April 03, 2015

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

In just a few weeks, 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 second video looks at El Panteoncito, an archaeological site located in El Salvador. 

El Panteoncito is one of several sites in the Cordillera del Bálsamo Project surveyed by Marlon Escamilla, an archaeologist with the School of Anthropology at the Technological University of El Salvador. In this video, National Geographic Society archaeologist and anthropologist Fabio Amador explains the geographic and social significance of El Panteoncito, uncovered in part by Escamilla’s research.

El Panteoncito sits high in the mountains. Living there would have been very difficult, but the site would also have provided its inhabitants with a strong defensive posture. From El Panteoncito, views are practically unimpeded in all directions, offering advance warning when the community needed to protect itself.

One unique aspect of the site is that it affords scholars the opportunity to learn what foodstuffs the inhabitants grew and consumed. Researchers have determined that many of these food practices have been carried forward to people who live in the area today. The site also serves as a place to study the history of the last migration of peoples in the region before contact with the Spaniards. 

  

 

To learn much more about the first peoples of what is now El Salvador and the sites where they lived, download the free exhibition catalogue

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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April 01, 2015

This Day in the Maya Calendar: April 2015

Cholq'ij, the Maya sacred ceremonial calendar of 260 days—a cycle of 20 Day deities and 13 numbers—is the basis of the Maya spirituality that survives to this time, practiced daily among millions of Maya people, in thousands of communities. The interpretation of the days can vary from one Maya people to another. The interpretations given here are based on sustained conversations and participation over three decades with Maya Q'eqchi calendar priest Roderico Teni and daykeeping families in the area of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, by Jose Barreiro (Taíno), head of NMAI’s Office of Latin America, and his wife, Katsi Cook (Mohawk). Glyphs representing the Day lords appear throughout Maya Country; these were painted by Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya) of Cobán.

For more background to this series, please see Jose's introduction, "Living in the Practice." For further insight into the role of the Day lords in everyday life, please see the Maya Journal. For the complete year so far, please see the Maya calendar archive.

Illustrations: Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya), calendar glyphs. Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala; 2003. Paint on wood. Purchased from the artist. 26/2685. Photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI 

1 Tz'ikin  |  Saturday, April 25, 2015

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 1 is a the beginning. Tz'ikin carries messages between the Heart of Earth and Heart of Sky. Cold, heat, light, air, cloud are its elements. Love, intuition, precognition are strong in those born on this day. Tz'ikin is a good day for humans to follow birds to the corn—to find good material luck. This is a good day to ask for revelation and intelligence, for vision, and for abundance; a good day to ask for collaboration in projects or for personal freedom. On this day, women have the privilege to ask for their husbands and sons to triple the family money. —Jose Barreiro 

13 I'x  |  Friday, April 24, 2015 

262685_I'xCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 13 is the highest turbulence. I'x is woman's energy day. This is a day to connect with your own land and to pray for its original owners; to pray for and appreciate your house; to pray for the finances to buy and sustain land; to ask for fertility in humans and animals; to request vigor and strength for reproductive organs, particularly female. I'x is a good day to pray to the mountains in favor of the land. It is a good day for a woman to request strength in her husband's commitment to matrimonial stability. People born on I'x have a close relationship to el Mundo and receive good access to precious metals. I'x is a good day for solitude and meditation. —J. B. 

12 Aj  |  Thursday, April 23, 2015 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 12 is the highest balance. Aj begins the women's cycle, sentiments of family and home, the spinal cord. Aj is life and receives life. This is a day of resurgence and renewal, as in the reed and the corn; a day for the triumph of good over evil, life over death; a day of happiness, renewal of food, money, the heart of life. People born on this day renew their communities; they are sickly as children and sturdy as adults; they are especially lucky; they are good awakeners of their families and communities; they make good midwives. Aj is a good day to ask for clarity of destiny, a good day to pray for the protection of your life and of the newborn, a good day to pray for twins, a good day to pray for humanity. —J. B. 

11 Eh  |  Wednesday, April 22, 2015 

262685_EhCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 11 is high turbulence. Eh can orient individuals, groups, or communities to their destiny. Eh is the day to ask for protection from dangers and obstructions during travels—specifically, that on your road the attention of thieves or highway police or border inspectors will be deviated from your trajectory. Solitude is in Eh, light rain, kindness, alignment. People born on this day can be good counselors, spiritual guides with the gift of prayer to Ajaw (Creator) on the destiny of things. Also, good dentists are born on this day. Eh is one of the four pillars of the 20 days, a Yearbearer—a strong, especially sacred day. A prayer started in Batz can be carried by Eh through the full cycle of 20 days. —J. B.  

