April 29, 2016

A poem in honor of the Gathering of Nations Powwow

As the museum wraps up its celebration of National Poetry Month, many friends are on their way to Albuquerque this weekend to take part in the 33rd annual Gathering of Nations, North America's largest powwow. Writer Melanie Mariano generously shared this poem with us to honor the occasion.

The Gathering
by Melanie Mariano

Can you hear the calling?
Those ancestral voices in the wind,
Pulling your worn moccasins forward,
Towards the sacred circle?

They understand your heart’s longing.
For the mending of your spirit,
For those coyotes you once fed
That left you blanketed in doubt.

Can you hear them calling?
The drums which shout out for you,
Rhythmic as a heartbeat,
Like lyrical sweet grass for your soul?

They recognize your deep desires
Of beaded ambitions and braided dreams,
Passed down through generations,
Which you long to make your legacy.

Can you hear them calling?
The stomping feet from each Nation,
Adorned with Inter-tribal traditions,
Eagerly waiting upon your arrival?

They have felt your suffering
And dance like prairie lightning,
Each step a solemn promise
Of your bloodline’s reawakening.

Can you hear them calling?
The tobacco prayers of your relations,
Feathered on wings of freedom,
Awaiting in honored celebration?

Brave Warrior, on this journey back to self,
The Grandfathers walk beside you,
Turquoise footprints scorching the earth,
And they lead you home.

Writer Melanie Mariano

Melanie Mariano (enrolled member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe) is a writer and a communications professional specializing in video and audio production. 

© Melanie Mariano; used with permission. The Gathering was originally published in Native Hoop Magazine


You can read all the poems by Native writers highlighted by the museum this April in our National Poetry Month album

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April 22, 2016

Meet Native America: W. Patrick Goggles (Northern Arapaho), former Wyoming State Legislator

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 

W. Patrick GogglesState Representative W. Patrick Goggles, Wyoming House District 33, during the 2008 Democratic caucuses. March 2008, Fremont County, Wyoming.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is W. Patrick Goggles; my Northern Arapaho name is White Grizzly Bear. I am a former Wyoming state legislator. I represented Wyoming House District 33 for ten years—from 2005 until 2014. 

What tribes are you affiliated with?

I am an enrolled Northern Arapaho.

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

I not sure of the date or century, but when alcohol was introduced to our people. The effects have been devastating to immediate family, extended family, band, and tribe. Today our people still suffer from generational alcoholism. Complete families have succumbed to alcohol and alcoholism.

How is your state government set up?

The Wyoming legislature is a bicameral institution, with 60 house members and 30 senate members.

How are leaders chosen?

Party leadership is elected within the party caucus. The leadership of the house and senate is elected by the members every two years, after general elections. I was the minority whip in 2009 as well as the minority leader of the Wyoming House from 2010 to 2012.

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

Republicans control both the Wyoming House and Senate with a supermajority. There are 25 Republican senators and 52 house members. The Republican Party in Wyoming aligns to the conservative right, from moderate to ultra conservative. 

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

While I served in the Wyoming House of Representatives, I was the only Native American representative. At the local level during that time, the Native population elected a Native woman as a Fremont County Commissioner, a first in the history of Wyoming.

Sen. Obama and State Rep. Goggles
Senator Barak Obama and Representative Goggles during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign. University of Wyoming, Laramie, March 2008.

How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

There are two tribes, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone. There are also many Native people who are married into the two tribes.

As a legislator, did you ever meet with the Native people of your state? 

Absolutely. I served as chairman of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations for my last terms and was a member of the committee for eight years. I regularly met with local school boards, tribal governments, tribal programs, Native veterans, elders, and all constituents within the district I served. I talked with Native folks daily while I was in office and continue to do so today.

Do the Native people in Wyoming vote in state elections?

The Native American population in Wyoming is active in state elections from school boards and county commissions to state representatives, state senators, and governor.

How often does your state legislature meet?

