have been blessed with, which is to be Numu, and to always be proud of who you are and where you come from! 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


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. 

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

September 30, 2016

National Native American Veterans Memorial to Be Created in Washington, D.C.

Kiowa Ton-Kon-GahMembers of the Ton-Kon-Gah, or Kiowa Black Leggings Society, discuss what it means to be a veteran before the start of a ceremony in memory of those who fought. The tipi depicts battles in which Kiowas participated and lists the names of all Kiowas killed in combat since World War II. Near Anadarko, Oklahoma, 2014. Photo by Nicole Tung.

 

In December 2013 the U.S. Congress charged the National Museum of the American with creating a memorial on its grounds to give all Americans the opportunity “to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans” in our nation’s Armed Forces. “The significance of such a memorial on the National Mall is obvious,” declares museum director Kevin Gover, “and we welcome the opportunity to accord these veterans the honor they have earned. The project will give affirmation to the patriotic contributions of Native American veterans by the federal government as a whole and by the Smithsonian Institution in particular. For these reasons the National Museum of the American Indian will do as good a job on the National Native American Veterans Memorial as it deserves.”

Another key question, then, is why would American Indians serve a nation that suppressed their cultures and took away their own freedoms and homelands? The response by Jeffrey Begay, a Navajo veteran, reflects the sentiments of all Native veterans: “We serve this country because it’s our land. We have a sacred purpose to protect this place.”

For whatever reason, Native Americans not only serve, they do so at a higher rate in proportion to their population than any other ethnic group. They served in high numbers even before the United States passed the American Indian Citizenship Act in 1924: According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, during World War I 10,000 Native Americans served in the Army and 2,000 in the Navy; three out of four were volunteers. 

Choctaw squad upon return from WWI Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture 1919
Left: Choctaw telephone squad, returned from fighting in World War I. Camp Merritt, New Jersey, June 7, 1919. From left: Corporal Solomon B. Louis, Private Mitchell Bobb, Corporal Calvin Wilson, Corporal James Edwards, Private George Davenport, Captain E. H. Horner. Photo by Dr. Joseph K. Dixon. Courtesy Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University. 
Right: Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture, 1919. Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture (Six Nations of the Grand River, 1890–1996) was the first Native Canadian registered nurse. Rejected from Canadian nursing schools because of her Native heritage, she sought training in the United States. In 1917, she volunteered for the U.S. Medical Corps and served in a hospital in France. She was one of 14 Native Canadian women who served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War I. Courtesy John Moses.

World War II witnessed an even more astonishing wave of American Indian patriotism. In fact, had all eligible non-Indian males in the United States enlisted in the same proportion as tribal people, there would have been no need for the Selective Service System. The Department of Defense later reported that, exclusive of officers, 24,521 reservation and 20,000 non-reservation Indians saw military service during the war. Native Hawaiians also responded in overwhelming numbers after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as did Alaska Natives, who were the first ashore on each island that Allied forces occupied during the Aleutian Campaign. All told, ten percent of the country’s American Indian and Alaska Native population of 350,000—including nearly 800 women—saw active duty during World War II. This represented one-third of all able-bodied Indian men from 18 to 50 years of age. In some tribes, the percentage of men in the military reached as high as 70 percent. For their service they earned at least 71 Air Medals, 34 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 51 Silver Stars, 47 Bronze Stars, and 5 Medals of Honor. 


MacArthur with Signal Corpsmen

General Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in the South Pacific, on an inspection trip of American battlefronts, late 1943. From left: Staff Sergeant Virgil Brown (Pima), First Sergeant Virgil F. Howell (Pawnee), Staff Sergeant Alvin J. Vilcan (Chitimacha), General MacArthur, Sergeant Byron L. Tsingine (Diné [Navajo]), Sergeant Larry Dekin (Diné [Navajo]). U.S. Army Signal Corps.


