March 24, 2016

Searching Heye and Low for Museum Documentation

In the 100 years since the founding of the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation (MAI), many of the connections between archival records and objects in the museum’s collections—now the cornerstone of the National Museum of the American Indian—have been lost. The museum has been plagued with a reputation for having little information about our amazing collections. Some critics blamed George Heye, the original collector, and his purported lack of interest in recordkeeping and suggested that whatever documentation once existed was discarded. Over the last several years, however, the museum's staff has been working to correct this problem. A project has been underway since 2010 to reunite archival records with museum objects and ultimately restore their connections to the individuals who made, used, collected, or sold them. As you’ll see below, it has been wildly successful.

In 1999, ten years after the National Museum of the American Indian was created as part of the Smithsonian, the MAI paper records were transferred to the museum's Cultural Resources Center. After the transfer, it took the Archive Center until 2011 to complete processing those records. An earlier post by the Archive Center staff describes that project. When it was finished, the MAI records comprised more than 600 boxes of reorganized material, including correspondence, collector and registration department files, expedition reports, and financial records.

The reorganization of the MAI's archival records provided the museum's Collections Research and Documentation Department with a new opportunity. In the past, research on the collections began with an object and a search through the archives for documentation related to it. This very frequently led to dead ends, especially when people researched objects purchased for the collections. Take, for example, the Seminole coat pictured below. Its original catalog card typifies the limited information recorded for MAI purchases: The card gives no names of sellers or previous owners and no dates of manufacture or sale. And without names or dates, there were seldom any clues about where to start looking in the archives to find documentation about such objects. 

204884 Seminole Coat
Above: Seminole man's coat, ca. 1930. Florida. Cotton cloth, thread. NMAI 20/4884. Below: The coat's catalog card.

204884.700x700

 

The current project uses the opposite strategy: Instead of beginning with objects, we review the newly organized records box by box and match them with objects, photos, films, and other items in the collections. Based on this work, it has become very apparent that the long held belief that NMAI collections were poorly documented is false.

By piecing together bits of information and through plenty of detective work, we are reconstructing how George Heye and the Museum of the American Indian acquired the collections. We have uncovered connections between long-neglected documentation and objects, as well as additional details about objects whose documentation was known but incomplete.

Let's look again at the Seminole coat: In MAI correspondence, we found the letter below from Deaconess Harriet Bedell (1875–1969), an Episcopal missionary teacher who worked with the Seminole people of South Florida from 1933 to 1961, to MAI curator William Stiles. In the letter, which is dated January 19, 1942, Deaconess Bedell states that she is sending a councilman’s coat worn by “Ingram Billy”—Ingraham Billie (1895–1983), a traditional Miccosukee Seminole religious and community leader. 

1942.0103 Correspondence in chronological order
Letter from Deaconess Harriet Bedell to Museum of the American Indian curator William Stiles. NMAI.AC.001 Box 11.2

 

In a different box from the letter, we found a receipt for the MAI's purchase of the coat from Bedell. Based on the date and description, the documents seem to match a Seminole coat in our collection catalogued in the 1940s (catalog number 20/4884).

In her letter Bedell also mentions sending photographs. Searching in our database for photographs associated with Bedell, we found a photo of Ingraham Billie wearing this very coat, confirming the match between the documentation and the object. 

P15356 ingram billie
Ingraham Billie (Miccosukee Seminole Nation) wearing the coat 20/4884. Deaconess Harriet M. Bedell photographs, NMAI.AC.037 P15356

 

Although museum catalog records identified Deaconess Bedell as the donor of the photograph, there had never been a clear connection between her and the coat or between the coat and its original owner, Ingraham Billie. Now we not only know how and when the museum obtained this coat, but we have restored a meaningful connection to the Seminole leader who wore it.

This project has greatly changed our perception of the museum's collections and blown a hole in the longstanding belief that they are largely undocumented. In retrospect, the separation of documentation from the objects and other items they represent was more likely a result of the passage of time and evolving museum standards, rather than any lack of interest in recordkeeping on George Heye’s part. To ensure that the connections we're making now are not lost again, the project includes digitizing the relevant archival material and adding it to the collections information database so that it is accessible and can easily be shared.