The Wyoming legislature is constitutionally mandated to meet every year. Even years are budget sessions for 20 days, and odd years are general sessions for 40 days.

What responsibilities did you have as a state representative?

As an elected state representative you’re held to a higher standard. Transparency, accountability, accuracy, being law abiding, a role model, and a good citizen immediately come to mind. The general areas of political, social, financial, and, yes, religious life are fair game. Your give up your free time to serve the people at a significant sacrifice to immediate family and community. Expectations of your service are 24/7, 365 days of the year. You’re expected to be available, accessible, and prepared.

You’re expected to maintain and preserve the public trust and to be honest. The compensation you receive is the people's gratitude and thanks. You should not financially benefit or profit from your elected position and should view the state’s financial position in fiscally conservative terms.

You become the standard bearer of your community. You are asked to attend community events, activities and functions. You are asked to speak at political gatherings, graduations, funerals, weddings, birthdays, and just about everything else.

Constituents ask for your help, like testifying in tribal court, state court and even federal court. Speaking on behalf of family in front of various audiences is a constant. In Wyoming the legislature is called a citizens legislature because it is not a professional institution. An elected official such as a representative is considered a part-time employee of the state. Most legislators maintain full-time employment, public or private. In essence an elected official is performing two full-time jobs. At the same time I was serving in the legislature, I have been executive director of Northern Arapaho Tribal Housing. I haven't retired from that position. I haven't retired from politics, either. There is still a lot I'd like to do.

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

In 1978 the State of Wyoming filed suit against the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to quantify the tribes' water rights. To finality the litigation took approximately 30 years and cost millions of dollars, and administrative adjudication continued for another several years. The two tribes share approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water yearly, restricted to agricultural use. The tribes were fortunate in that they were able to afford legal counsel to argue their positions in federal court and ultimately in the Wyoming Supreme Court.

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

I grew up on the Wind River Indian Reservation, in a rural community. Our family was poor but not impoverished, because we hunted, harvested, and raised our own food. I remember work as a daily activity that the whole family participated in. We learned to work at a very early age. Imagine no indoor plumbing or running water, no vehicle, one pair of shoes, no TV or cell phones, none of that. Our life was good, and we got by.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My grandfather Ben Friday Sr. He was a Northern Arapaho councilman for 30 years, ceremonial elder, veteran, Native healer, and my grandpa.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader?

The ancestor I was told about was Iron Eyes, a scout at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

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

In Wyoming House District 33 there are approximately 11,000 constituents. Voting constituents number about 3,750. Sixty percent are Native.

How did you use your elected position to help Natives and other minorities?

I used my elected position to advocate for federal pass-through and state funds to support programs on the Wind River Indian Reservation, such as resources for schools, new school construction, road infrastructure, social services, and child protection services. I also worked to support the University of Wyoming, Central Wyoming College, and agencies that provide services for people.

I also served on standing committees and select committees that had direct impact on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

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

Western education is a key to a career and future. Western education is also a tool of the mind to help yourself and then others. Don’t let Western education alone define your character; use your language, culture, and ceremonies to assist you in finding a path in life. Be very respectful of your tribal elders, be proud of who you are and your tribal heritage. Learn to be humble but not afraid to try new experiences and venture out in life. Learn to be generous and to help others help themselves.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Believe in the Grandfather Creator. Learn to use prayer. Give thanks for each new day, for water, for Grandmother Earth and our spirit mediators, our tribal medicines, our ways, songs, and sacred covenants. Believe in yourself.

Thank you.

Thank you. 

Photos courtesy of the Goggles family; 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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April 12, 2016

Meet Native America: Edward Paul Torres, Governor for the Pueblo of Isleta and Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors

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 

Governor Edward Paul Torres, Pueblo of Isleta. Isleta, New Mexico; January 2016.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Edward Paul Torres, and I am currently serving my second two-year term as Governor for the Pueblo of Isleta.

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

My Native Tiwa name is Kimo, which means Mountain Lion.

Where is your tribal community located?

