June 16, 2017

Makers + Mentors: Hands-on with leaders of Native fashion

Makers + Mentors
Native artists sharing experiences and their thoughts on design and inspiration. From left: Fashion and textile historian Regan Loggans, fashion designer Patricia Michaels, fashion designer Niio Perkins, fashion designer and multimedia artist Loren Aragon, artist and apparel designer Jared Yazzie, fashion model Jade Willoughby, and editorial hair stylist Amy Farid.

As an intern at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York this summer, I had the pleasure of attending last week’s Makers + Mentors event, a series of workshops and conversations with Native designers, artists, and business owners who make their mark on the world of fashion. The day-long program, inspired by the exhibition Native Fashion Now, on view in New York through September 4, centered around providing guidance and support to young—ages 14 through 24—aspiring designers and artists interested in careers in fashion or design.

At the museum’s welcome and introduction of some of the makers and mentors, I spoke with a few of the young people taking part in the event, asking them what they were most excited to do that day and what inspired them as artists. Two high school students, who told me they are inspired the most by the show Project Runway and the street-wear they see on the sidewalks of the Bronx, are both planning to go to medical school. They emphasized, however, that they want to keep designing, either through a minor in fashion or by dedicating free time to art, even as they pursue careers in medicine. One college student who dreams of one day designing costumes for movies like Beauty and the Beast said that she is constantly assessing the historical accuracy of clothing she sees in films, and that historical fashion is one of her biggest inspirations. I even had a chance to speak quickly with one of the mentors, fashion model Jade Willoughby (Ojibwe). Gesturing to the two younger girls sitting with her at the table, she told me that she is inspired by “the passion of other people in this industry—the passion that drives designers’ dreams into reality.”

Courtney Leonard  Makers + Mentors
Courtney M. Leonard speaking during her Place + Identity materials lab.

Next, I attended Place + Identity, a materials lab led by Courtney M. Leonard (Shinnecock). The lab was located in the Coat Room, or “Camel Room,” of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs house, and the room's ornate air (its ceiling is painted with camels) provided a dynamic contrast to Courtney’s down-to-earth approach to success.

Courtney, a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker, gave us a peek into her creative process, showing us photos of the subway, skyscrapers, and sea creatures—all inspirations to her. I admire her apparent ability to find patterns and structures in nearly anything, and I wish I could be as creatively unafraid as she is with her work. She showed us how she used landscape and location to begin creating a piece of clothing or jewelry, saying that “the landscape that is around us is the culture, the being, and the essence.” She also spoke about her attachment to Long Island’s Shinnecock Nation, and how she used images like the thunderbird from Algonquin mythology to find fresh, unique patterns for her work.

We all then began designing and creating mock-ups of structural jewelry. Courtney encouraged us to start with simple shapes we see around us and find a pattern from there. Here is the set of earrings I created, inspired by the pointed toes of the businesswomen’s shoes I see on the subway every morning, as well as by ballet shoes, and suggesting the shape of a fish. 

Earrings design project
Designing from the shapes around us: A pair of earrings based, in part, on the shoes New York businesswomen wear.

During the lunch break, I spoke with a few girls who are students at a fashion high school in New York. Their style inspirations range from their parents to the clothes of the ‘70s, Ariana Grande, and flower gardens. When asked why she is passionate about design, one student replied that “from a piece of fabric you can create anything—it’s extremely expressive.” Another gave me her perspective on the importance of supporting Native artists, saying that non-Native designers can study Native cultures, but they do not have the same first-hand experience with those cultures that gives Native designers such a unique and powerful artistic perspective, and the authority and knowledge to use aspects of their cultures in a way that does not take advantage of Native communities.

At my next lab, textile designer and performance artist Maria Hupfield (Wasauksing First Nation) taught our group how to sketch and carve out our own rubber stamps, which could be transferred onto fabric to create an ink pattern. I was amazed by the creativity of the people around me—no one in the group had made stamps before, yet most of the students seemed right at home, experimenting with blank space and different materials to stamp on. Maria had a very calm approach to her work and spent most of her time visiting people who seemed to be struggling and reminding them that perfection was not the goal.

I think the lab was so exciting because we were able to create something completely our own that we could transfer onto almost any surface. One girl carved out her name in the rubber and begged her friends to let her stamp it onto their backs. Here’s the moon-shaped stamp I created, and a few patterns I did on leather. I tried to create the effect of a shadow over part of the moon, but I didn’t really achieve this. (Maria very kindly told me it was great.)