The newly reconstructed story of Ingraham Billie, his coat, and Deaconess Bedell is just one of thousands of connections made by the project in its first five years. To date, more than 75 percent of the object collections and 40 percent of the photo collections have now been linked to related archival documentation. Not every document we find provides us with as much detail as we might like—it may only consist of a seller’s name and a date—but gaining even the slightest clue about an object’s origin gives us a starting point for research we may not have had before.

As part of our centenary celebration, this month we have added photographs from the Deaconess Harriet Bedell collection to the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive (SOVA). You can now view featured photographs from Deaconess Bedell's collection online.

Check back next month for another blog on museum history!

—Maria Galban, NMAI 

On May 11, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York will host the gala evening Legacies of Learning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of George Gustav Heye's extraordinary collection as the Museum of the American Indian and to toast the museum's century of contributions to scholarship and cultural understanding. For more information about the gala and how it supports the museum's educational mission, or to read about the recipients of the 2016 NMAI Awards who will be honored that night, visit Legacies of Learning on the museum’s website.

Maria Galban is a research specialist on the Collections and Research Documentation staff at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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Very happy to see the progress being made. Do you have any information concerning George Heye's agents' purchase of a large collection from Dr. John McGregor of Waterdown, Ontario, CANADA in 1916?

March 23, 2016

Meet Native America: Clarena M. Brockie, Dean of Students at Aaniiih Nakoda College and Former Member of the Montana House of Representatives

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 

Dean Clarena Brockie
Clarena M. Brockie, Dean of Students at Aaniiih Nakoda College and former member of the Montana House of Representatives.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Clarena M. Brockie. I am Dean of Students at Aaniiih Nakoda College and a former representative in the Montana State Legislature. My Indian name is Watsi, which means Plume. I come from the Frozen Clan and the Fast Travelers Clan. 

What tribes are you affiliated with? 

I am an enrolled member of the Aaniiih Nin (also known as Gros Ventre) of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Montana, where the Nakoda (Assiniboine) also reside. 

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

I'd like to talk about three significant points in our history. The first is the Grinnell Agreement of 1895: In 1888, by executive order, the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation was established for the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes. (Earlier treaties of 1851 and 1855 created a much bigger territory.) Around the same time, two trespassing miners discovered gold in the Little Rocky Mountains, within the southern boundary of the reservation. In the 1890s, the tribes were pressured to sell the area where gold was discovered and to accept a price of $360,000. That was the Grinnell Agreement; there is a notch called the Grinnell Notch where the land was carved out. The mining of this area produced billions of dollars. The tribes were later paid for the value of the land in the 1890s and the interest made off of that value. Oral history tells that the Indian agent took the funds for taking care of the tribes. 

By the 1990s, the Little Rocky Mountains were the site of the second largest "leach-pit" mine in the world. Extraction ceased 20 years ago, but the area continues to be monitored for the devastating effect the mine has had on the environment and the health of the people, and for the damage it has caused to sacred sites. 

The second point in history is the Winters Doctrine: The Supreme Court's decision in Winters vs. United States (1908) established Indian Reserved Water Rights for all tribes. This case originated from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. In essence the land was worthless without the proper amounts of water to sustain the reservation, which was established to encourage communal living and to promote farming. 

The third is the idea of Vanishing Indians: In the late 1800s, forced to live on the reservation with limited hunting, many of our tribal members died, especially the young and old. No more buffalo, no way of building buffalo-hide lodges, those lodges that did exist were full of holes. Many people slept on the ground and froze to death. Many starved. By 1905, the Aaniiih (Gros Ventre) tribe had dwindled down to fewer than 500 members. This is from an estimate of 15,000 members before the establishment of the reservation. Al Kroeber, an anthropologist, visited Fort Belknap in 1908 to collect what he could from the Aaniiih to insure the history was intact. On Kroeber's heels came Clark Wissler, collecting what he could on the Aaniiih. One evening during this time, a Gros Ventre chief told the people, “We are going to rebuild our tribe. Those of you of marrying age, by nightfall I want all of you to select your mate.” No one would refuse an offer of marriage. This was so true of many tribes who just fell off the face of earth. Today the enrolled membership of the reservation is approximately 7,000; the Aaniiih make up a little more than half of that population and the Nakoda a little less than half. 

How is your state government set up? 

The government of Montana has legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Within the legislature, there are 100 representatives and 50 senators. Elected offices within the executive and legislative branches have term limits. 

How are leaders of the legislature chosen? 

