June 09, 2017

Thinking about the Indian Removal Act, at the National Archives Museum and National Museum of the American Indian


"Our cause is your own. It is the cause of liberty and justice."

Principal Chief John Ross (Cherokee, 1790–1866), appearing before the U.S. Senate in 1836 to argue on behalf of the Cherokee Council against ratification of the Treaty of New Echota, ceding Cherokee lands to the United States

Removal Act at the US National Archives
Visitors to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., viewing the Removal Act of 1830. Photo for the National Archives by Jessica Deibert

This spring, I visited the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., to see the Indian Removal Act, on display in the Archives' Landmark Document Case. Signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, the Removal Act, gave the president the legal authority to remove Native people by force from their homelands east of the Mississippi to lands west of the Mississippi. It became for American Indians one of the most detrimental pieces of legislation in U.S. history. Under the Removal Act, the military forcibly relocated approximately 50,000 American Indians to Indian Territory, within the boundaries of the present-day state of Oklahoma.

At the National Museum of the American Indian, we address the importance of the Removal Act in two major exhibitions—Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, which opened in September 2014 and will be on view through 2021, and Americans, opening October 26 of this year and on view through fall 2027.

"Many of these helpless people did not have blankets and many of them had been driven from home barefooted. . . . And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold, and exposure." 

Private John G. Burnett (1810–unknown), Captain Abraham McClellan’s Company, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Volunteer Militia, account of the removal of the Cherokee, from a letter to his children written in 1890

Removal Act of 1830 p 1 Removal Act of 1830 p 2

The Indian Removal Act, May 28, 1830. General Records of the United States Government, National Archives. Photos courtesy of the National Archives


Many Americans, and many people beyond the United States, know the story of removal—or part of the story. In the late 1830s, more than 20,000 Cherokee men, women, and children were removed from their homelands. Approximately one-fourth of these people died along the Trail of Tears—bayoneted, frozen to death, starved, or pushed beyond exhaustion. Less well known, perhaps, is that hundreds of other tribes shed tears as well as they were forced to leave their homes to make room for non-Indian settlement and ownership of their land. Through American expansion, every tribe lost land its people originally called home.
 

"They were not allowed to take any of their household stuff, but were compelled to leave as they were, with only the clothes which they had on." 

—Wahnenauhi (Lucy Lowrey Hoyt Keys, Cherokee, 1831–1912), account of the Cherokee removal written in 1889, published by the Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology in Bulletin 196, Anthropological Papers, No. 77

The museum’s exhibitions look at the Removal Act from the broader perspective of events at the time it was enacted and during the nearly two centuries since. In the companion book to Nation to Nation, Robert N. Clinton, Foundation Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, describes the growing sense of national strength that allowed the federal government to move away from conducting negotiations with Indian nations as a sort of diplomacy—based on transnational law, mutual interests, and tribal sovereignty—and toward the direct pursuit of its one-sided goals:

The War of 1812 eliminated the possibility of Indian alliances with Britain, which had posed a threat to the stability and security of the United States. Thereafter . . . the bargaining power in treaty discussions shifted greatly to the United States, and policy was increasingly dictated by the federal government. . . . After a decade of treaty negotiations on the subject, the southeastern states provoked a controversy over the continued presence of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muskogee (Creek), Choctaw, and Seminole nations on lands within state borders. Congress decided to chart the policy unilaterally by adopting the Removal Act of 1830.

Nation to Nation also explores the place of the Removal Act in U.S. legal history. The exhibition shows how advocates and Native and non-Native opponents of removal battled in Congress and the courts—all the way to the Supreme Court—at the same time tribal leaders were working to ensure the survival of their people.

Americans, which will explore Indians and the development of America's national consciousness through four iconic events—Thanksgiving, the life of Pocahontas, the Trail of Tears, and the Battle of Little Bighorn—widens the museum’s perspective on the Removal Act even more. In developing the themes of the new exhibition, lead curator Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche) and co-curator Cécile R. Ganteaume wrote:

Democracy at the Crossroads—the section of Americans about the Trail of Tears—explores the contemporary relevance of removal and why it is still embedded in 21st-century American life. We focus on crucial elements of the history that usually do not receive the attention they deserve: A vigorous national debate over removal consumed the United States before passage of the Indian Removal Act. With the eyes of the Western world upon them, members of Congress cloaked the Removal Act in humanitarian language. The actual removal of Native nations from the South across the Mississippi was a massive national project that required the full force of the federal bureaucracy to accomplish. Finally, it is due to efforts of young Cherokees in the early 20th century that the expression “trail of tears” has come to be known throughout the country, if not the world, to represent a gross miscarriage of justice.