My stamps, including the moon. Perfection, Maria reminded us, was not the goal.
Patricia Michaels
Patricia Michaels conducting a tour of the exhibition Native Fashion Now.

I was lucky to attend the tour of Native Fashion Now guided by fashion designer Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo). It’s hard to write briefly about the fascinating collection of pieces she spoke about, but I will say that I was amazed that she knew more than half of the featured designers personally. Patricia stressed that the Native design community is a tight one, and that many of the artists are in constant communication, creating a vital web of support and collaboration that drives their success.

To wrap up the day, fashion and textile historian Regan Loggans moderated a conversational panel discussion. Patricia Michaels, Niio Perkins (Haudenosaunee), Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]), Jade Willoughby (Whitesand First Nation), and editorial hair stylist Amy Farid (Osage) shared their thoughts on Native design, inspiration, and personal responses to struggle. I know it’s a cliché to say that their stories were inspiring, but they truly were. As an English student who sees fashion simply as a side hobby, I found myself considering what impact I might be able to make on the fashion world in the future, and how I could help support the compelling work of Native designers and artists. The panelists especially emphasized that they had to fight to find a place for themselves in an industry that is not kind to newcomers, or outsiders. I wrote down a few of my favorite quotes, and I’ll share them here to wind up this post:

“I think my authentic self is still trying to figure out where I sit in the world.” —Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]), on his personal relationship with the struggle to self-define his work

“Don’t tell me how to be Native. I am Native American. That’s what makes it Native.” —Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), in response to people who say that her designs are not truly Native

“Everything is at our fingertips. We have no excuses that we shouldn’t be where we want to be.” —Patricia Michaels, on the responsibility and empowerment that modern technology gives to contemporary artists

“There’s a story behind what we present. There’s meaning behind what we have in our work.” —Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), on the authenticity of Native design

“I have to stand my ground most days, but this is the work I want to do.” —Jared Yazzie, explaining how he deals with constant criticism

“We’re all human beings. At the end of the day, we fit in everywhere.” —Amy Farid (Osage), in response to the question, Where do Native designers belong in the world of fashion?

“No matter how far you go in life, you will always come back to your people. In this life or the next.” —Jade Willoughby (Whitesand First Nation), on the importance of remembering the place you came from

Thanks for reading! I strongly recommend you check out these designers. Exploring their work really gave me a new perspective on the ever-expanding and changing role of Native fashion in the chaos of today.

—Althea Meer

Althea Meer is an intern with the Office of Public Affairs at the museum in New York. In the fall she'll begin her junior year at New York University, where she's studying English, Spanish, and web programming.

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August 22, 2016

"The heart of what we do." An Interview with Collections Manager Gail Joice

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities, the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility, the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, is home for the museum’s collections. This post, the fourth and final in a series of interviews of staff members who work at the CRC, looks at the career of a collections manager.

Also in this series: Becoming a ConservatorLogisitics and Detail: Museum Registration, and Perspectives on Museum Archives

Please describe your background and why you went into museum work.

My academic career began as a studio art major at the University of Washington in Seattle. After two years, I realized that I objectively couldn’t see myself making a living as an artist. Even within my program, there were so many better artists, and I didn’t have the fire in my belly to really starve for my art! Thinking about other professional options, I realized how interesting I had found my art history courses.

During this time, I held a couple of volunteer positions at museums near the university. The university’s Henry Art Gallery had an archival collection for Northwest artists, which I worked on by interviewing local gallery owners who knew the local artists’ histories well. It was during this work that I began to think about a museum career.

I went on to get my master’s degree in Art History at U. C.-Berkeley. During my undergraduate degree, I developed an interest in Gothic and medieval architecture and decorative arts, which is the topic I pursued in my MA. During this time, I also volunteered with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and took a Berkeley graduate course that involved writing exhibition catalog text for the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, also in San Francisco. Before graduation, I was looking at the College Art Association’s job postings and saw that there was only one medieval art history position in the entire U.S. that year, and it was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nothing against Little Rock, but it just wasn’t for me! It was during this time—while I was also being encouraged to complete Berkeley’s average nine-year PhD—that I realized what an interesting art historical culture existed outside of academia, in museums.