Representatives and senators who want to serve in leadership will let others know they are seeking this position, or members will be asked if they would like to be in a leadership position, especially those members demonstrating particular skills and abilities. 

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state? Do people vote along party lines? 

Republicans control both the Montana Senate and House, although the governor is a Democrat. Voting within the legislature is along party lines. Certain issues, however, receive support from both parties. In some cases, Republican House members are divided on certain issues. 

Are there any other Native Americans who are elected leaders in your state? 

Montana has nine Native members of the legislature, more than any other state. 

 

Sen Windy Boy, Rep Brockie & Rep Whitford

Montana State Senator Jonathan Windy Boy (Chippewa Cree), Representative Brockie, and Representative Lea Whitford (Blackfeet) at the Capitol in Helena, Montana. 


How many tribes live in your state? 

Montana is home to 10 federally recognized tribes—Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Cree, Crow, Gros Ventre, Salish, Kootenai, and Sioux—and one state-recognized tribe—Little Shell. 

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state? 

Although I currently am not a representative, I continue to meet with the Montana and Wyoming tribal leaders and with people at tribal colleges and public schools located on reservations. I am particularly interested in hearing about people's experiences with issues such as education, land, jurisdiction, voting, buffalo and bison management, water rights, domestic violence, and childcare. 

Do Native people in Montana vote in state elections? 

Yes, we do, especially when Native Americans run for the legislature in Montana. The voter turnout is better in a presidential election year. Montana Native Americans are mostly Democrats. We have a Native American running for a seat on Congress, Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe, who is currently the Montana superintendent of Public Instruction, which is also an elected position.

How often does your state congress meet? 

The Montana State Legislature meets at the State Capitol every other year. However, members continue to work through special committee meetings or studies. 

What responsibilities did you have as a state representative? 

I represented two tribes as well as the many farmers, ranchers, businessmen, and schools of House District 32. I sat on the Education, State Government, and Local Government committees. Following the session in Helena, I sat on the State Tribal Relations Committee. I was also appointed by the governor to serve on several state committees. Most recently I was asked if I would be interested in serving on the State Probations and Parole Board. I served as the mistress of ceremonies for the State Tribal Relations Committee in 2013 and was the keynote speaker for the State Conference on Violence against Indian Women that same year.  

What is a significant point in Montana state history that you would like to share? 

In 1992, an enrolled Gros Ventre tribal member, Loren "Bum" Stiffarm, decided to run in the Democratic primary for representative of Montana’s House District 32. The incumbent was Francis Bardanouve, who by then had been elected to the seat through 15 consecutive campaigns and had served 34 consecutive years. Rep. Bardanouve won the election in 1992 as well, by a large margin, but the outcome was nevertheless fascinating: Mr. Bardanouve garnered 81 percent of the votes off the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Mr. Stiffarm also garnered 81 percent of the votes—on the reservation. Eligible white voters clearly outnumbered eligible Indian voters in the district. Lawsuits were filed to create new boundaries for the legislative districts in Montana that would even out the number of eligible white and Indian voters. This gave Native Americans in Montana an opportunity to engage in the legislative affairs in the state. 

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

I have worked for over 40 years. I have an associate degree in Health Administration and worked for the federal government over nine years. I was also a federal women’s program representative and EEO officer for the Indian Health Service. I was the youngest boss in the Rocky Mountain Region, working as both acting service unit director and administrative officer. I worked for the Fort Belknap Indian Community as the director of vocational education (15 years) and in-kind director for women’s educational equity. During that time I was selected for a Presidential Classroom for Young Americans, an Outstanding Young Women of America, and 1988 Montana Indian Educator of the Year. I also traveled to Norway as a chaperon for the Norwegian Student Exchange Program.

I was originally recruited by Fort Belknap College—now Aaniiih Nakoda College—to get the radio station up and running, including supervising the station's construction. KGVA 88.1 FM went "on air" in October 1996. I worked in Institutional Development writing grants for the college until I was appointed Secretary–Treasurer in November 1997. In November 2000 I was hired as the Dean of Students. In 2012 I ran for House District 32 and was sworn in to the Montana House of Representatives in January 2013. 