10 Batz  |  Tuesday, April 21, 2015

262685_BatzCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Batz. Batz is Monkey; 10 is a high balance. Monkey braid, monkey fingers, monkey tail, Batz is the grasp of the monkey's hand so tight and braided the fist will not let go, even in death. Batz is a good day for beginnings, and for some Maya daykeepers, Batz begins the 20-day calendar. Batz is unity, a good day to tie things together, a good day for a marriage or to start a construction, a good day for initiation into the ways. Batz is the thread of time that rolls out from under the earth, weaving life until cut, weaving time into history. People born on Batz are calm and self-confident; they make good spiritual guides and leaders, and goodhearted architects. —J. B. 

9 Tzi  |  Monday, April 20, 2015 

6a01156f5f4ba1970b019b04c65ab2970d-200wiCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Tzi. Tzi is the Canine, the guardian; 9 is a triple rotor. Dog, Wolf, Coyote, Tzi can be snarly, terrifying the unprepared with his bark and his bite. Tzi people are zealous to guard the sacredness of ceremony, to identify and punish "intruders," those not disciplined to participate. Benevolent to friends and fierce to enemies, Tzi is steady to reward or punish. Tzi will punish those who disrespect the Days and the spirit of the family. This is a good day to ask for mystic insight for leaders so that they can seek and discover hidden things, so that they can be just. Tzi has strong sexual energy, hard to restrain. When this energy is defined, people born on Tzi make loyal friends, husbands, and wives. —J. B. 

8 Toj  |  Sunday, April 19, 2015

262685_TojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Toj. Toj is the mystic Fish—the tear of jade and drops of rain, water falling; 8 is a double balance. Toj is a day of making even, a good day to pay spiritual and financial debts and to collect what you are owed. This is a day of evenness for a family, a good day for parents to pay the family's debt to el Mundo, good for the oldest son to appreciate the father and the father to appreciate the mountain. Illness can be deviated from the family by making a ceremonial offering on this day. —Jose Barreiro 

7 Anil  |  Saturday, April 18, 2015

262685_AnilCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Anil. Anil is the fertility in the seed, Anil is Rabbit; 7 is a pivotal number. Anil is red, white, yellow, black—the four colors of corn, the seed of life that is the unity of the world. Anil is renewal after death, regeneration of the earth. Anil people are four-directions people and can be good travelers. This is a day of coming back, a day to generate and appreciate abundance, a day of declaring love to create a new relationship, a day to announce the wish to do business, a day of finding lost things, a day to ask for help in overcoming shyness. —J. B. 

6 Kiej  |  Friday, April 17, 2015 

262685_KiejCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Kiej. Kiej is the Deer; 6 is a middle, even number. Kiej is the four directions, four hoofs striking the earth at once, the quaternity of the cosmos linked to prayer, highest aviso to el Mundo—the living world. Kiej is the staff of authority, keen energy of a chief to detect danger, perception of the leader buck, his horns. Kiej is a good day to pray for mental and physical agility, a day of agile travelers and good communicators. It is a day also to ask for clarity before gossip and ill intentions. A major gift of nature, Kiej holds indefatigable energy. He is one of the four main carriers of time. —J. B. 

5 Kame  |  Thursday, April 16, 2015 

262685_KameCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Kame. Kame is the Owl and the recognition of death; 5 is one hand. A day that recalls the night, tranquility, and silence, Kame is a good day to ask for the ancient and recent ancestors who have gone on, to thank them, and to remember them with purpose. This is an appropriate day to extend reconciliation, to feel and give forgiveness, to develop patience, to invoke against mortal illnesses, to access superior knowledge. Without fear, it is a good day to approach the spiritual dimension, "the enchantment." —J. B.

4 Kan  |  Wednesday, April 15, 2015 

262685_KanCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Kan. Kan is the Snake; 4 is a balance. Kan is the ancient origin—Gucumatz, the Plumed Serpent. This is a day of strict and impartial justice, a day of definition and maturity, and a good day to offer respect and to thank the corn. On Kan, matters of justice, judges, and courts can be cleared up. This is a good day to pray that truth and justice are manifest in the Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; a good day to put aside jealousies and request equilibrium in life and in the family. It is a day to ask for physical strength and patience, to contemplate our spiritual evolution, and to rekindle the internal fire. —J. B. 