This exemplary record of military service continues to this day. American Indians, both men and women, have served with honor, distinction, and in overwhelming numbers on each of our nation’s battlefields since World War II. Although the United States has given scant heed to their remarkable contribution to our nation’s safety and well-being, Native servicemen and women are among the most honored members of their communities across Indian Country. They are honored for their service by their families and their tribes. They are honored before going into service. They are honored upon their return. Honor songs are composed and sung in their memory. The most visible expression of that honor is at powwows, where veterans are asked to lead the Grand Entry, to carry the tribal and U.S. flags, and to dance.

Native American Women Warriors The Native American Women Warriors lead the grand entry during a powwow in Pueblo, Colorado, June 14, 2014. From left: Sergeant First Class Mitchelene BigMan (Apsáalooke [Crow]/Hidatsa), Sergeant Lisa Marshall (Cheyenne River Sioux), Specialist Krissy Quinones (Apsáalooke [Crow]), and Captain Calley Cloud (Apsáalooke [Crow]), with Tia Cyrus (Apsáalooke [Crow]) behind them. The organization, founded by Mitchelene BigMan in 2012, raises awareness about Native American women veterans and provides support services in health, employment, and education. Photo by Nicole Tung.


Although not all tribes approve of warfare, they all honor their soldiers. For some, especially the Pueblo peoples of the southwest, there is concern about being a soldier and the possibility of taking another human’s life. Nonetheless, as one Hopi leader explained, “The fact that American Indians are fighting for this great country of ours needs to be recognized. We may have been a conquered people, but we were not a defeated people, and our warriors will always rise to the call of battle.” One of those warriors was Private First Class Lori Ann Piestewa, who died in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A member of the Hopi Tribe from Tuba City, Arizona, Private Piestewa is believed to be the first Native American woman to die fighting in our nation’s armed forces.

Another unfortunate distinction for Native American warriors was the death of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, a Cherokee from Roland, Oklahoma. Sergeant Wheeler is the first known U.S. casualty in the fight against ISIS. A member of the Army’s elite Delta Force and the recipient of 11 Bronze Stars during his military career, he died October 22, 2015, while attempting to rescue prisoners near Hawija in Northern Iraq. Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker eloquently stated, “Like so many of our Cherokee warriors, Joshua died serving our great country. We are forever indebted to him for his bravery and willingness to accept the most dangerous missions. Joshua is a true American hero, and we will always honor his life and sacrifices at the Cherokee Nation.”

Veterans at groundbreaking for NMAI

United States senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell, at left in regalia, and Daniel K. Inouye stand with members of the Vietnam Era Veterans Inter-Tribal Association during the groundbreaking ceremonies for the National Museum of the American Indian. Washington, D.C., September 28, 1999. Campbell (Northern Cheyenne, b. 1933), a Korean War veteran, is one of the few American Indians to ever serve in Congress. For his actions during World War II, Inouye (1924–2012) received more than 15 medals and citations, most notably the Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. MARIO TAMA / AFP / Getty Images.


Working together with the National Congress of American Indians and other American Indian groups, the National Museum of the American Indian has begun preliminary plans to construct the National Native American Veterans Memorial in the next five years and has formed an Advisory Committee chaired by Chickasaw Nation Lieutenant Governor Jefferson Keel and former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of the Northern Cheyenne, who affirms: “I am American and I am Indian and I am a vet. I believe I was compelled to serve to honor the warrior tradition which is inherent to most Native American societies—the pillars of strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom.”

In the months ahead, this blog will feature stories from our Native veterans about their service and provide updates on the progress of the memorial project, including the status of the funding goal of $15 million.

—Herman J. Viola
Senior advisor, National Native American Veterans Memorial


Dr. Herman J. Viola is a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. A specialist on the history of the American West, he served as director of the Museum's National Anthropological Archives in addition to organizing the major exhibitions Magnificent Voyagers and Seeds of Change. His many books include 
Warriors in Uniform: The Legacy of American Indian Heroism. Before joining the staff of the Smithsonian, Dr. Viola was an archivist at the National Archives of the United States.

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment