March 27, 2015

Behind the Scenes of "Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America's Past Revealed"—Joya de Cerén

In less than one month, Ceramica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed opens at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. The exhibition is making its New York debut after first appearing at the museum in Washington, D.C. In anticipation of the April 18 opening, the museum is releasing four behind-the-scenes videos about research sites that are the sources of many of the objects in the exhibition. This first video looks at the Joya de Cerén World Heritage Archaeological Site

The village of Joya de Cerén, in what is today el Salvador, was abandoned more than 1,400 years ago, shortly before the eruption of Loma Caldera. Buried under volcanic ash, Joya de Cerén was preserved unusually well. The site has provided clues to the domestic life of the peoples of the area, as well as an excellent overview of early architectural practices. Many of the objects excavated there illuminate social structures as well, pointing to a culture whose people had a high quality of life, with a say in both the authority and trade systems within their communities.


Interested in knowing more about Joya de Cerén? Download the free exhibition catalogue and turn to “Dwelling in the Ancestral Joya de Cerén Village,” beginning on page 23. 

All four exhibition videos can be seen as a playlist here.

—Joshua Stevens

Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed is a collaboration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Joshua Stevens is the Public Affairs specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.

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December 01, 2014

RUMBLE: A Sneak Peek into the Upcoming Music Documentary


Behind the scenes during the production of RUMBLE, Rezolution Pictures films an interview with singer Tony Bennett at his studio in New York.

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World
 a feature-length documentary film about the Native American contribution to popular music, will premiere at Sundance in 2016. Made by Rezolution Pictures—creators of the Peabody Award–winning documentary Reel InjunRUMBLE will tell the story of a profound, essential and, until now, missing chapter in the history of American music. These photos give a look into some of the recent interviews being filmed with music icons talking about who some of their largest Native individual influences are.

Musician and actor Steven Van Zandt at Renegade Studios in New York City.

RUMBLE springs from a partnership between guitarist Stevie Salas (Mescalero Apache) and Tim Johnson (Mohawk), associate director for museum programs at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and New York, while putting together the wildly popular exhibition Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture

Tony Bennett and Catherine Bainbridge, a writer, director, and producer of RUMBLE.

Up Where We Belong—which was on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., from July 1, 2010, to January 2, 2011, and in New York City from August 4, 2012, to August 11, 2013—celebrated the fact that, for nearly a century, Native people have had successful and influential careers in virtually every form of popular music. The exhibition told these musicians' stories and histories and provided visitors the opportunity to hear music and discover artists with whom these exceptional musicians collaborated. Visitors also learned of the musical greats who inspired these artists, as well as the growing number of contemporary performers who follow in their path.  

Tony Bennett on camera for RUMBLE.

“Whether they basked in the limelight or played supporting roles, Native musicians have made an enormous contribution to American music as we know it today,” says Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum. They forged new sounds, worked with some of the greatest names in the music industry and inspired current Native and non-Native performers who continue to build on their legacy, and we are proud to honor them.”

RUMBLE focuses in particular on the last 50 years of this cultural history. In Rezolution Picture's description, "Starting with the birth of rock and roll and following through to the present day pop, RUMBLE will take moviegoers on a personal tour through musical eras and themes, giving them a new understanding of these Native musical pioneers, while showing the history of contemporary music in a whole new light." 


All photos by Tim Johnson (Mohawk), NMAI, taken during interviews for the documentary film RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World

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October 30, 2013

NMAI Launches Its New Native Film & Media Catalog in . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1. . . !

Title page from the new catalog for Atanarjuat/The Fast Runner, directed by Zacharias Kunuk. 

The NMAI Film and Video Center (FVC) is pleased to announce a new resource on the museum’s website. The past forty years have seen the rise of indigenous media worldwide. Film, video, and other media have become arenas both for creative expression and for the exploration of ideas. They have also been used to present the accomplishments of Native communities and people, and the issues they face. 

People page for media maker Marcelina Cardénas.