In the central space that links the four iconic events in Americans, visitors will find themselves surrounded by photographs and commercial art. The idea is to show how images of Indians—and Native names and words from Native languages—are and have always been everywhere around us in the United States. Once we look, we can see them as national symbols on monuments, coins, and stamps; in the marketing of just about anything you can think of; in the Defense Department's naming conventions for weapons; and as part of pop culture. The reality of images and references to Indians everywhere is illustrated, for the time being, by the 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle on view in the museum’s atrium.

I confess that as I stood before the original Removal Act at the National Archives, it was hard for me to reconcile the events it set in motion with the motorcycle’s very American celebration of freedom. The curators of Americans hope, however, that the new exhibition will encourage visitors to be part of a new conversation among Natives and non-Natives about the place Indians continue to hold in our understanding of America. It’s an important conversation, and I’m committed to being part of it.

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 is on view at the National Archives Museum through June 14.

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May 26, 2017

The exhibition "Americans," opening in October, previews with a 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle

Motorcycle in atrium blog
A 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle, a loan from the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, is on view in the atrium of the museum. When Americans opens in the fall, the motorcycle will be moved to the exhibition gallery

The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., recently installed an iconic 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle in its majestic Potomac Atrium. On loan from the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, this classic American motorcycle, with its Indian head fender ornament, will be featured in the museum’s exhibition Americans, opening in October. This exhibition explores Americans’ and American Indians’ deeply entangled history, made manifest by the imagery of American Indians all around us in our everyday lives.

Motorcycle fender ornament
The ornamental fender light representing an Indian wearing a Plains-style feather headdress became one of the icons of the brand. The Chief’s unmistakable large skirted fenders were designed in the 1940s.

Produced from 1922 until 1953, the Indian Chief was built as a large and powerful motorcycle by the Indian Motorcycle Company, once the largest motorcycle maker in the world. Founded in 1901—the first motorcycle manufacturer in the United States—Indian produced motorcycles for the U.S. military during World War I, survived the Great Depression with the help of two Du Pont brothers, and went on to build motorcycles for the Allies during World War II.

Indian tank
In 1928 the Hendee Manufacturing changed its name to the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company ("motocycle" without an R), now the Indian Motorcycle Company. "No more popular or wealth-producing name could have been chosen," the company's first advertising executive observed. The elegant script logo appears in chrome on the Chief's fuel tank.

Manufactured in a range of radiant colors, vintage Indian motorcycles are highly coveted by collectors enthralled by their early technical advancements and styling enhancements. To give an example, in season 2, episode 6 of the TV series Billions, hedge-fund manager Bobby “Axe” Axelrod takes a private moment to sit upon his newly acquired vintage Indian Four as a new monarch sits upon his rightful throne.

The Du Pont yellow Indian Chief Motorcycle now on view at the museum is one of four specially highlighted objects that will function as anchors in the Indians Everywhere section of the Americans exhibition. As the exhibition's introductory gallery, Indians Everywhere will confront visitors with the ubiquity of American Indian imagery in American popular culture. This bold, immersive display of more than 300 photographs and other images is designed to arrest our attention. But much more than that, it is intended to focus our thoughts on what, unknowingly, Americans have created and accepted as the white noise of our lives. No other country in the world is as fixated on one segment of its society as the United States is on American Indians. Why is this? Why are images of American Indians—some real, most imaginary—everywhere we look in American life, from boardroom to stadium, farm to inner city, fashion runway to tattoo parlor, Hollywood studio to military base, factory to highway?

Moving beyond now-commonplace discussions reflecting the politicization of visual culture in the United States, Americans delves deeply into the historic reasons behind this phenomenon. Whether taken-in sweepingly or considered in detail, Indians Everywhere reveals not only the time span of this imagery—its use began with Paul Revere and the revolutionary generation and has continued unabated to the present day—but also the myriad unexpected, sometimes paradoxical contexts in which it appears. American Indian imagery has been used by the federal government to distinguish the United States from other nations and to define the nation for its citizens, by U.S. armed forces to express military might, by American corporations to signify integrity, and by designers, such those who created the 1948 Indian Chief, to add luster and cachet to commercial products.

Motorcycle + admirers
An unexpected and fun thing to see at the museum, the Indian Chief also carries a message that will be explored further when Americans opens in October: Indians are everywhere in American national and pop culture, and have been for centuries. Why is that? 