At that point, I was really looking to build a career in the museum field and began by getting an internship. I applied to a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) internship in Washington, D.C., and had an amazing opportunity working with the Museum Program for four months to look at many different museum grants and programs.

When I was on the phone with someone at Berkeley about my NEA internship, she mentioned that the Berkeley University Art Museum had an opening for an assistant registrar. In an amazing case of serendipity, that was my first museum job.

Berkeley’s staff was very small, so their registration department also acted as a collections management department. While I was there, I worked with rights and reproductions, the Asian art collections, storage facilities, condition reports, and object handling. I spent a lot of time working hands-on with the collections, which I found incredibly satisfying.

Why the National Museum of the American Indian? And why Collections Management?

When the head registrar’s position opened up at the Seattle Museum, I applied and ended up staying there for 25 years! There, medieval art began to take a backseat, and I instead became interested in Asian, particularly Japanese, art, which I still love. 

Joice photo
Gail Joice, supervisory collections manager at the National Museum of the American Indian.

In 1991, the museum accessioned an important collection of Northwest Coast Native objects. With this acquisition, we began a lengthy consultation process, where we spoke with Tlingit elders about their traditional knowledge, which I found immensely rewarding and inspiring. Although I wasn’t raised in any traditional ways, I have Cherokee heritage on my mother’s side. I grew up with Miwok–Paiute and Pomo friends in Yosemite National Park, California, where I was born, and one of them, Lucy Parker, is now a famous California basket-maker. This background helped me realize that I wanted to be involved at the very beginning in the opening of the new “Native Place” on the National Mall. It was starting a second career for me, after 25 years at the Seattle Art Museum, and I’m so glad that I did! 

Describe your average workday.
I’ve recently transitioned from working at the museum on the Mall as collections manager to working full time at the CRC as supervisory collections manager. Objects move back and forth between the buildings frequently, and the majority of my hands-on object work at the museum on the Mall took place during exhibition installations or providing gallery object care. At the CRC we are fortunate to have the connection with the people whose ancestors made the objects, with Native artists, with researchers who are working with the collections and young Native people who are considering museum careers as NMAI interns.

What has always drawn me to the CRC is the fact that this place is the heart of what we do. I’m an objects person and I always have been one, but the additional pleasure here is learning from all the constituents that come in. One of my favorite things is working with tribal elders in the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices program.

I’m lucky to have a nice mix. I’m an administrator who supervises two collections managers (at the museums in D.C. and New York) and four collections specialists. I work with the collections, and I also work with colleagues in other departments. My new position at the CRC involves being concerned with the environment of the building, which is critical to collections care. Because of this, I have begun a CRC HVAC working group with staff from conservation, collections, facilities, archives, photo services, and the library communicating about environmental problem-solving in the building.

But, like most other people, I still spend at least 25 percent of my day at a computer!

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

California basketry holds a special place in my heart. As I mentioned, I grew up with Miwok–Paiute and Pomo weavers living in Yosemite. Basket weaving is especially important to me, as it is a woman’s craft, a spiritual activity, and it is very difficult to do! Our aisle of California baskets here at NMAI is one of my favorite places to take tours.




Above: Julia Parker (Kashaya Pomo, Coast Miwok; b. 1929), miniature basket with cover. Julia's daughter Lucy—a renowned basket-maker in her own right—is a childhood friend of Gail's. Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County, California; 2003. Sedge root, willow, glass beads; diam 4.5 cm. (26/2688) NMAI Photo Services
Right: Lucy Parker (Yosemite Paiute, Coast Miwok, Mono Lake Paiute, Kashaya Pomo; b. 1953), work tray. Lee Vining, California; 2003. Willow; diam 62 cm. (26/2687) NMAI Photo Services


Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum professionals?

I really think that getting an internship in a museum is the best advice I can give. Internships get you deeper inside of an institution than you would get through a volunteer position. My internship with the National Endowment for the Arts really kick-started this career, and the same goes for the interns I supervise now. My first intern at NMAI in 2004 is now the director of her tribal museum! I’ve had an intern who is now a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and another who works with her tribal community cultural center. It is inspiring to see the new generation of museum collections professionals develop.

Thank you.

—Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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August 12, 2016

Perspectives on Museum Archives: An Interview with Archives Technician Rachel Menyuk

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities, the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility, the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, is home for the museum’s collections. This post, the third in a series of interviews of staff members who work at the CRC, looks at the career of an archivist.