To make information about indigenous films more widely available, the museum has launched an online Film & Media Catalog—descriptions of more than 1,000 titles by and about indigenous peoples from North, Central, and South America, as well as the Pacific region and the Arctic Circle, all of which have been screened by the museum since 1995 through its Native American Film + Video Festival and other screening programs. The works presented in the catalog include a variety of genres, both fiction and nonfiction, short and feature-length works. The catalog also provides profiles of more than 300 filmmakers and others associated with the films, and key information about the field of Native American and indigenous film and media. With its focus on productions and filmmakers from throughout the Americas, the catalog provides information, whenever possible, in both English and Spanish. 

The catalog is divided into three sections: film descriptions (under the heading Titles); profiles of individual mediamakers (People), and Native media organizations (Organizations). Information in the Titles and People sections is searchable by tribe, country, and region. 

People page for director and producer Chris Eyre.
Pages for individual films include a succinct description, production credits, awards (when available), languages heard in the film, and distributors. Pages for individual filmmakers and actors include biographical profiles and titles of associated films that the museum has shown, with links to additional information. Some profiles also include transcribed interviews. The Organizations section provides contact information and links to international resource lists for organizations active in four areas—Native film and media support, Native film festivals, Native youth media, and Native radio—and to information about film distributors who appear on the Titles pages. 

The Film & Media Catalog is the result of feedback received from users of the FVC’s retired site, Native Networks, and of its printed film and video catalogs, and has been realized through the expert guidance of Native Networks coordinator, Wendy Allen, and the management and development of the museum’s Web Office. Information in the catalog is dynamically generated from the NMAI’s Indigenous Media Online database, originally administered by information services specialist Millie Seubert, now the work of FVC’s database coordinator, Fatima Mahdi. 

We hope you’ll visit the Film & Media Catalog and let us know what you think! 

—Elizabeth Weatherford

Elizabeth Weatherford is the founding director of NMAI’s Film and Video Center and of its Native American Film + Video Festival and Native Cinema Showcase. Since 1979, she has advocated for the development of a strong hemispheric program at NMAI in Native American and Indigenous film by providing a broad range of screenings and by developing an in-depth commitment to providing information services to the public, filmmakers, programmers, and scholars. 

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July 18, 2013

The 2013 Living Earth Festival—Friday, July 19, through Sunday, July 21

LEFestLogo2013The Living Earth Festival, a signature event of the National Museum of the American Indian, will take place this weekend, July 19 through 21. This annual festival celebrates indigenous contributions to environmental sustainability, knowledge, and activism. For a full listing of events, please see the online calendar or downloadable festival brochure. Here are some highlights for visitors of all ages and many different interests.

What activities can families do together? Adults and children in particular are invited to: 

Lisan wins at Santa Fe 2012 cor
Lisan Tiger Blair with the work that won him 1st place in youth sculpture at the 91st Santa Fe Indian Art Market, August 2012; photo by Dana Tiger, courtesy of the artist.
  • Help release lady bugs into the NMAI garden (outside the museum's South Entrance along Maryland Avenue) at 10 AM Friday.
  • Participate in a sculpting workshop led by award-winning young artist Lisan Tiger Blair (Mvskoke Creek) in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center. There are workshops several times each day. Please pick up free timed-entry tickets in advance at the Activity Center.
  • Join Victoria Mitchell (Cherokee Nation) for a pottery demonstration.
  • See amazing beadwork made by Peggy Fontenot (Potawatomi).
  • Enjoy an outdoor cooking demonstration by Patricia Alexander (Pawnee/Creek) or a cheesemaking demonstration by Nancy Coonridge of Pietown, New Mexico.


20100806_01a_eba_ps_002Farmers market and green-chile roasting, NMAI photo.

For organic gardeners, locavores, gourmet cooks, and just plain food-lovers: During the festival, representatives of tribally owned food cooperatives discuss sustainability, and local famers offer produce, meat, and traditional American Indian foods in an outdoor farmers market. The festival begins for foodies Friday morning at 10 AM with the opening of the farmer’s market and a green-chile roasting (both outdoors in the Welcome Plaza throughout the festival). Demonstrations of traditional Native dishes, including venison stew, corn soup, and grape dumplings (outdoors in the Akaloa Firepit), begin Friday at 1 PM and continue all weekend. Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 PM, Native chefs Freddie Bitsoie (Navajo) and Don McClellan (Cherokee) will compete in an Iron Chef-style cook off (outdoors in the Welcome Plaza). 

05_20.23211514_crop Don McClellan crop

Chefs Freddie Bitsoie (Navajo) and Don McClellan (Cherokee); photos courtesy of the chefs.

What would a Native festival be without music and dancing?
Live performances begin Friday at 1 PM with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Drum and Dance Troupe. Hawaiian music and dance by Halau Ho'omau I ka Wai Ola O Hawai'i follows at 2 PM, and at 3:30, traditional Marimba music by Pequeña Marimba Internacional. 

Saturday afternoon singer and violinist Quetzal Guerrero (noon), contemporary Six Nations rocker Shawnee Talbot, aka She KIng (12:30 PM), and the LA fusion band Ozomatli (2 PM) join the roster of performers. Saturday evening at 5 PM, the three groups will present a longer concert as part of the museum's series Indian Summer Showcase. All music and dance performances take place in the air-conditioned Potomac Atrium.


Quetzal Guerrero miniShe King mini   


Clockwise from upper left: Quetzal Guerrero; photo courtesy of the artist. She King; photo courtesy of the artist.Ozomatl; photo copyright 2012 Christian Lantry.

Are you looking for a Friday evening program? The film series Dinner and a Movie offers cuisine from our Zagat-rated Mitsitam Café, available for purchase from 5 to 6:30 PM, followed by the movie Watershed, showing from 7 to 8:30 PM in the museum's Rasmuson Theater. Watershed highlights people who live and work in the Colorado River Basin, including Jeff Ehlert, a fly fishing guide in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Navajo Council member Glojean Todacheene. These people convey their new water ethic by sharing stories that answer the question, How do we balance the competing interests of cities, agriculture, recreation, wildlife, and indigenous communities all with rights to water? 

The Colorado River from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; photo by Michael Quinn, National Park Service.

At the heart of the festival each year is the Living Earth Symposium. For 2013, the symposium presents Tribal ecoAmbassadors Saturday July 20, from 2:30 to 4 PM, join us in the Rasmuson Theater to hear Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists, tribal college and university professors, and Native students describe how Native communities and individuals are developing innovative and locally relevant solutions to protect the environment and public health. Presenters include EcoAmbassadors from the Navajo Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation who will address grassroots efforts to reduce carbon on their reservations and provide housing in their local communities.

EcoAmbassador David Stone sharp
ecoAmbassador David Stone and students from Tohono O’odham Community College take a break on a bench made entirely on carbon-negative materials; photo courtesy of the EPA.

The symposium and several other events throughout the weekend will be webcast live on the museum's website. A complete schedule of webcasts from the festival, as well as events on the webcast calendar for later this summer, is available in a separate blog post.

All programs and activities are free and open to the public. As noted above, free timed-entry tickets to the sculpting workshop with Lisan Tiger Blair are avaiable in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center; it might be wise to begin your visit there. Indian Summer Showcase concerts are always very popular and Saturday's promises to be no exception. Seating in the Potomac Atrium is first come, first served. 

We hope to see you here!

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI

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I like the work of Shawnee SheKing, Lynn Talbot (Mirror me, This is me etc). I was trying to see if there was a connection in her work with Aboriginal music. It would be great to live close enough to visit the Living Earth Festival to see such energy and creativity. Living in Australia makes it difficult. I enjoy Rap and Hip Hop and I found one of Shawnee's creations sung in that genre. That such energy and creative minds are also involved in protecting the environment, not just here but also in other countries makes me have hope for humankind. I enjoyed reading about the activities planned, with a big sigh at not being able to be there..

In reply to my own comment I listened to Shawnee SheKing singing "She is King" (rap type). I hear drumming connections with Shawnee drumming and the Mohawk drums I have found on the Internet and the sounds made by Iriquois water drums. Of course this could be entirely in my own head. I also loved the haunting sounds of the Mohawk flute music from the smoke dance.