3 Kat  |  Tuesday, April 14, 2015

262685_Kat

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Kat. Kat is Spider, also Web and Fire; 3 is a rotor. On Kat the unity of the people is paramount, and knowledge is deepened. Kat is the network of the sacred heart, the family hearth. Today is a good day to pray for your family fireplace, the spirit of the fire that belongs in the home, the one that calls other spirits to ceremony and speaks for them. Kat is the net that hauls in the fish and the net that holds the ears of corn, a day that can bring the fruition of things and the untangling of complications. This is a good day to help free prisoners from captivity, to request vigor and power for the weak. —J. B. 

2 Aqbal  |  Monday, April 13, 2015

262685_AqbalCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Aqbal. Aqbal is the Dawn, also Bat; 2 is duality. Aqbal is clarity, the separation of darkness and light as the Sun disperses the fog and obscurity of night. This is a good day to ask for a peaceful and happy daybreak, a day to find hidden and lost things, a day to wash away tears of sadness. On Aqbal, the sacred fire is recognized and appreciated. Aqbal is a good day to clean the ashes (renew the heart) of a fireplace and to present a new baby to el Mundo. A potential bride or groom can be revealed on this day. Harvesting of corn can begin on this day. People born on Aqbal relate in the present and are a special link between past and future. They are early risers, good workers, tranquil and kind, strong before an enemy, good researchers and finders of hidden things, often called "the candle of the home." —J. B. 

1 Iq  |  Sunday, April 12, 2015

262685_IqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Iq. Iq is Wind, also Moon; 1 is the beginning. Wind is powerful, violent, driven of itself, identity. A day of strong emotion, Iq is also a healing day. Good wind is nutritional for human minds; it is the mystic breath and vital inspiration of nature. On Iq, a breeze or wind that splits against your face is a blessing and a cleansing to purge your head and body of illness. Respiratory ills are prayed over on this day. This is a good day to appreciate all of Creation. The Day lord Iq is one of the four Yearbearers, or mams, a creator who helped finish the world and put breath (essence) in human beings. People born on Iq are inclined toward spiritual ways and can impulsively tap into cosmic sources. —J. B.

13 Imox  |  Saturday, April 11, 2015

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 13 is the highest turbulence. Imox is the very force of gravity and a good day to pray for creativity and for rain. Imox can open el Mundo to receive cosmic messages. Known as a "crazy" day, Imox requires much concentration and control. A day of high male intelligence, also impatience and agitation, Imox can be difficult. Grounded on its left side, left arm, this day is easily unbalanced and in need of clasping by left and right hands. Imox can be good if held in the balance of the Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth; unattended, Imox can manifest imbalance, mental nervousness, and even death. People born on Imox are open and sincere, but indecisive—in need of ceremony to set the positive to override the negative. —J. B. 

12 Ajpu  |  Friday, April 10, 2015

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 12 is the highest balance. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —J. B. 

11 Kawoq  |  Thursday, April 9, 2015

262685_KawoqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 11 is high turbulence. Kawoq is a high woman day—a day of duality in all of nature and a guardian of contentment. It is the day of woman and man, lightning and thunder, fecundity and imagination; a day of midwives; a day of prayer for unity within the home, strength within the family, renewed strength for convalescents, and the smoothing of all irritation. This is a good day to turn bad medicine back on itself. Kawoq attends to young women in pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and to full realization for all women; it is a day of their sash. Kawoq is also a good day to commemorate the Staff of Authority, a good day for the men of a family and community to pray for the coffers (good fortune) of the women and for the protection of the home. Good midwives, writers, and architects are born on this day. —J. B. 

10 Tijax  |  Wednesday, April 8, 2015

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 10 is a high balance. Tijax is a day of doctors, good to pray for surgeons and all medical practitioners; a day of sacrifice and liberation from suffering; a day of sharp, cutting objects, of knives and scalpels and scissors. Tijax is a safeguard for domestic animals against predators, a good day to pray for all animals that are sacrificed, both in ceremony and in everyday life. Tijax is a good day to use metal (a machete, scissors) to "open the sky"—to solicit rain, solicit life, split black clouds. Gossip, calumny, and sorcery, on money and sexual matters, can be overcome on this day; on a high-number day, disputes can turn public and become debilitating. Tijax is a good day for seasoned masters to fortify daykeeping trainees against ridicule by envious countrymen or evangelicos. It is not a good day to plant. —J. B.