Also in this series: Becoming a Conservator and Logistics and Detail: Museum Registration.

Describe your background for us. Why did you go into museum archive work?

I sort of got into archival work in a complicated way. Most archivists have a degree in Library Science with a focus on Archival Studies. I actually don’t! I did my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Theatre. After graduating, I went on to New York University (NYU) to get a master’s degree in Performance Studies, which combines anthropology and theatre, particularly the study of theatre history. At NYU I focused on political theatre in indigenous communities in Latin and South America and also on women using performance as a means of social protest.

While I was living in New York and going to school, I needed to find a job, so I went to NYU’s library and asked what kinds of positions they had for graduate students. They turned out to be hiring a graduate assistant in the Tamiment & Wagner Labor Archives. During my interview, I said, “You know, I don't have any archival experiences, but I love libraries!” I later heard that they were so impressed with my enthusiasm, it was the reason that they hired me! I had also previously worked with Jewish organizations, so I had that knowledge base for understanding the collection they wanted me to process.

I ended up loving the work, and I especially loved the research process—getting my hands dirty with the information. That is one of my favorite things about working in archives: You really are able to focus on the research. The head archivist at NYU at the time really took me under her wing, and I gained amazing experience in working with and processing large, organizational records.

Rachel MenyukRachel Menyuk, archive technician at the National Museum of the American Indian.

When I finished my degree in Performance Studies and moved back to the D.C. area, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I began looking at other options at museums. I saw a posting for a three-month contract position processing organizational records at a “museum in D.C.” Though the posting didn’t mention which museum, they were specifically looking for someone who knew how to use Archivist Toolkit, which is a particular database that archivists use. I knew how to use Archivists Toolkit, and I had just spent the last two years processing huge organizational records. It was just luck that the museum ended up being NMAI. I had always loved the National Museum of the American Indian. I had been in D.C. when the museum opened and was taking a class where I got to review the opening exhibitions, and I really loved the museum and its collections.

That was six years ago, and since then I’ve become a permanent federal employee. Our former head archivist, Jennifer O’Neal, also really took me under her wing. I’ve been lucky to have some really great mentors who have continued to inspire me to keep learning about the archival profession, the history of NMAI collections, and the incredible value of working directly with Native communities.

What does your average workday look like?

The average day has changed a lot for me because we’ve hired more staff. Recently I’ve been more focused on processing, which means I'm working with archival collections that have not been organized yet. This is a long process of inventorying, organizing, arranging, and describing materials to produce a guide to each collection that will then go online. That is my main task right now. Once that is done, I also write blog posts about the collections, work with communities to look at digitization of collections, and deal with the transcription center. That is really what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Previously I was working a lot with researchers. Even though we now have someone who is working on that specifically, if someone contacts us about a collection that I know a lot about, I will work on that, which falls under the reference umbrella. I also frequently talk about the Archive Center on tours of the Cultural Resources Center. This summer in particular, I’ve been working really closely with our interns and helping them through their projects.

I do attend meetings sometimes, and the ones that I attend usually have to deal with cross-Smithsonian archival groups. There are 14 archival repositories across the Smithsonian, and we want to put all of these collections together online, which requires standards. I’m really embedded in that world.

So, my day can really encompass a lot of different things.

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

Frank C. Churchill (1850–1912), portrait of E-me-yob-be or Semo (Choctaw), 1901. Tuskahoma, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. Acetate negative, 5 x 7 in. (N27245)

This is such a hard question to answer because it is constantly changing depending on what I’m working on. I can tell you a little about the collection I'm about to start working on, the Churchill Collection. Frank Churchill was an Indian inspector for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He went around visiting Indian boarding schools across the United States between 1899 and 1909, and his wife traveled with him. Together they took thousands of photographs (we have 30-plus albums!), and she, Clara, wrote journals documenting everywhere they went. Their personal perspective is obviously a little off, as they were all about assimilation, but the collection shows a snippet about this part of history that really needs to be remembered and brought to life. Clara was really good about documenting people’s names, so we can add names to faces, which is not always the case. It’s a really important collection that we can hopefully get digitized and give people access to.

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum or archives professionals?