The Pueblo of Isleta is located in central New Mexico along the Rio Grande River, 13 miles south of Albuquerque. The name Isleta means Little Island in Spanish, as the pueblo was situated on an island within the Rio Grande River when the Spanish colonists arrived in the region. 

I am very proud to say that our Pueblo now consists of approximately 210,000 acres after this winter, when over 90,000 acres of land was placed into trust status by the Obama administration. This represents the largest single transfer of land back to a tribe’s control in U.S. history. 

Where is your tribe originally from? 

Our Pueblo people have been here since time immemorial. We were born of our Mother Earth for our Creator Father. We Isleta natives are the direct descendants of the peoples of the Mesa Verde Cliff-dwellers civilization of southern Colorado. I share an Isleta Pueblo and a Laguna Pueblo heritage. The Laguna Pueblo people are the descendants of the great Chaco Canyon civilization of west-central New Mexico. Both of my peoples maintained contact with and traded with the Mayans, Aztecs, and other great civilizations of Mexico.

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

It was a temptation for the Europeans in the 16th century to let the notion of racial inferiority become an excuse to push the Indians from the lands they occupied. Largely as the result of arguments of Spanish theoreticians such as Francisco de Vitoria, the idea developed that certain basic rights are inherent in men as men—"not by reason of their race, creed, or color, but by reason of their humanity." In 1537, by the bull Sublimis Deus, Pope Paul III gave the Doctrine of Vitoria papal support by proclaiming to the Christian sovereigns of Europe that Indians, and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or lands. A doctrine of respect for Indian possessions became the guiding principle of Spain’s Law of the Indies, and the origin of recognized tribal sovereignty, which is still recognized today, including in a proclamation recently issued by President Barack Obama.

How is your tribal government set up? 

In centuries past, our Pueblo governmental organization was similar to all other Pueblo governments, headed by a Cacique and other traditional positions of government. The Spanish introduced the position of Governor and other civil officials to carry on the duties of our tribal governments aside from our religious positions. After the Spanish, the Mexican government recognized the Pueblos, and after a war with the United States, we were also recognized by the United States government.

The Spanish king initially presented the Pueblo Governors with a vara or cane of office that represented our sovereign authority. Thereafter, the Mexican government also presented us with a cane to recognize that same authority under their government, and, finally, the United States government, through President Abraham Lincoln, bestowed upon us the Lincoln cane that recognized our sovereign status and government-to-government relationships. Today, all Pueblo Governors maintain their canes of office as symbols of hundreds of years of sovereign authority over our people.

Today, Isleta has a democratic tribal government and a Constitution that was approved in 1947, with three branches of government: the Executive Branch, which is headed by a Governor and two Lieutenant Governors; the Legislative Branch, which consists of a seven-member Tribal Council; and the Judicial Branch, with a Chief Judge and two Associate Judges, as well as an Appellate Court.  

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

As with all Pueblos, our traditional leaders are an integral part of our customs and traditions and play a significant part in our day-to-day activities, our world views, and our belief system.

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Elected leaders serve two-year terms and may be re-elected for an additional term. In mid-October nominations are taken, and a general election is held the last Saturday in November. The Governor is the chief executive officer of over six hundred employees and is elected democratically. The newly elected Governor selects two Lieutenant Governors, a Sheriff, and an Under-Sheriff to assist during his or her governorship. The Governor is bound by Article IV of the Constitution. Tribal Council members are also elected and serve two-year terms and may run for one additional term of office. Tribal Council members are bound by Article V of the Constitution. 

Governor and OfficialsExecutive officers of the Pueblo of Isleta (from left to right): Sheriff Benedict Piro, Lieutenant Governor Isidor Abeita, Lieutenant Governor Antonio Chewiwi, Governor Edward Paul Torres, and Sheriff Ray Abeita.

How often does your Tribal Council meet? 

Twice weekly.

What responsibilities do you have as Governor? 