9 Noj  | Tuesday, April 7, 2015

262685_NojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Noj. Noj is Woodpecker; 9 is a triple rotor. Noj is a woman's highest intelligence. Maya knowledge and wisdom live in this day—good science to support positive deeds, good projects, good business, a good home. On Noj good ideas are available through the intelligence connected to the movement of the earth. Boys born on this day have important female qualities and can be attentive to the knowledge of nature, which rules all. Girls born on this day can be clear leaders. This is a good day to hear advice and make decisions, a good day to feed the mind, recognize curiosity, and strengthen memory. Noj is one of the four Yearbearers. —J. B. 

8 Ajmac  |  Monday, April 6, 2015 

262685_AjmacCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Ajmac. Ajmac is Bee, also Vulture; 8 is a double balance. On Ajmac ancestor spirits can detect and smooth the thread of time in our lives. Prudence, intelligence, ancient wisdom are in this day. This is a day to plead forgiveness for serious faults and to be judged. It is a day that demands moral rectitude, respect, and sincere analysis. On this day our faults (stains) must be faced and paid for; humble request for pity is encouraged. Ajmac is a propitious day for the women of a household to make peace with one another after conflict, to apologize for sharp words; it is a good day to pray for smooth relationships and the renewal of agreements among women. Hard luck can face those born on Ajmac. —J. B. 

7 Tz'ikin  |  Sunday, April 5, 2015

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 7 is a pivotal number. Tz'ikin carries messages between the Heart of Earth and Heart of Sky. Cold, heat, light, air, cloud are its elements. Love, intuition, precognition are strong in those born on this day. Tz'ikin is a good day for humans to follow birds to the corn—to find good material luck. This is a good day to ask for revelation and intelligence, for vision, and for abundance; a good day to ask for collaboration in projects or for personal freedom. On this day, women have the privilege to ask for their husbands and sons to triple the family money. —J. B.

6 I'x  |  Saturday, April 4, 2015 

262685_I'xCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 6 is a middle, even number. I'x is woman's energy day. This is a day to connect with your own land and to pray for its original owners; to pray for and appreciate your house; to pray for the finances to buy and sustain land; to ask for fertility in humans and animals; to request vigor and strength for reproductive organs, particularly female. I'x is a good day to pray to the mountains in favor of the land. It is a good day for a woman to request strength in her husband's commitment to matrimonial stability. People born on I'x have a close relationship to el Mundo and receive good access to precious metals. I'x is a good day for solitude and meditation. —J. B.

5 Aj  |  Friday, April 3, 2015 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 5 is one hand. Aj begins the women's cycle, sentiments of family and home, the spinal cord. Aj is life and receives life. This is a day of resurgence and renewal, as in the reed and the corn; a day for the triumph of good over evil, life over death; a day of happiness, renewal of food, money, the heart of life. People born on this day renew their communities; they are sickly as children and sturdy as adults; they are especially lucky; they are good awakeners of their families and communities; they make good midwives. Aj is a good day to ask for clarity of destiny, a good day to pray for the protection of your life and of the newborn, a good day to pray for twins, a good day to pray for humanity. —J. B.

4 Eh  |  Thursday, April 2, 2015 

262685_EhCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 4 is a balance. Eh can orient individuals, groups, or communities to their destiny. Eh is the day to ask for protection from dangers and obstructions during travels—specifically, that on your road the attention of thieves or highway police or border inspectors will be deviated from your trajectory. Solitude is in Eh, light rain, kindness, alignment. People born on this day can be good counselors, spiritual guides with the gift of prayer to Ajaw (Creator) on the destiny of things. Also, good dentists are born on this day. Eh is one of the four pillars of the 20 days, a Yearbearer—a strong, especially sacred day. A prayer started in Batz can be carried by Eh through the full cycle of 20 days. —J. B.  

3 Batz  |  Wednesday, April 1, 2015

262685_BatzCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Batz. Batz is Monkey; 3 is a rotor. Monkey braid, monkey fingers, monkey tail, Batz is the grasp of the monkey's hand so tight and braided the fist will not let go, even in death. Batz is a good day for beginnings, and for some Maya daykeepers, Batz begins the 20-day calendar. Batz is unity, a good day to tie things together, a good day for a marriage or to start a construction, a good day for initiation into the ways. Batz is the thread of time that rolls out from under the earth, weaving life until cut, weaving time into history. People born on Batz are calm and self-confident; they make good spiritual guides and leaders, and goodhearted architects. —J. B. 