I have a bachelor’s degree in Business, with a minor in Native American Studies, and a master’s degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona. I am a rancher and live near the Little Rocky Mountains, close to my children and grandchildren. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I come from a traditional family, and I would have to say my family. My grandmothers who kept us close to our traditions through oral stories, rituals, such as berry picking, picking roots, and taught us what Aaniiih we know. My grandfather for his leadership and stories. And my parents, who taught me and my brothers and sisters wonderful values and traditions. We continue to participate in our traditions and ceremonies and pass on those stories to our children. 

Are you a descendant of a historical Leader? 

My grandfather, Clarence Brockie, died in 1949. He was the tribal chairman for over 18 years. My father, who will be 87 this year, was on the tribal council for 12 years. 

Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native American? 

There are 9,338 total constituents of Montana House District 32; 6160 or 66 percent are Native American. 

Rep. Brockie at work
Dean Brockie at work as a member of the Montana House of Representatives.

How have you used your elected position to help Natives and other minorities? 

I sponsored a bill to change the tuition waiver so that it would recognize students from all federally and state-recognized tribes in Montana. Prior to that a student had to be at least one-quarter blood quantum. It is the sovereign right of tribes to determine their enrollment. I didn’t ask that the enrollment be increased or decreased, just that the waiver ought to be available to all students who were federally or state-enrolled. I co-sponsored and carried to passage a Native American language bill that received funding of two million dollars. I co-sponsored a bill that names a portion of Highway 2 after a deputy who was shot in the line of duty and who was also a student at Aaniiih Nakoda College. I tried to testify on all bills that benefited the communities I represented and I testified against those that were detrimental to our communities. I paid for two pages to participate during the legislature. I continue to support voting rights of Native Americans. 

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

I work at a tribal college and am already impressed with the leadership of the young people in community. Two students at Aaniiih Nakoda College took a hiatus to work on a Meth Prevention Project and have attracted the attention of Montana tribal leaders and Senator John Tester. My message to young people would be that they take care of themselves spiritually, physically, and mentally. And I want them to know that there is always someone who will help them along the way. Life presents many opportunities and challenges, but with the right direction they can accomplish a lot. 

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

On the day that Governor Steven Bullock was sworn in, in January 2013 (legislators were sworn in just a few days before), I sat in a special section of seating for tribal leaders at the base of the steps leading to the State Capitol Building. I was with my son Andrew Werk, who was on the Fort Belknap Tribal Council at that time. An honor song was sung by a man from the Salish and Kootenai tribes. You could hear the song's echo sitting in the valley of the mountains. I never felt that I didn’t belong there, and I thought, “Finally we are taking our place in history. How proud our ancestors must be.” 

Thank you.  

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Montana State Legislature, used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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March 10, 2016

Highlighting the women artists in “Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains”

Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains” opens this Saturday, March 12, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. Alongside historic masterworks, the exhibition showcases 50 new pieces by contemporary Native artists. Sixteen contemporary artists are represented, three of whom are women. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are taking a closer look at one work by each of these women that will be featured in the exhibition. 

Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux) is skilled at both bead- and quillwork. After learning how to bead simple belts at the young age of 10, she now enjoys creating beautiful pieces based upon abstract and realistic designs focused on nature, mythology, and daily life.

Growing Thunder Fogarty created Doll with Honor Dress in collaboration with her brother, Darryl Growing Thunder. Darryl drew the horses while Juanita made the doll and completed the bead- and quillwork. Darryl is also a featured artist in the exhibition. 

Juanita_Growing_Thunder_Fogarty 26-7725

Above: Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty. Right: Doll with Honor Dress, 2009. Made by Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux, b. 1969) and Darryl Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux, b. 1967). Hide, muslin, porcupine quills, beads, ribbon, brass thimbles, brass spots, paint, horsehair. NMAI 26/7725

 

Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa/Pima) has been quoted as saying, “I don't like the title 'artist.' I look at myself and see myself as just a traditional woman.” She is well known as a regalia maker, clothing designer, cradleboard maker, and bead artist. These skills bring her recognition as a keeper of Kiowa culture.

According to Jennings, in her culture it is not proper for men to brag about war deeds, so the women dress up to tell the stories and honor the men. Jennings created this battle dress in a style similar to those worn by women related to members of the Ton-Kon-Ga, or the Kiowa Black Leggings Society.