Within Americans, Indians Everywhere—the backdrop of American life—provides a starting point for exploring four foundational events in U.S. history: Pocahontas, Thanksgiving, the Trail of Tears, and the Battle of Little Bighorn. The heart of Americans lies in thinking about how each of these events has affected and shaped America’s national consciousness and Americans' lives. In Americans these four events illuminate political realities when and after they occurred and, ultimately, our changing understanding of what it means to be an American.

The title of the exhibition is a play on words. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first historical definition provided for “American” is: “An indigenous inhabitant of (any part of) the Americas; an American Indian.” This usage was common until the early 19th century. As visitors move through Americans, from the imagery of Indians Everywhere to the four events, the museum hopes to spark a greater awareness of the history American Indians and non-Indians share. We hope people will leave the museum newly attuned to the pervasive presence of American Indian imagery in everyday life. And when people begin see Indians everywhere, as they will—even on the front fender of a motorcycle widely believed to represent perfection in functionality and design—we hope they will see it for what it is: A phenomenon that exists in no other country of the world, one that ultimately speaks to the fact that the United States was carved out of the indigenous lands of American Indians, and that its history is inextricably and profoundly intertwined with American Indians.

—Cécile R. Ganteaume


Where do you see Indian imagery? Tell us, using #NDNsEverywhere. 

CRG-small-2017Cécile R. Ganteaume is an associate curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and formerly at the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, in New York. A recipient of a Secretary of the Smithsonian’s Excellence in Research Award, she curates and writes on American Indian art, culture, and history. With lead curator Paul Chaat Smith, she is co-curator of Americans, scheduled to open on October 26, 2017. Her new book, Officially Indian: Symbols That Define the United States, will be published this fall to coincide with the opening of Americans.

Motorcycle photos by Matailong Du for the National Museum of the American Indian. Author photo by R.A. Whiteside.

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May 23, 2017

Native Fashion Now: Designer Sho Sho Esquiro

Through September 4, 2017, the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York celebrates indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada, from the 1950s to today. Native Fashion Now—a traveling exhibition organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and now making its final stop—explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identity, politics, and commerce. In a series of interviews, writer and cultural specialist Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa, Santee Dakota, and San Juan Pueblo tribes) speaks with the artists taking part in the exhibitionhere, designer Sho Sho Esquiro.—Dennis Zotigh

 

Sho Sho Esquiro by Matika Wilbur
Sho Sho Esquiro. Photo by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip)

Please introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is Sho Sho Esquiro. I am Kaska Dene from the Yukon Territory Canada and also Cree.

Can you give us your Native name and its English translation?

My Indian name is Belelige, meaning Butterfly. I use my name Sho Sho for most things and use my Indian name when introducing myself to my people or at a ceremony.

Where did you grow up and where do you call home now?

I am proud to say I grew up in the Yukon, where it snows eight months out of the year. Being able to cross country ski to school and eat what my dad shot was a luxury. I now reside in Vancouver, British Columbia.

How old were you when you became interested in your art form?

I have always been interested in sewing and learning our traditional ways. From as far back as I can remember I watched my mama, aunties and grandma sew, bead, and work with furs. I think my first sewing project was when I was five.

Sho Sho Esquiro %22Moma yeh%22 jacket Matika Wilbur
Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene and Cree, b. 1980), Moma yeh estsu yeh Giyets'edih (Remembering Our Mothers and Grandmothers) jacket, 2016. Sealskin, silk, lynx fur, beads, gold. The jacket is dedicated to Sho Sho's late grandmother Grace McCallum and modeled by her aunt Louise Profeit-LeBlanc (Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation). Photo by Matika Wilbur

Who are the individuals who inspired you?

I am inspired by the women in my family. Hearing stories of my grandma going out and shooting her own moose, cutting it up, and tanning her own hides—those are the type of things that inspire me. In the harsh conditions in the north, 50 below zero was not uncommon. So my aunties were always sewing up hides and furs to make mitts, gloves, jackets, and hats.

Have you competed and won any awards for your work

I have had the honor of winning various awards from museums. At Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA), in 2016, I received Best of Show Contemporary Fashion, Best of Division, and First Place. At the Heard Museum in 2016, Judges' Choice and Conrad House Award. At the Heard in 2015, First Place and Honorable Mention. At Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA) in 2015, Honorable Mention. At the Autry Museum in 2015, First Place. At Cherokee Art Market in 2014, Second Place. At the Elteljorg Museum, Best of Division and First Place two times. At Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA) in 2013, Best of Show Contemporary Clothing, First Place Clothing. At the Autry in 2013, Second Place.