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March 31, 2015

Three Women, Three Artists, Three Paths toward One Goal: To Keep Their Culture Alive

To celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, March 8, the National Museum of the American Indian hosted the public program Native Women Artists: Creativity & Continuity. Visitors had the opportunity to meet three unique Native women artists and hear their stories.Delores Elizabeth Churchill (Haida), Pat Courtney Gold (Warm Springs Wasco), and Ronni-Leigh Goeman (Onondaga) discussed their explorations and journeys as indigenous artists, while also demonstrating their artistry. The more everyone talked, the more I realized how much I have to learn about Native culture. From Alaska to New York, weaving is not just a talent, but it is also a way of passing culture and history to generations to come. 

Pat Courtney Gold 2015

Born and raised on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, Pat Courtney Gold (right) does traditional Wasco weaving. She has traveled nationwide to learn Wasco basketry and to be able to pass along the culture. Pat explained a thought-provoking story behind the three colors she has placed on the bottom of her baskets since 2011. “The red, white, and blue base honors the young men and women in the presidents’ war,” said Ms. Gold, referring to Iraq and Afghanistan. She has been doing weaving this into her work since 9/11. “Fourteen years later, and I am still doing it. I thought it would last only a couple years but it didn’t,” she told me, while remembering the young adults she knows and who left her hometown to fight. 

Ronni-Leigh Goeman (below) can take months to go from the idea and concept to making one of her amazing baskets. Growing up on the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) in upstate New York, she began making baskets at a young age, captivated by the art of weaving. Each of her baskets has a special meaning, inspired by nature, her culture, and the traditions of her people. Her baskets are made of black ash trees and a mix of moose hair, porcupine quills, and sweet grass. 

 Ronni-Leigh Goeman 2015

“I would never kill a moose to get their hair! People know I work with it, so when they hunt they just throw them in my backyard,” Ms. Goeman assured me.

Her husband, StoneHorse Goeman (Seneca), is the artist behind the little sculptures on the top of each basket. He has created artworks in partnership with her for almost twenty years.  

Delores Churchill 2015Delores Elizabeth Churchill (right) is one of those people you can be around without anyone saying a word and feel good. Who needs words if you have this amazing talent! Ms. Churchill's passion for her basketry is vibrant in her eyes. I could sit and watch her weaving for hours. That is what I did (for a couple hours, anyway). In a few words, she explained the story behind the hat in the picture, recovered from a retreating glacier in northern Canada. The “spruce root hat was found with Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, also known as the Long Ago Person Found.” Delores Churchill is the subject of the documentary Tracing Roots, which portrays her search to understand the history and cultural context of the hat.  

I was stunned to see small children in some way interested in the artists' art and the meaning of it. It must be the passion they have that intensifies and attract young kids. If only one of those kids went home and started weaving something, anything, I am sure these artists would be happy to see that their goal was reached. 

—Claudia Lima, NMAI

Claudia Lima is an intern in the museum’s Office of Public Affairs.

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March 30, 2015

Humanity and Complexity: "The Navajo Times" previews "Diné Spotlight"

The Navajo Times published an excellent review by Alysa Landry of "Dine Spotlight: A Showcase of Navajo Film," a public program at the museum in New York April 9 and 11. Subscribers can read the original article online. For nonsubscribers, the Navajo Times has generously given the museum permission to reprint Ms. Landry's review.

 

Humanity and Complexity: ‘Diné Spotlight’ to show accurate picture of what it really means to be Native

By Alysa Landry

NEW YORK CITY – When it comes to movies, much can be said about aspect ratios and picture quality, but regardless of a movie screen’s height and width, the picture itself is still flat.

That’s especially true when it comes to most mainstream films about American Indians, according to Angelo Baca, a Navajo filmmaker and graduate student at New York University.

The National Museum of the American Indian is trying to change that with a two-day fi lm screening featuring two full-length films and 17 shorts.

The free event, “Diné Spotlight: A Showcase of Navajo Film,” runs April 9 and 11 at the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York. A total of 14 Navajo filmmakers will have their work shown, with topics ranging from love stories to science fiction to the gritty, hard-hitting stories of modern life on the reservation.