Vanessa_Jennings

26-5646_detailAbove: Vanessa Jennnings. Right: Kiowa battle dress (detail), ca. 2000. Made by Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa/Pima, b. 1952). Rainbow selvage red and blue wool; hide; imitation elk teeth (bone); brass sequins; brass bells; military patches; ribbons; thread; dyed tooling leather; German silver conchos, spots, and buckle. NMAI 26/5646

 

Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree) is recognized for the passion she brings to revitalizing her people’s cultural arts and merging them with new methods during her creation process. She began with creating beadwork and tribal regalia and has since moved to quillwork, ledger drawings, parfleche, and fashion.

Plains narrative art is known historically as a predominantly male art form focused on hunting and battles. Giago’s ledger art, however, depicts women, children, families, and courtship. In this particular piece, she shows the day she and her husband, who is Oglala Lakota, ceremonially adopted a relative’s daughter.

Lauren_Giago 26-9023

Above: Lauren Good Day Giago. Right: Making of Relatives, 2012. Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree, b. 1987). Antique ledger paper, colored pencil, graphite, ink, felt-tipped marker. NMAI 26/9023

 


These three women are demonstrating their people’s culture through amazing artworks. Join the conversation throughout Women’s History Month by telling us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page about amazing indigenous women in your life and what makes them so special using the hashtag #WomenAre.

—Shanice Jarmon, NMAI


Shanice Jarmon is a social media specialist in the National Museum of the American Indian’s Office of Public Affairs.

Portraits courtesy of the artists; object photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI.

Unbound: Plains Narrative Art will be on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York from March 12 to December 4, 2016.

Curated by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota), with historic works from the museum's collections by 14 artists. The 11 who are known by name are Long Soldier (Lakota/Nakota), Mountain Chief (Blackfeet), Bear’s Heart (Southern Cheyenne), Zo-tom (Kiowa), Black Chicken (Yanktonai), Canté-wani′ća/No Heart (Yanktonai), Chief Washakie (Shoshone), Spotted Tail (Crow), Old Buffalo (Lakota/Nakota), Rain in ihe Face (Lakota), and Ćehu′pa/Jaw (Hunkpapa Lakota).

Works commissioned by the museum for Unbound are by Dr. Ronald Burgess (Comanche), Sherman Chaddlesone (Kiowa), David Dragonfly (Pikuni), Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree), Darryl Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux), Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux),Terrance Guardipee (Blackfeet), Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa/Pima), Dallin Maybee (Arapaho), Chester Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow]), Chris Pappan (Kaw Nation/Osage/Cheyenne River Sioux), Joe Pulliam (Lakota), Martin E. Red Bear (Oglala Lakota), Norman Frank Sheridan (Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho), Dwayne Wilcox (Oglala/Lakota), Jim Yellowhawk (Cheyenne River Lakota).

Generous support for the project is provided by Ameriprise Financial. 

#UnboundNarratives

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March 09, 2016

"Unbound" opening in New York March 12: Artists in the gallery will talk about their work

Saturday, March 12, five contemporary artists will be on hand at the National Museum of the American Indian's Heye Center in New York for the opening of Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains

In celebration of Women's History Month, the museum presents Crossing Lines: Women and Ledger Art. Traditionally ledger art is most frequently associated with men, but many women are outstanding artists in the Plains narrative style. Meet three women who use the art form to tell their own unique stories. Starting around 11 a.m., Unbound artists Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree) and Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux) will be available in the exhibition gallery to talk about their work. In the Heye Center's Great Hall, up-and-coming ledger artist Wakeah Jhane (Comanche/Blackfeet/Kiowa) will demonstrate ledger drawing.


Emil Her Many Horses and Lauren Good Day GiagoCurator Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota) and artist Lauren Good Day Giago, preparing Lauren's piece Honoring Grandpa Blue Bird to go on exhibit in Unbound. Lauren created the painted dress to honor her grandfather's military service.


The women artists will be joined in the gallery by two fellow Unbound artists—Dallin Maybee (Northern Arapaho/Seneca) and Chris Pappan (Kaw/Osage/Cheyenne River Lakota).

Brief biographies  of Lauren Good Day Giago, Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty, Dallin Maybee, Chris Pappan, and the other contemporary artists whose works will be on view in Unbound are available in the exhibition's online media kit. To read more about Wakeah Jhane, visit her website.


Unbound: Plains Narrative Art will be on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York from March 12 to December 4, 2016.