I think it is really important to have some kind of subject interest, in addition to the practical archival skills. It will make it so much easier in the long run if you have a background in something, even if it is as basic as history. With that, there are a lot of dual degrees now. For example, one of our interns, Kelsey, is doing a dual degree in Archives and Art History so she can work specifically with artists’ records. Doing that type of program is helpful because you can’t get boxed into one viewpoint. You get a broader perspective, which helps a lot in the museum world.

Thank you.

—Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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i heard lots of interesting stories through our librarian. The stories of some peoples are the most interesting.

August 05, 2016

"A huge amount of logistical and detail work!" An Interview with Museum Registration Specialist Allison Dixon

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has two public facilities—the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. A third facility—the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland—is home for the museum’s collections. This interview, the second in a series of conversations with staff members who work at the CRC, explores museum registration.

Also in this series: Becoming a Conservator and Perspectives on Museum Archives.

What’s your background? Why did you go into museum work?

I really got interested in this field because I’ve always loved history. My parents had an RV when I was growing up, and we would drive up and down the East Coast during the summers visiting all the historical sites we could. I think those trips really fostered my love for history.

I went on to get my bachelor’s degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington. I thought that sounded more practical than a history degree, although I’m not sure if you can say that any degree in the cultural arts is “practical.” Anyway, I then got my master’s in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins.

Before I came to the museum, I worked as a National Park Service ranger in Maryland and then moved on to being a museum technician for the Park Service, where I managed the collections of the memorials and monuments on the National Mall in D.C. I’ve been at NMAI for a little over two years now. It’s been fun.

Why the National Museum of the American Indian? Why the Office of the Registrar?

I’ve always been really interested in the role of a museum as a place for advocacy. A lot of the times we think about that term as the Civil Rights Museum, the Holocaust Museum—clear centers of social change. I didn’t realize that about NMAI until I got here. This museum was built as a place for advocacy and as a place that would mean something to Native communities, which I really enjoy even though my background is in museum management not Native Studies.

Though my degrees have been more focused on museum education rather than on registration, my work experience has always been in collections management and cultural resource management. This experience built me up towards registration at the Smithsonian. This is the first position I’ve had that was 100 percent registration all the time, as my previous positions were more diverse. But registration had always been a portion of the type of work I’ve done. I really enjoy registration—it’s a huge amount of logistical and detail work. You need the right personality!

What does your average workday look like?

It’s always really different. Right now I’m the registrar for a couple of different exhibits—Nation to NationInfinity of Nations—and I worked with Glittering World until its recent closure. I follow a lot of projects through the approval process, deal with a huge amount of email communications, and there is a lot of “hurry up and wait!”

I also handle “registration problems.” These come up when the objects and the information about them don’t correlate. This is where my professional sleuthing skills come in handy! It may take some time, but we can usually resolve the problem and correct the data.

Other than that, the majority of my job is actually collections inventory. Most years NMAI does a large inventory with a random sample of about 5,400 collections. We do this to make sure that our accountability and tracking systems work. Can we find what we think we have, where we think it is, in the condition we think it’s in? Also this year we are doing a few smaller project inventories to fix the little snafus in the collection. I’m working on this with my intern, Cassandra Kist from the Alberta-Smithsonian Intern Program.

Pomo basket 24:2135
Pomo basket, AD 1900–1930. California. Willow, sedge root, mallard duck feathers, red-winged blackbird feathers, yellow grosbeak feathers, quail feathers, shell beads, cordage. 12 x 3.5 cm. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI. (24/2135)

If you had to pick, what is your favorite object in the collections?

I think my favorite collection is the Pomo baskets from California. They’re so brightly colored, and the weaving and beading is so intricate. There are quail topknots on each basket—feathers from dozens of quails on each one of those baskets. After my final interview here, I was taken around on a tour of the collections, and when we got to those baskets, I was like, “I’m in!”

Could you give a piece of advice to readers who might be aspiring museum professionals?

Do a lot of internships in a lot of different fields. I think a lot of students think they want to be a curator because it’s the only job title they’ve ever heard of. Think about interning in registration, exhibition design, education, collections management, or archives. Apply for any job that you see; it’s a competitive field, and there are always a lot of eager young graduate students. Apply, apply, apply!

And yes, there are paid internships out there! You can make a living doing this work. Last, find someone who knows how to navigate the USAJobs website so you can successfully sift through the application process at the Smithsonian!

Thank you.