The music was AMAZING! Especially Ozomatl. I was lucky enough to see their first show back in 1995. I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore. Working on training my voice so I can do something similar like Ozomatl.

@William have you heard of a native american band called Apu?

I recently watched them whilst they were on tour of the UK the music they create is fantastic!

Many thanks

I must say - THIS WAS GREAT!
the world is so small, i watched them too on their uk tour!

really amazing and interesting!

Nice work! Keep going!

keep up the good work guys.... amazing....

The music was AMAZING! Especially Ozomatl. I was lucky enough to see their first show back in 1995. I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore. Working on training my voice so I can do something similar like Ozomatl.

I recently watched them whilst they were on tour of the UK the music they create is fantastic!

Many thanks

I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore.

Great guys! Keep on working :)

Amazing work! Keep going

really it is very interesting and amazing.thank you and good luck

good work keep it up.

Thank You for Sharing Valuable Information.i like this blog and this is very informative.

Really it is a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

The music was AMAZING! Especially Ozomatl. I was lucky enough to see their first show back in 1995. I collect water drums- have 4 amazing ones and 1 that I am working to restore.

June 27, 2013

The Toughest Movie Indian

By Paul Chaat Smith

NMAI Associate Curator Paul Chaat Smith was the guest of Washington Post features writer Dan Zak at a press screening for the new movie The Lone Ranger. For Paul's thoughts on the experience, see Dan's excellent essay on American Indians and movies today, "Depp’s Tonto: an upgrade on a stereotype or just an updated stereotype?"

Last year when the studio released the first publicity photos promoting the film, Paul mused at greater length on the portrayal of the fictional Indian character Tonto. The essay below originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Native Peoples

On March 8, 2012, Johnny Depp passed the audition.

That's when producer Jerry Bruckheimer released the first still from his forthcoming movie The Lone Ranger. Android phones lit up across Turtle Island as we stared at the glowing screens and prepared to render judgment.

By lucky coincidence or shrewd planning, it was International Women's Day.

This is what we saw: Johnny Depp as Tonto, wearing angry face paint and a matching glare that said, "I am probably going to kill you." Also, on his head, a bird. Average size, black. A raven, most likely. Tonto wearing the bird like a hat.

And this is what we thought, in rapid succession: outrageous, shocking, wait, is that a bird?, and okay, pretty fabulous.

Jay Silverheels
Jay Silverheels at the Indian Actors Workshop, Echo Park, California, 1969. In addition to his work in film and on television, Silverheels cofounded the workshop to promote American Indian talent in Hollywood. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild. 

Now that Depp (Cherokee?) has the part, and the tentative approval of Indians of America, where does he go from here? The expectations, already sky high by virtue of its being Johnny Depp, are suddenly raised by this genius move of turning a bird into a hat and looking ferocious instead of friendly.

There is a lot at stake. For Hollywood, the usual fortunes to be made or lost, careers rejuvenated or derailed. For the Red Nation, any big movie that involves Indians in any way whatsoever, no matter how major or minor, is important. This one is very important, because an A-list movie star is playing a Native American, and also because last year we got scammed out of appearing in the title of Cowboys & Aliens. Which wasn't that good, and anyway it bombed; however the bombing had implications, namely, further proof that Westerns are dead, and since Westerns often involve Indians, even if they are not always featured in the title, fewer Westerns mean fewer Indians. In fact, The Lone Ranger has already been declared dead at least twice, and it was only because Depp really, really wanted to play Tonto that it came back to life.

As Entertainment Weekly reported, "When the idea came up to do a new movie, Depp saw a way to right what he considered a pop culture wrong. 'I started thinking about Tonto and what could be done in my own small way to . . . ' he hesitated. '"Eliminate" isn't possible—but reinvent the relationship, to attempt to take some of the ugliness thrown on the Native Americans, not only inThe Lone Ranger, but the way Indians were treated throughout history of cinema, and turn it on its head.'"