Unbound  is curated by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota), with historic works from the museum's collections by 14 artists. The 11 who are known by name are Long Soldier (Lakota/Nakota), Mountain Chief (Blackfeet), Bear’s Heart (Southern Cheyenne), Zo-tom (Kiowa), Black Chicken (Yanktonai), Canté-wani′ća/No Heart (Yanktonai), Chief Washakie (Shoshone), Spotted Tail (Crow), Old Buffalo (Lakota/Nakota), Rain in the Face (Lakota), and Ćehu′pa/Jaw (Hunkpapa Lakota).

Works commissioned by the museum for Unbound are by Dr. Ronald Burgess (Comanche), Sherman Chaddlesone (Kiowa), David Dragonfly (Pikuni), Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree), Darryl Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux), Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux),Terrance Guardipee (Blackfeet), Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa/Pima), Dallin Maybee (Arapaho), Chester Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow]), Chris Pappan (Kaw Nation/Osage/Cheyenne River Sioux), Joe Pulliam (Lakota), Martin E. Red Bear (Oglala Lakota), Norman Frank Sheridan (Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho), Dwayne Wilcox (Oglala/Lakota), Jim Yellowhawk (Cheyenne River Lakota).

Generous support for the project is provided by Ameriprise Financial. 

#UnboundNarratives

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March 04, 2016

Meet Native America: Kevin T. Hart, Manitoba Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations

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 

Kevin Hart
Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin T. Hart, Assembly of First Nations, Canada.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Kevin T. Hart. I am the Manitoba Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations of Canada. 

What First Nation are you affiliated with? 

The Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Treaty 5. I grew up on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. I presently reside on my wife’s community, the Sagkeeng First Nation, which is a signatory to Treaty 1. 

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

The vision of the elders from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation to move the community to a higher ground. The elders foresaw that the flood Manitoba Hydro did to the northern region in the 1960s would completely devastate the lands of my people. 

How is your provincial government set up? 

The provincial government is set up like the Iroquois Confederacy. All of the Canadian legislatures and the parliament are built upon the same government system. 

How are ministers chosen? 

Ministers are chosen by their leaders provincially and federally. 

Is there a political party that is more dominant than others in your province? Do legislators vote along party lines?

The NPD (New Democratic Party) is dominant in the province. The Liberal Party is the dominant party federally. Historically, Native people have been loyal to the NDP, but there are other Native candidates running as members of the other political parties. 

Are there other Natives who are elected leaders in your province?

Yes, there are a number of elected leaders in the province: Grand Chief Derek Nepinak for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs; Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Terrance Nelson; Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North–WilsonAmanda Lathlin, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for The Pas; Kevin Chief, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Point Douglas; Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg; Deputy Premier of Manitoba and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs the Honorable Eric Robison; and Robert Falcon-Ouellette, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre. 

How many bands are in your province? Who are they?

Manitoba has 63 First Nations. Most are signatories to Treaties 1 through 5

Barren Lands First Nation
Berens River First Nation
Birdtail Sioux First Nation
Black River First Nation
Bloodvein First Nation
Brokenhead Ojibway Nation
Buffalo Point First Nation
Bunibonibee
Chemawawin Cree Nation
Cross Lake Band of Indians
Dakota Tipi First Nation
Dauphin River First Nation
Ebb And Flow First Nation
Fisher River Cree Nation
Fox Lake Cree Nation
Gamblers First Nation
Garden Hill First Nation
God's Lake First Nation
Hollow Water First Nation
Keeseekoowenin Ojibway Nation
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation
Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation
Lake Manitoba First Nation
Lake St. Martin First Nation
Little Grand Rapids First Nation
Little Saskatchewan First Nation
Long Plain First Nation
Manto Sipi Cree Nation
Marcel Colomb First Nation
Mathias Colomb First Nation
Misipawistik Cree Nation
Mosakahiken Cree Nation
Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation
Northlands Denesuline First Nation
Norway House Cree Nation
O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation
Okawamithikani First Nation
Opaskwayak Cree Nation
O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation
Pauingassi First Nation
Peguis First Nation
Canupawakpa
Pinaymootang First Nation
Pine Creek Anishinabe Nation
Poplar River First Nation
Red Sucker Lake First Nation
Rolling River Anishinabe Nation
Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation
Sandy Bay First Nation
Sagkeeng First Nation
Sapotaweyak Cree Nation
Sayisi Dene First Nation
Shamattawa First Nation
Skownan First Nation
St. Theresa Point First Nation
Swan Lake First Nation
Tataskweyak Cree Nation
Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve
War Lake First Nation
Wasagamack First Nation
Waywayseecappo First Nation
Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation
York Factory Cree Nation 

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your province?