-Lillia McEnaney, NMAI

Lillia McEnaney is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology and Religious Studies at Hamilton College; she will graduate in spring 2017. Lillia is a research assistant for Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department, the blog intern for the Council for Museum Anthropology, the webmaster for Art/Place Gallery, a content contributor for Center for Art Law, and an intern for SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone. She is a summer collections management intern at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center.

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August 02, 2016

The Longest Walk 5: Visions

Since 1978, American Indian activists have used protest marches across the United States to call attention to issues of great concern to their nations and communities. This is the last post in a three-part series by April Chee (Navajo) on the Longest Walk 5: Declaring War on Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence. April's first post gives a brief history of the Longest Walk. In the second post, she interviews Dennis Banks, a leader in the American Indian Movement from the beginning, about his goals for activism, in past decades and today. 

LW5 AmigoNonProfitFilmsThe Longest Walk 5 reaches its destination—the Lincoln Memorial, the site of so many important demonstrations for civil rights. July 15, 2016, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of AmigoNonProfitFilms, used with permission.


It has been a little more than two weeks since the Longest Walk 5 made its way into Washington, D.C. Into the nation’s capital, where it is not every day that you see a tipi on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Not every day that you hear the sound of a powwow resonating as tourists capture their photos of the memorial pool, Native supporters showing up in their traditional clothing, adorned with beadwork, turquoise, and feathers, their moccasins tied tight. It is a remarkable sight to experience, in the center of a city where Supreme Court decisions are made, our president addresses the world, and Congress discusses legislation, the words spelled out for all to see from a distance away, “WE ARE STILL HERE.”

Aware or unaware, we are all standing in the midst of history. One day you are simply reading about the American Indian Movement and the lengths protestors took to have Native rights heard, and the next you are in the midst of it all, meeting people who walked that walk in 1978. Thirty-eight years after the original Longest Walk, “We are still here.”

The Longest Walk 5: Calling an End to Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence was not a walk just for Native people. It was a walk for all of humanity, calling attention and asking for action on issues that to some degree affect every single person living in this great nation. Calling attention and asking for action to protect our generations to come, to protect those who are still here, to re-establish that connection to a healthy, positive life. To heal our communities and move forward in a way that benefits not only ourselves, but also our families, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and fellow citizens. This is a call to end the high rate of suicide among our Native youth, to end the statistic that one in three Native women will be the victim of sexual abuse in her lifetime. The Longest Walk 5 did not take the journey across the United States lightly. The people who made the walk carry a burden felt by all of Indian Country.

As part of the walk, people across the country conducted forums and discussions on what can be done to end drug use and domestic violence. By holding on to the healing that comes from spiritual and cultural connections that have long helped Native people survive, we are still here. Surveys were conducted, talking circles were held, and healing was offered to those who needed it most. Like the walk across the country, that journey will be long. 

Longest Walk 2 2016-07-15
Since the American Indian Movement organized the first cross-country journey in 1978, the Longest Walk has called people's attention to treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, the protection of sacred sites and the environment, healing drug abuse and violence against women and children, and other crucially important issues. July 15, 2016, National Mall, Washington, D.C. Photo by April Chee, NMAI.

On July 15, 2016, people arrived at Arlington National Cemetery at 8 in the morning to begin their walk to the Lincoln Memorial. Artist Kid Valance performed a theme song and reflection. A traditional Native American Water Ceremony was conducted, followed by remarks on the movement by members of the Longest Walk 5, Dennis Banks, and allies. Longest Walk 5 members plan to continue to collect data as they did on their journey. They will make this information available to Native nations and communities both to support more funding for resources and to give community members who have first-hand experience with these issues more input into healing.

After a 3,000-mile walk across the United States that spanned a five-month period, the Longest Walk 5 convened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On the steps of a memorial to a U.S. president who gave the word to have 38 Dakota prisoners executed in 1862, members of the Longest Walk 5, an American Indian Movement–led walk, stood to say, “We are still here.” To have survived hundreds of years of wars, termination, removal, and assimilation, Native Americans are still here and still fighting for our people.

—April Chee, NMAI

April Chee (Navajo) is Tábąąhi (Waters Edge Clan) born for Naakaii Dine′é (Mexican People) from Coalmine, New Mexico. April is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and will graduate in fall 2016. She was selected as a Smithsonian intern for the summer of 2016 and is working in the Public Affairs Office of the National Museum of the American Indian.

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