So that's what Johnny Depp wants from Tonto. What do we want from Johnny Depp? And why do we care so much? Because it leads to questions like this: Is Johnny Depp Native American? How much, and what kind? Hey, and what tribe was Tonto anyway?

Nobody knows. Not really. After all, these are cartoon characters and movie stars, and facts are elastic and mostly irrelevant when it comes to movies and cartoons (although Depp has reportedly said that he has Cherokee heritage).

More importantly: Here's the thing about Tonto. We don't like him! Because he was a quisling and a sellout. Couldn't manage complete sentences. Yet here's the puzzle. Although I've never met an Indian who admired Tonto, I've also never met anyone who had an unkind word for the actor who played him on television. That was Jay Silverheels, the toughest and coolest movie Indian of them all.

In the best Hollywood tradition, he was born somebody else and with another name. Harold J. Smith, from Six Nations, a geographically small but politically vast Indian reserve in Ontario. Everyone who knew Harold J. Smith always believed he was destined for stardom. He was smart, handsome, and the son of a Mohawk chief. He worked hard in school, earned money at every odd job he could find, and excelled in sports. He toured professionally with a lacrosse team and won championships in ice hockey and wrestling. (That's how you got ahead back in the 20th century.) His boxing landed him at New York's Madison Square Garden, where he placed second in the Golden Gloves Tournament.

In 1938 the lacrosse team visited California, and Smith stayed and discovered a new sport. The bit roles where he played characters without names came first, and those turned into bigger roles with names and lines and credits. He was Jay Silverheels now, or sometimes Jay Silversmith. Ten years later he was in Arizona, shooting Broken Arrow with James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, and Debra Paget, when his agent phoned.

Of course he said yes. He said he would be honored to play opposite Clayton Moore in the new television series. The Lone Ranger had been huge on radio and in the comics for years, and if there were any sure things in this new medium called television, this was. It was the best part out there, and Jay Silverheels had figured out the camera the same way he figured out the lacrosse stick and the hockey puck. Talent and commitment and dedication to craft had won Jay Silverheels the role of a lifetime. With that answer Harold J. Smith began a new life as the first Indian superstar of the modern age.

Tonto was a joke, a famous punch line. But Silverheels became a Red Nation hero. What a thing to pull off! He managed this impossible kabuki dance with extraordinary grace and intelligence. Asked to speak some of the most demeaning lines ever committed to script, he somehow managed through superior acting skills, the use of his powerful voice, and sheer star power and presence to achieve equality with the Lone Ranger.

Yet as impressive as this achievement is, didn't it at the same time simply validate the manifest-destiny sensibility of that series and other Westerns of the time? Was Jay Silverheels a double agent who slyly raised questions that undermined those values? Or did his abilities advance the destructive policies of the day? Was he a secret hero or a charming, handsome sellout? What was the emotional cost of achieving the ultimate goal of your profession knowing that your work must cause embarrassment to those you love? Did any of it matter, or was it just show business? Was he a symbol of racial pride, demonstrating that Indians were still here and able to hold their own on the biggest show on the planet's newest technology? Stooge or patriot?

I think Jay Silverheels, dead since 1980, wants us to be asking these questions.

Silverheels is still on the air today, on DVDs, and all the Interwebs, and will probably be around after we're gone and those things have new names. A century has passed since his birth. We're still watching him, and I'm pretty sure he's still watching us watch Johnny Depp. 



Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche) is a writer and curator interested in the contemporary landscape of American Indian politics and culture. His work at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian includes the museum’s history gallery, Our Peoples; performance artist James Luna’s Emendatio (2005 Venice Biennial); Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian (2008–2009); and Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort (2009). With Robert Warrior, Paul is the author of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (New Press, 1996), a standard text in Native studies and American history. His latest book is Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong (University of Minnesota, 2009). Photo by Cynthia Frankenburg, NMAI. 

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My Name is Lori Hurt,my Great-Grandmother was Maude Tocsi Chaat. Was just wondering who you folks were. Thank You.

I hope a native american will run for president! I'd work on the campaign free!