Yes, I meet on a regular basis with the Native people in the province of Manitoba. I make myself accessible for the grassroots people. I believe in the grassroots movement and the grassroots people. I am not a top-down leader, I am a bottom-up leader. 

Kevin Hart 2
Elders Eunice Beardy and Chris Sawatzky offering a blessing for Chief Hart. "This is the time when my people honored me to wear a sacred headdress to represent my chieftainship," Chief Hart explained. "It was done in a ceremony which is truly important to our people. I come from an upbringing of the importance of the ceremonies and protocols of our people. This picture shows the elders praying over me in a good way just after the headdress was placed upon me for the first time."

Do the Native people in Manitoba vote in provincial elections?

Yes and no. Some of the people practice their sovereignty. In the most recent federal election, however, the vote in First Nations northern communities increased by 40 percent from the previous election in 2011. The Rock the Vote movement successfully mobilized First Nations people in northern Manitoba to come out and vote. Through public education, identification seminars, and social media, First Nations came out to vote in record numbers.

How often does your ministry meet?

The Assembly of First Nations executive committee meets quarterly, and its members are in dialogue on a daily basis. There are 634 First Nations communities across Canada that the Assembly of First Nation works with in different regions. The elected leaders of the provincial Assembly of First Nations have responsibility for their regions as well as national responsibility for specific portfolios.

What responsibilities do you have as a provincial minister?

The portfolios that I am responsible for nationally are Water; Infrastructure; Housing; Social, Child, and Family Services; Indian Gaming; Food Security; and Alternative Energy.

What is a significant point in Manitoba history that you would like to share?

The year 1990, when the late Manitoba Legislative Assemblyman and Member of Parliament Elijah Harper stopped the Meech Lake Accord. He did this by holding an eagle feather as he stood in the Manitoba legislature and refused to support the accord. He effectively blocked the package of constitutional amendments negotiated, without any participation by the First Nations, to gain Quebec's acceptance of the Constitution Act of 1982. Elijah's stand empowered First Nations people in Manitoba and across Canada.

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

I grew up with humble beginnings—no running water, impoverished—and left home when I was 15 years old. My education and background in Business Administration and Political Science prepared me for the role I am currently entrusted with by Creator to represent and serve my people.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

All our elders—our grandfathers and grandmothers—have inspired me; my parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles; and the many traditional teachers and medicine people. I have had many good mentors politically, as well, such as Hon. Eric Robinson, Hon. Elijah Harper, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader?

I am a descendant of Chief Big Bear.

Approximately how many constituents are in your province? Approximately how many are Native?

The 2011 census of households in Canada shows the total population of Manitoba as being around 1,280,000. Ten percent are First Nations people, and another 6.7 percent are Métis. Manitoba has the highest proportion of Native people of all the provinces. In terms of political representation, there are 57 constituencies, or parliamentary districts, in Manitoba, and three Native MPs: Hon. Eric Robinson for Keewatinook, Hon. Kevin Chief for Point Douglas, and Hon. Amanda Lathlin for The Pas.

How have you used your elected position to help Native and other minorities?

The first goal was to get our people to Rock the Vote, which was a very successful movement that led in October to a new federal government. We are now working with the newly elected Liberal majority on a new nation-to-nation relationship and moving forward. I also have been advocating for various concerns that First Nations people in Manitoba have brought forward.

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

It’s never too late to learn your language and the ceremonies. It’s never too late to learn your identity.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to bring attention to the crisis of missing and murdered Native women and girls in Canada. The statistical number from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is 1,200. However, we are aware that there are more than 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Over 12,000 children are in care in the Manitoba, and First Nations children account for up to 10,000 of those children in care. We have gained a commitment from the newly elected Liberal government to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. The new Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs in Canada, Hon. Carolyn Bennett, has traveled across Canada to meet with families of missing and murdered women. The Grand Chiefs of Manitoba and I are committed to seeing that the government helps these women and children and their families.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 


Photos courtesy of the Assembly of First Nations, Canada.

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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