The Governor is responsible for directing and administering the civil affairs of the Pueblo in conformity with applicable ordinances, procedures, and policies enacted by the Tribal Council. I represent the Pueblo in negotiations and relationships with other governmental agencies, individuals, and entities. As Governor, I also serve as the official liaison between the tribal government, the tribal religious organizations, and each tribal member. I am responsible for the total welfare of my people and once elected am given total authority over my people.

In January following the election all tribal officials are officially blessed during the Blessing of the Canes ceremony in our historic 400-year-old St. Augustine Catholic Church, where the canes of office are bestowed upon all tribal leaders. The Governor receives the Lincoln cane; the 1st Lieutenant receives the Spanish cane, as well as the New Mexico cane, which was only recently added to the historic canes of office, and the 2nd Lieutenant receives the Mexican cane. This is one of the most historic of Pueblo Indian customs and traditions, passed on for hundreds of years among our Pueblos. With the exception of a Tribal Judge position, I have held every other major position within the pueblo. I was elected into the Governor’s post in 2013, having served as a Lieutenant Governor under a previous administration.     

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

I was raised by a single mother and close relatives and did not know my father nor material wealth. Despite this, I had the love of my mother, who passed away when I was 13 years old, my family, and my Pueblo community to sustain me. I was raised in the pueblo village, attending the local elementary school, then junior high and high school. From this upbringing, I learned that if I was ever to become somebody in life I would have to get there myself. After high school I entered the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Coral Sea in the South Pacific during the Vietnam conflict. I returned home to Isleta to marry the only love of my life, my wife Geneva. Together we raised four children and now have several grandchildren. I always maintained my Pueblo identity and social and community status among my people, and it is here in Isleta where I came back to live, work, and raise my family.


Governor and Mrs. Torres, with their children. Isleta, New Mexico; January 2016.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

When I think back in my life about this question, I truly believe that one man really inspired me in my life, and that man was Mr. Pete Delgado, my 11th and 12th grade teacher at Los Lunas High School. Mr. Delgado expressed a sincere kindness towards me, and he inspired me with his passion for teaching and his patience. Mr. Delgado taught drafting, woodworking, and carpentry.

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

I am the proud great-grandson of Santiago Torres, (Sun Clan) and Paulina Garcia Alonso Torres (Eagle Clan), who in 1879 to 1880, together with approximately 150 fellow Laguna Pueblo tribesmen and women, fled the several villages that make up the Laguna Pueblo, walking east through the barren west central New Mexico desert to the Rio Grande Valley to flee political infighting and religious persecution in Laguna. This high-ranking group of conservative refugees consisting of members of all the major Native religious organizations fled Laguna with only the clothes on their backs, ancient ceremonial artifacts intact, and the wisdom and knowledge of the Keresan people from time immemorial.

The Isleta people, who themselves are descended from the great Mesa Verde civilizations of southern Colorado, welcomed these refugees, and they became an integral part of the Isleta traditional community. I am the proud descendent of these brave and courageous people whose own ancestors fled the Spanish conquistadores after the Pueblo Revolt and who migrated hundreds of years earlier from the great Chaco Canyon civilization of west central New Mexico. My grandfather Pedro Torres, son of Santiago, was appointed by the Laguna refugees as their Governor-in-exile in 1926, and I myself, was later to be elected to the position of Governor for the Pueblo of Isleta. I am proud to be a descendent of these two great and ancient Pueblo tribes.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe? 

There are currently approximately 2,729 tribal members.

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

Membership is determined by blood quantum, which is prescribed in the Isleta Constitution.

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

The Tiwa language is still spoken within the Isleta village, with approximately 30 to 40 percent of the people speaking fluently. Isleta is one of the more traditional Pueblos in New Mexico, and we still maintain our native Tiwa language and conduct our daily affairs using our native language. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

Our largest enterprise is the Isleta Resort & Casino, which includes the Isleta Eagle Golf Course, and the Isleta Lakes Recreation Complex. The Isleta Resort & Casino is served by the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, a commuter line from Belen to Santa Fe with a station stop in Isleta. The contemporary resort is beautifully decorated with works by Native American artists and is located approximately 8.8 miles south of Albuquerque on Interstate 25. Besides offering a full array of casino play, this facility includes a hotel and spa, restaurants, entertainment, and nightlife. The resort provides full employment opportunities for many people in the area.