What does the title Native Fashion Now mean to you?

I love the title Native Fashion Now. I had to chuckle once when a lady told me she was the first Native fashion designer. There has always been Native fashion, so to me this title is very suiting. It is the current work of some of our time's visionaries.

Where do you envision the future of Native fashion to be headed on the world’s stage?

I love that we as artists are getting a platform and attracting more of a general interest. I was very proud two years ago I was the first Native to take part in the world's first-ever fashion show presented on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Experiences and opportunities like these are what inspires me to keep pushing the boundaries.

How do you describe the relationship between your work and traditional Native art forms?

My work coincides with traditional Native art forms because I am a Native woman doing my art form. Our art form is not stagnant, it grows and develops while we honor the ways. There aren't a lot of historical photos or even old pieces from my tribe's history. Does that make what I do less authentic? I think not, because I am a Kaska woman doing my art. There isn't anyone who can tell me I'm doing it right or wrong because it's from my heart, and thus my spirit.

Sho Sho Esquiro  Wile WIle Wile by Thosh Collins
Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene and Cree, b. 1980), Wile Wile Wile (the sound of wings in flight), Day of the Dead Collection, 2013. Dress: seal fur, beaver tail, carp, beads, silk, and rooster feathers; fascinator: tulle and skull by Dominique Hanke for Sho Sho Esquiro. Peabody Essex Museum Museum 2016.41.1-.2. Photo by Thosh Collins (Salt River Pima Maricopa)

When you are asked by the media to explain your work, how do you answer?

I would explain my work as contemporary art using traditional techniques.

On average, how much time does it take you to complete one of your creations?

One of my pieces can take months, my longest piece took four months. While I was preparing to show in Paris, I worked about four months, 18 hours a day. I don't usually like to keep track. It's a labor of love.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in creating your art form?

I wouldn't say I've had too many challenges so far in my career. My grandpa always taught me challenges are the times to rise and learn. But I would say any time I've tried to get a grant, I always get declined because they view my work more as fashion and less textile. It's a double-edged sword when you want to be relevant in the fashion sense, but still get the respect and attention of museums and serious collectors.

What do you do to get inspired to be creative?

I love to go home and be on the land. I find that inspiring. But I get inspired by all sorts of things. Elders, family, life, death, hip hop, the environment. When you are an artist you see life a little differently, and so through those eyes many things can inspire.

Are there any unique signature styles that you are known for?

I would like to think I have defined a style in my art forms. I love bright colors and bold patterns, textures and hides and furs. I never like to get too comfortable in what I'm doing, so you will often see me switch it up to challenge my abilities and continue to learn new techniques.

How do your earlier art forms differ from what you produce today?

In my earlier work I used a lot of Pendleton. I don't so much use it anymore.

In your opinion, is it significant that this exhibition opened in New York during Fashion Week?

I love that the exhibition opening coincided with Fashion Week. I think it is significant because in the past couple of years we've seen a lot of non-Native designers being inspired by our culture. I think this exhibition will make people think and will helpfully leave with a better insight into Native Fashion Now.

In the exhibition, are you presented as a Pathbreaker, Revisitor, Activator, or Provocateur?

My work is billed as Provocateur. Let me add that I love Karen Kramer and her vision. Before this show she supported my work. She even came to my first big fashion show during New York Couture Fashion Week 2013. I would like to think my work surprises people when they find out what it is made of. My gown in this exhibit is made of sealskin, beaver tail, carp skin, beads, and rooster feathers.

Where can people go to learn more about you and your art?

You can reach me at shoshoesquirocouture@gmail.com

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would just like to add it has actually been a life goal to have a piece showing at the Smithsonian. I thank you for this opportunity.

Thank you for doing this interview, and congratulations on having your work chosen for Native Fashion Now.

Native Fashion Now is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York through September 4, 2017. Sho Sho Esquiro's work is represented in the exhibition by her Wile Wile Wile dress.

Native Fashion Now is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. The Coby Foundation Ltd. provided generous support. The New York presentation of this exhibition and related programming is made possible through the generous support of Ameriprise Financial and the members of the New York Board of Directors of the National Museum of the American Indian. Additional funding provided by Macy’s.

Photographs are © the photographers and are used courtesy of Sho Sho Esquiro. 

#NativeFashionNow 

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May 12, 2017

This weekend at the museum in New York


Things to do and see at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York this weekend, May 13 & 14.
 