The combination, Baca said, should leave spectators with a more accurate picture of what it means to be Native.

“These films bring complexity and dimension to an otherwise one-dimensional and conflated representation of Native Americans,” Baca said. “They cover a wide range of things that people don’t necessarily associate with Native Americans. They show how much humanity and complexity we have as people.”

Baca, who is pursuing a doctorate degree in anthropology, will moderate a discussion held after the screenings. He believes the event will help bust stereotypes – especially for an audience at the museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

“A lot of museum-goers are expecting a certain kind of film,” he said. “Navajo filmmakers are doing great work and breaking expectations, breaking a lot of rules. They are going beyond the stereotype that Indians belong in documentaries or behind glass.”

DrunktownsFinestFinal-1200x520
In this scene from Sydney Freeland's feature-length film "Drunktown's Finest," a rebellious Navajo man clashes with his Army recruiter. (Courtesy photo, Smithsonian Institution) 

Diné Spotlight opens April 9 with a screening of Sydney Freeland’s acclaimed film, “Drunktown’s Finest.” It continues April 11 with a series of short films, followed by the New York premiere of “Chasing the Light,” by Blackhorse Lowe. Both feature-length filmmakers will participate in discussions after their movies play.

Organizers are expecting a crowd of 250 or more, said Cynthia Benitez, film and video center programmer for the museum. The screening coincides with the ongoing “Glittering World” exhibit, which showcases the jewelry of the Yazzie family of Gallup, N.M.

The two events together allow the museum to shine a spotlight on the Navajo Nation and encourage conversation about its modern culture, Benitez said. The museum is also bringing some of the filmmakers to the exhibit, offering visitors the unique opportunity to “meet the people behind the objects.”

“You can’t tell these stories through artifacts,” she said. “When you have contemporary films, it gives us another educational aspect to offer visitors who don’t realize that the Navajo are not just turquoise jewelry or ancient people. With films and filmmakers here, people can ask them questions directly.”

The films selected explore themes that resonate with the Navajo people – and with humanity as a whole, Benitez said. That includes the struggles of a transgender woman in Freeland’s film, Drunktown’s Finest,” and suicide and drug addiction in Lowe’s film, “Chasing the Light.”

The films represent a natural progression from traditional storytelling, said Freeland, who grew up on the reservation and went to film school because she wanted to tell stories.

“You have all the traditional art forms – painting, weaving, pottery, silversmithing – that are all forms of storytelling,” she said. “Filmmaking combines all the other art forms into one. It’s another form of storytelling.”

Although gritty and sometimes controversial, “Drunktown’s Finest” shatters stereotypes and presents three-dimensional characters, Freeland said.

“I wanted to tell a story about the people and places I knew and give them a chance to be represented on screen,” she said. “I wanted to show how a reservation is a diverse and dynamic place. It was about giving people a chance to be heard and seen on screen, as they are, as human beings with flaws.”

When filming “Chasing the Light,” Lowe wanted to capture “everyday life for the 21st century Navajo man.”

“It’s just the usual Navajo type of living,” he said. “It’s just straight-up reality. It’s depression, heartache, drugs, friends. And it’s a comedy because all the funniest things are always the darkest thing ever.”

“Chasing the Light” is Lowe’s second feature-length film. He’s also showing a short film during the screening.

The6thWorld
Nanobah Becker's film "The 6th World," in which Navajo astronauts journey to Mars, is part of "Diné Spotlight: A Showcase of Navajo Film." (Courtesy photo, Smithsonian Institution)

The showcase will include 16 additional short films shown in two sessions. Nanobah Becker will show three of her shorts, including a music video starring Navajo ballet dancer Jock Soto and a science fiction film about Navajo people on Mars. She’s looking forward to showing her films to a New York audience.

“In a city like New York, the exposure of Native films and Navajo culture is very limited,” she said. “It’s like the end of a journey to be able to show something to an audience and to feel like you’ve affected people in a certain way.”

With 14 filmmakers’ work showing in New York and countless others making films on the reservation, Becker believes the Navajo people are establishing a cinematic record that is unique to the tribe.

“We are creating our national cinema, just like any other country,” she said “We have radio and print, but this is the next frontier. We’re contributing to something bigger.”

Other filmmakers use existing footage to explore history. Shonie de la Rosa’s film “Yellow Dust” uses archived film footage of nuclear testing and traditional stories to compare two kinds of yellow powder: uranium and corn pollen.