The Pueblo also owns the Isleta Business Corporation (IBC). Among the businesses the IBC manages are:

  • Velocity Build, LLC, a newly created construction company totally owned by the IBC.
  • Native American Insurance Group, an insurance agency licensed by New Mexico and chartered and incorporated by the Pueblo of Isleta to provide products and services tailored to cover both Native and non-Native American communities and commercial customers.
  • The Isleta Travel Center, a branded fuel store and convenience store providing tobacco products, liquor, etc., in line with Isleta One Stop, an independent fuel station and convenience store.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

There are far too many community events sponsored by the Pueblo and the resort to mention. There are events for the elderly and for veterans’ organizations, and everything from competitive recreational activities for our youth to musical concerts at our casino and the neighboring Isleta Amphitheatre. Isleta also celebrates our annual St. Augustine Feast Day on August 28 and September 4 each year. Isleta is the hub of activity for visitors from and to Albuquerque and surrounding communities.

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

Isleta is a member of the oldest Native American political organization in the United States. The All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC)—now the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG)—was initially founded in 1598 by the Pueblos of New Mexico to deal with the Spanish conqueror Juan de Onate. The Pueblos have maintained this strong political alliance for over 400 years and have utilized our political clout to assist other tribes within and outside of the United States to deal with Native American issues. On December 17, 2015, the nineteen New Mexico Pueblo Governors and the Governor of the Pueblo of Ysleta del Sur from Texas convened to appoint new officers for the APCG. I was unanimously reappointed as Chairman of this historic council. I am most honored to have been selected for this prestigious position from among my peers.

The Pueblo of Isleta works directly with the United States government either through our Congressional delegation or through the U.S. Department of the Interior. At times we also include the APCG and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) as well.

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

My message to our youth is to stay connected with our customs, traditions, and especially our language. It is so easy for our young people to get lost in the outside world, with its many varied challenges and influences. I take great pride in listening to the following words of my esteemed nephew, Ron Looking Elk Martinez, currently a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe:

Since time immemorial, the Native American people of this region have lived in harmony and respect with their natural environment. Stories of our emergence and our living history are handed down from one generation to the next through prayer and song. The traditional knowledge of our ancestors is the basis for how we live today and is reflected in our “Pueblo-style” architecture, agriculture, traditions, arts and ceremony.

We are grateful for the blessings of our Earth Mother as she provides us with all that we need to sustain our livelihood, now and into the future. As Pueblo people living in a modern time, we have a sacred and inherent responsibility to maintain a balance with our natural environment while also embracing the knowledge of western culture in order to survive and prosper. . . .

I encourage all of our youth to seek out their careers in order to make a good living for themselves and their families. I encourage them to remember where they came from and who they are. And, finally, after they pursue their educational careers, I encourage them to come back to their communities to share their knowledge with our people.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I take great pride in noting the achievements of the Pueblo of Isleta within the last few years. Through the cooperation of the tribal administration and our Tribal Council, the Pueblo of Isleta has seen a dramatic change in our standard of living. We now have a modern Health Center that provides a full array of medical services including dental services, behavioral health, a diabetes program, and an emergency medical unit. Our brand new Head Start Program is a nationally recognized model facility. We have our large Recreation Center with a spacious swimming pool, in addition to our new Elder Center and Assisted Living and Memory Care Center. We house our administrative services functions in a new Administrative Tribal Complex next to our beautiful Resort and Casino, which all overlook our spacious competitive golf course along the Rio Grande River below the beautiful Sandia and Manzano Mountains to the east.