Hau_4
From Mohala Mai 'O Hau by Robert Lono ‘Ikuwā, illustrated by Matthew Kāwika Ortiz.

Family event: A storybook reading of Mohala Mai 'O Hau—How Hau Became Hau'ula 
Saturday, May 13, from 1 to 2 pm 

In Mohala Mai 'O Hau by Robert Lono ‘Ikuwā, illustrated by Matthew Kāwika Ortiz. A young girl from Ko'olauloa, is overshadowed by her beautiful and talented older sisters named Niu, Pühala, and Lehua. But with the help of her kupuna, Hau begins to blossom as she discovers her unique talents and contributions. 
 
The reading is followed by a hands-on activity stamping kapa paper designs on totebags.
 
#AsianPacificAmericanHeritageMonth


Alexander_Hamilton_US_Custom_House_-_Oculus_Rotunda
Rotunda of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, showing the vaulted ceiling by Rafael Gustavino and murals of New York City by Reginald Marsh. Photo CC Jeanvic24. 
Tour of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House 
Saturday, May 13, 2017, 12 to 1 pm 
Tour highlights include a discussion of the history of the Custom House, architect Cass Gilbert, and sculptor Daniel Chester French; viewing the Collectors Office with Tiffany woodwork; Reginald Marsh murals; and the 140-ton rotunda dome by Rafael Gustavino.
 
Ceramics-426
Greater Nicoya female figure-vessel, AD 800–1200. Linea Vieja area, Costa Rica. Pottery, clay slip, paint. NMAI Photo Services, Smithsonian 22/8837. On view in Cerámica de los Ancestros.
Tour of Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America's Past Revealed 
Sunday, May 14, 2017, 12 to 1 pm & 2 to 3 pm
Explore the exceptional artistry of approximately 155 objects made of clay, gold, jade, stone and shell. All together, these objects span the period from 2000 B.C. to the present and provide fascinating details about the lives of the peoples who have called present-day Central America home for centuries.
 
Tour of Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian 
A 45-minute tour of Infinity of Nations, showcasing the material culture of the Americas from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic through many of the most beautiful and historic objects in the museum's collections. 


Exhibitions 

NFN-10-014-web (1)
Orlando Dugi (Diné [Navajo]) and Troy Sice (Zuni), The Guardian—Bringer of Thunder, Lightning and Rain handbag, 2013. Elk antler, stingray leather, parrot feathers, bobcat fur, rubies, shell, glass beads, and sterling silver. Courtesy of the artist. On view in Native Fashion Now.
Native Fashion Now
From vibrant street clothing to exquisite haute couture, Native Fashion Now celebrates the visual range, creative expression, and political nuance of Native American fashion.
 
This bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibition illuminates Central America’s diverse and dynamic ancestral heritage with a selection of more than 150 objects. For thousands of years, Central America has been home to vibrant civilizations, each with unique, sophisticated ways of life, value systems, and arts. The ceramics these peoples left behind, combined with recent archaeological discoveries, help tell the stories of these dynamic cultures and their achievements.  
 
214677_1000
Iñupiaq ship carving ca. 1880–1910. Point Barrow, Alaska. Ivory, sinew. NMAI Photo Services, Smithsonian 21/4677. On view in Infinity of Nations.

Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian 
This spectacular, permanent exhibition of some 700 works of Native art from throughout North, Central, and South America demonstrates the breadth of the museum's renowned collection and highlights the historic importance of many of these iconic objects.
 
Circle of Dance 
Featuring ten social and ceremonial dances from throughout the Americas, the exhibition illuminates the significance of each dance and highlights the unique characteristics of its movements and music.
 
The National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye in New York
Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House | 
One Bowling Green | New York, N.Y. 10004

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April 30, 2017

National Poetry Month 2017: An interview with Autumn White Eyes

For National Poetry Month 2017, Dennis Zotigh, cultural specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian, interviews the young Native poet and spoken word artist Autumn White Eyes.

Spoken word artist Autumn White Eyes
Poet and spoken word artist Autumn White Eyes.

Please introduce yourself.

Han mitakuyepi! Autumn White Eyes emačiyapi ye. Hello relatives. My name is Autumn White Eyes.

Can you give us your Native name and its English translation?

My Lakota name is Wanbli Ohitika Win, which means Brave Eagle Woman.

What tribe, nation, or Native community are you affiliated with?

I am an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. I am Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe on my mother’s side, and I am Oglala Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Pawnee on my father’s side.

Where did you grow up, and where do you call home now?

I grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota, in the village of Pine Ridge. This is where I call home. I currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attend the Harvard Graduate School of Education, studying Arts in Education.

How old were you when you became interested in poetry?

I was 14 years old. One of my closest friends in high school was writing poetry and shared it with me. I was fascinated by her ability to paint pictures with words. The following year I was able to take Creative Writing as an elective at my high school, Red Cloud Indian School. This was when I first delved deep into writing, and I have been writing ever since.

Who were the individuals who inspired you?

The first poet I started reading was Nikki Giovanni. I was inspired by her work focused on issues that are particularly relevant to women of color. I also watched performances by John Trudell and was inspired to see a Native leader use poetry to speak out against injustice. His writing inspires me to take the same direction of action through my work. As a young spoken word artist, I was very inspired by Mayda Del Valle’s performance style and hope to captivate audiences in the same way that she does.

Currently, popular Native artists such as Mic Jordan, Frank Waln, Tanaya Winder, and SupaMan inspire me. Their drive and courage to speak freely inspires me to take the same direction with my work.

Have you competed and won any awards for your work?

I’ve competed in numerous poetry slams throughout the years. Most notably, I led a team from Pine Ridge to the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam in 2011. I’ve also had my work published in the Yellow Medicine Review (2016), Last Stand Mixtape (2015), and Last Real Indians (2012), and a video of my work was featured on Indian Country Today Media Network (2012). In college, I was awarded an honorable mention in the William C. Spengemann Award in Writing for my piece Dear Pe’Sla, which you can also read at Last Real Indians.

Do you consider your art form Indigenous popular culture?

Yes, I do. I think writing poetry is a common practice among Indigenous peoples because often our cultures are rooted in oral history.

How does your work coincide with traditional Native art forms?

Poetry and spoken word are forms of oral tradition and storytelling. Our elders have always passed down stories of our tribes. I was lucky to grow up with my great grandmothers, and I loved hearing them tell stories, which always sounded like poetry to me. I also incorporate Lakota language throughout my work.

Where do you envision the future of your art form headed on the world’s stage?

I hope that someday wider society will know and read my work. I believe spoken word generally has reached the world’s stage through artists such as John Trudell and Joy Harjo who have paved the way for artists like me.

Autumn White Eyes
Autumn White Eyes.

When you're asked to explain your work, how do you answer?

When I begin writing a new piece, I do it with the intention of my personal needs—I use writing as cathartic practice. As I continue to create a piece, I do it with the intention for audience. I hope that my work inspires Native youth to share their stories, too. As Native people, we are virtually invisible to wider society, so I use my artwork to reach others and speak out against injustices I have faced and my people face.

On average, how much time does it take you to write one of your complete lyrics?

This is hard to say. I revise my work a lot before I feel ready to share it with others. On average it takes about a month of work before I feel that something is ready to share. But I wouldn’t call any of my pieces complete, because I often return to them and will change things based on how I’ve grown as an individual.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in creating your art?

The biggest challenge I am currently facing is finding the time to dedicate to writing because of my work as a full-time graduate student. Lately I have been working on revising past work, submitting these works for publication, and performing spoken word whenever I can.

What do you do to get inspired to be creative?

I often will read poetry and watch performances from poets who inspire me. I also listen to music from artists such as Tupac and Blue Scholars, which often inspires me to begin to write. Any time something inspires me, I write it down and will return to it to create.

Are there any unique signature pieces you are known for?

When I run into people who know my work, they usually mention my piece A Letter to Urban Outfitters. This piece explores cultural appropriation as an injustice. I wrote it after the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for using the nation's name in their clothing.

How do your earlier pieces differ from what you produce today?

My earlier pieces were created in the tradition of slam poetry. They were very political and have angrier connotations embedded within them. My more current work is more reflective and speaks more on the ways injustices personally impact me. I’ve also been creating work that uplifts Native youth, which was my intention behind the piece Power, published in the Yellow Medicine Review.

Where are some notable places you have performed?

Brave New Voices Bay Area; Dartmouth College; Harvard Graduate School of Education Cultural Celebration; Dahl Arts Center with Wichoiye Washaka (Strong Words), Rapid City, South Dakota; Oglala Lakota Nation Powwow, Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where I opened for the band Scatter Their Own.

As you're a spoken word artist, where can we find more of your work in video?

You can find A Letter To Urban Outfitters and I survived Catholic School on YouTube. Indigene  is one of the tracks on Last Stand Mixtape, Vol. 1.

Thank you.

Thank you.

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