The film took off in Europe long before it gained popularity in the United States, de la Rosa said. Although it’s more than a decade old, he’s pleased it’s making an appearance in New York.

“It’s a short film, it’s experimental,” he said. “It’s kind of something I just threw together, but it’s taken on a journey of its own.”

Another theme apparent in some of the films is future possibilities, said Teresa Montoya, a moderator for the screening and a doctoral student in anthropology at New York University. Several of the filmmakers use their medium to explore “forward-facing” ideas, including Becker’s film about a Navajo space program.

“It’s powerful to use creation stories to not just think about the past, but also the future,” Montoya said. “I think visual production gives Navajo the opportunity to write and dictate their own histories.” Baca calls this phenomenon “visual sovereignty.”

“We’re pushing all the boundaries in terms of making independent films,” he said. “This emerges as cultural and visual sovereignty. Everyone who does these projects does it all on their own, from beginning to end. Making film is an act of sovereignty.”

The other filmmakers whose work is included in the screening are Klee Benally, Princess Benally, Christi Bertelsen, Christopher Cegielski, Sarah del Seronde, Melissa Henry, Daniel Edward Hyde, Bennie Klain,Velma Kee Craig and Donavan Seschillie.

For more information on Diné Spotlight: A Showcase of Navajo Film, visit http://nmai.si.edu/explore/film-media or call 212-514-3737.

© 2015 Navajo Times. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Navajo Times

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March 27, 2015

Meet Native America: Robert James Super, Vice-Chairman of the Karuk Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 

Kaurk Tribal Council
Members of the Karuk Tribal Council, 2014–2015. From left to right: Vice-Chairman Robert Super, Secretary/Treasurer Joseph Waddell, Elsa Goodwin (Happy Camp), Arch Super (Yreka), Chairman Russell Attebery, Sonny Davis (Yreka), Joshua Saxon (Orleans), Alvis Johnson (Happy Camp), and Renee Stauffer (Orleans). Photo courtesy of the Karuk Tribe.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Robert James Super, Karuk tribal vice-chairman.

Can you share your Native name with us?

Super comes from Supahan, which means "bringer of the morning star." My ancestor was a medicine man for our tribe, so he prayed to bring good days for our people. The non-Natives shortened it to Super.

Where is the Karuk Tribe located? 

Our main office is in Happy Camp, California.

Where are the Karuk people originally from?

Our aboriginal land is in Siskiyou and Humboldt counties, California, and a little piece of Oregon. We have stayed in our aboriginal territory. 

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

We signed a treaty in the mid-1800s. It was not ratified, but the U.S. government and the State of California still took our land. 

How is your tribal government set up?

Our Tribal Council is comprised of nine members elected by our tribal membership. We have a chairman, vice-chairman, secretary/treasurer, and six members-at-large who represent our three districts. 

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

We have boards and committees that interested tribal members are selected to sit on. Those bodies represent the membership and tribe throughout the organization.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We have staggered four-year terms for each position on the Tribal Council.

How often does your council meet?

Our Tribal Council meets twice a month in meetings that are open to tribal members and twice a month for closed planning sessions.

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

I learned our culture when I was a teen. I also served on boards and committees throughout my life to help our people. I am 53 years old now, so I am more prepared to represent several different topics related to our people.

What responsibility do you have as a tribal leader?

To make the best decisions for our membership.  

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My cousin and his wife, Fred and Elizabeth Case. She was our medicine woman for our ceremonies.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

We originally had different villages on the Klamath River. We all met up when things needed to be prayed for and to observe ceremonies. Each family had head family members, so we are all descended from those leaders. 

Approximately how many people are in your tribe?

There are 3,723 enrolled members in the Karuk Tribe.

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

A person must be one-eighth degree of Karuk blood to be considered for enrollment.

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

We have approximately ten recorded fluent speakers of our language. We also have a language program to preserve and teach Karuk.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

We have two smoke shops, storage facilities, and soon will be embarking into gaming.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

We sponsor a Karuk Tribal Reunion every summer, several youth sports throughout the year, and several community projects, including fundraising, hardship funding, and youth events.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Karuk Tribe is located along the scenic Klamath River, which is known for its hunting and fishing. We also have the annual Karuk Tribal Reunion and the Karuk People’s Center—a museum, library, and cultural center—as well as our lands. 

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

Learn all the cultural activities to teach our future. 

Thank you.

Yootva—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. 

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