Our people have lived on this site for hundreds of years since our forefathers migrated here. Our Creator has blessed us with the knowledge to keep and respect what we have been provided. We honor our ancestors by maintaining the ancient customs and traditions that have been handed down to us since time immemorial. 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 

Photos by Richard L. Garcia, courtesy of the Pueblo of Isleta; 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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April 05, 2016

Remembering Dr. Joe Medicine Crow

With incense burning and the singing of sacred songs, I came into this world. I was singing too, but they probably thought I was wailing

–Joseph Medicine Crow
Counting Coup: Becoming a Great War Chief on the Reservation and Beyond


268971Highbird Capturing Enemy Horses, 2012. Chester Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow], b. 1973). Graph paper, graphite, colored pencil, ink. Raiding an enemy's horses is a tradition that survived even into 20th-century warfare. As a group of German officers was retreating near the end of World War II, Joe Medicine Crow (Highbird) and his platoon followed them. When the officers camped for the night, Medicine Crow captured 50 of their horses. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. 26/8971


Joe Medicine Crow’s death Sunday was reported by the likes of the Washington Post and the BBC; President Obama released a statement regarding his passing. He was an incredible man—a chief, scholar, advocate for Indigenous people, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a direct descendant of a celebrated chief, published historian, warrior, musician, and family man. The Apsáalooke (Crow) people mourn his loss but remember his remarkable life by telling personal accounts of how he touched all of our lives. 

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Baakkáa Dákaakaash) was a member of the Whistling Water clan (Bilikóoshe). The last Crow war chief, he was our teacher and grandfather. Joe was raised by our ancestors and thoughtfully reminded us of who they were and how the new generation continues to be part of the narrative. He taught us to embrace our identity by reminding us that our people are victors, not victims. When he spoke to us, he frequently reminded us of the splendor and relevance of Crow Country, what we came from and why the Apsáalooke people continuously persevered. He showed us we are capable of great things when we look within ourselves and draw strength from those who came before us. 

268970Highbird Successful War Party, 2012. Chester Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow], b. 1973). Graph paper, graphite, colored pencil, ink. In this drawing Joe leads a war party during World War II in Germany. The warriors would have been wearing U.S. military uniforms, but they are shown here in traditional clothes. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. 26/8970

Dr. Medicine Crow connected us to our heritage through his stories. He lovingly wove the Apsáalooke narrative into the historical western account. He made us part of history books. He showed us that Indian people and our stories are relevant. His work was immense and significant, yet he was jovial about it. It was evident in listening and speaking with him that he loved his work.

Joseph was attentive and articulate when he spoke to people, whether it was to a classroom full of Crow kids or the president of the United States. We were all made to feel as if his story was especially for us. He provided us vivid and magnificent images of Crow men fighting in battle. We were enthralled by his counting coup on a German soldier during World War II. He captured 50 head of horses and sang a Crow victory song as he rode away, leaving the enemy on foot. Crow children act out his accounts on the backs of ponies along the banks of the Little Bighorn River. We have all been captivated by the magnificence of his experiences. As adults, we read his books and listened to him speak at tribal events. We imagined ourselves the recipients of Master’s degrees and honorary doctorates. Through all of the phases of our lives, he encouraged us to be brave, to be better, to get educated, stand for what is right, and live a life of honor. 

268973Highbird Counting Coup on Enemy Rifle, 2012. Chester Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow], b. 1973). Graph paper, graphite, colored pencil, ink. Plains people have long viewed getting close to an enemy as an act of bravery. In this drawing, Joe Medicine Crow gets close enough to take a German enemy’s rifle during World War II. In his left hand Medicine Crow holds a riding quirt, or coup stick. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. 26/8973 

My grandmother Margo Real Bird told me that when Joe would visit other cities and countries, he would always return with a handful of pens and knick-knacks for his Real Bird sisters and aunties. She said he was thoughtful and he never forgot where he came from. He was my grandmother’s relative, both descendants of Chief Medicine Crow and his wives—Joe from Medicine Sheep and Margo from Takes Many Prisoners. They spoke to each other with the utmost respect and the occasional witticism. As a child, I saw him as one of my many grandfathers. He was always very kind and polite. He would glance down from his conversations with my grandmother and acknowledge me by asking my name and how I was doing. Sometimes he would pat my head and tell me to take good care of her. It wasn’t until my adult years that I fully understood the scope of his accomplishments. I read all of his books and listened to my grandfather Floyd, another Apsáalooke WWII veteran, talk about Medicine Crow’s coups on the Germans.

Like other Crows, as I learned about him and listened to him, I understood he was extraordinary. He inspired me to think that I, too, was capable of great things, that I could graduate from college, author books, and travel the world. In the winter of 2016, I graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in American Indian studies and anthropology. During my academic career I’ve cited his work, read and re-read his books; I made him part of my own narrative. His work compels me to continuously develop my knowledge concerning the Crow people and most importantly, to expand on our narrative in a way that honors Apsáalooke persistence. Joe Medicine Crow reminds me that I came from great people, we are brilliant and adaptable, and the work we do must serve the greater good. 

268974Highbird Counting Coup, 2012. Chester Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow], b. 1973). Graph paper, graphite, colored pencil, ink. Joe Medicine Crow rides close to an enemy and hits him on the head with a riding quirt. Getting close to an enemy was considered a coup, or achievement. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. 26/8974

Last month while I was at the National Anthropological Archives in Washington, D.C., I went through a large stack of photos of Crow people, and on the back of hundreds of those photographs there were handwritten notes identifying the name, place, and person in just about every photo. The person that identified all of these individuals and places was Dr. Medicine Crow. I was humbled and filled with the utmost gratitude that he took the time to do this work so every Crow who followed him would know who and where we came from. I am still in awe that I was able to hold the same photographs and read the writings of Dr. Joe Medicine Crow. I certainly hope that the work I do will honor Dr. Medicine Crow’s legacy. He showed me it is important to be encouraging to those who follow us, to remind the people that they are always able to overcoming hardship and capable of honorable and wonderful things.

Aho, Grandpa Joe. You will be missed. And thank you for what you have done for our people. I know you will continue to look out for us from Other-Side Camp.

—Nina Sanders

Nina Sanders was born and raised among her people, the Crow. She is a member of the Whistling Water clan (Bilikóoshe). Most recently, through the Recovering Voices Program, Nina was part of a delegation that visited the collections of the National Anthropological Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian to research Crow art and culture. She has been selected as a 2016 summer intern in the Archives department at the National Museum of the American Indian, where she will be cataloging, researching, and identifying Crow photographs.

Artist Chester Medicine Crow is a grandson of Joe Medicine Crow. The drawings shown here were commissioned by the National Museum of the American Indian for the exhibition Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains, on view at the museum in New York through December 4, 2016.

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March 31, 2016

Curator and Scholar Mary Jane Lenz (1930–2016)

Mary Jane Lenz at the Research BranchMary Jane Lenz working with objects from the museum's Northwest Coast collections, February 1984. Research Branch, Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, Pelham Bay, The Bronx, New York. Photo by Julia Smith, Museum of the American Indian.

With great sadness, I am writing to say that our dear friend and colleague Mary Jane Lenz passed away yesterday afternoon, having celebrated her 86th birthday on March 24. Mary Jane, or simply MJ as she was called by those closest to her, had a long and distinguished professional career at the museum, both when it was the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation in New York City and after it became the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and New York.

As an undergraduate, Mary Jane began work at Beloit College’s Logan Museum of Anthropology, and she remained interested in museums and museum work all her life. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Beloit in 1952 with a degree in Anthropology. In 1954 she received her Master's degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Bryn Mawr. For her Master’s research, she did fieldwork in the Tlingit community of Yakutat under the direction of the distinguished anthropologist Frederica de Laguna. 

After many years of focusing her attention on her young family, and prompted by a New York Times article about the challenges facing the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, Mary Jane contacted Frederick J. Dockstader, then director of the museum. As a result of their discussions, she joined the museum’s staff in 1974. She was appointed director of its Archaeological Lab in 1976 and worked on materials recently excavated from Marajo Island near the mouth of the Amazon in Brazil. From 1977 onward she worked in the Curatorial Department, where she helped conduct a complete inventory of the museum’s collections as well as assisted researchers with their work. Mary Jane was also involved in supporting early repatriation requests from the Haudenosaunee, A:shiwi, and Kwakwaka’wakw nations, and in the return of sacred objects to the Omaha and Hidatsa. During this period, she continued her education by taking graduate courses in Anthropology at the City University of New York. 

Throughout her career Mary Jane curated exhibitions and wrote about art and material culture and the history of the MAI. In her early years at the museum, she assisted the curatorial team for the exhibition Ancestors: Native Artisans of the Americas, shown at the U.S. Custom House in 1979. In 1981 she wrote the text for the exhibition Arctic Art: Eskimo Ivory at the Museum of the American Indian at Audubon Terrace. Later that year Mary Jane traveled with Collections and Exhibition staff to set install the Ancestors exhibit in the Museum of Chinese History in Beijing, China, combining nearly 600 works from the museum’s collections and 80 historical paintings of the American West from the Anschutz Collection of Denver. She curated the exhibitions Out of the Mists: Northwest Coast Indian Art at the IBM Gallery in New York (1984) and The Stuff of Dreams: Native American Dolls (1986) at Museum of the American Indian; she also served as co-curator of the museum's exhibition A Gift from the Heart: Two Pomo Artists (1990).

During the years following the establishment of the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Smithsonian, MJ worked with others on planning for both the Museum on the National Mall and the Cultural Resources Center, the museum's collections and research facility in Maryland. She contributed to the development and writing of two major exhibitions for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian's Heye Center in New York in 1994—All Roads Are Good: Native Voices on Life and Culture and Creation’s Journey: Native American Identity and Belief.

Mary Jane Lenz at the CRC
Mary Jane Lenz in her office, ca. 2010. (Not shown: The hundreds of books, journals, and research papers that surrounded her.) National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center, Suitland, Maryland. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

Following the completion of the Cultural Resources Center in 1999, Mary Jane moved to Washington. Here she headed the museum's Curatorial Department and served as chair of the Curatorial Council for several years. For the opening of the museum on the National Mall, she curated Window on Collections, which is still on view. She served as a co-curator of Listening to our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life along the Northwest Coast, a collaboration among the museum and 12 Native nations that was shown in both Washington (2007) and New York (2008). She also took part in workshops that brought together Native and non-Native scholars, artists, and community members to produce the permanent exhibition Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian (2010) for the museum in New York. 

In addition to her contributions to museum publications—including books for most of the exhibitions mentioned above—Mary Jane wrote for American Indian Art Magazine and served on their editorial board and published in Art & Antiquities

Mary Jane’s special areas of research and expertise included Northwest Coast, Arctic, and Subarctic peoples, and the cross-cultural study of dolls. She devoted much time to improving the documentation for the museum's collections in these areas, and her book Small Spirits: Native American Dolls from the National Museum of the American Indian (2004) is still widely read. More than that, however, she was vitally interested in all aspects of Native life, world culture, and current events and politics. She retired from the museum in 2011, but remained in Washington until 2013, when she moved to the Boston area to be nearer to her family. 

These professional accomplishments were but one part of MJ’s life. She was the proud mother of five children—Patty, Peggy, Sue, Mike and Tim—and an equally proud and indulgent grandmother. For many of us she filled several roles, combining the attributes of friend, colleague, role model, and enthusiastic supporter during the years we knew her. She welcomed many people to her home on Capitol Hill, which was filled with books, the personal collections she had accumulated over decades, and—most of all—the incredible interest and warmth she brought to every part of her life and, by extension, to our lives. Her spirit and generosity—personal, collegial, and intellectual—will be sorely missed. 

—Kevin Gover, NMAI

Kevin Gover (Pawnee) is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.


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