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December 30, 2010

January's FREE Film Screening: "Reel Injun"

If you're looking for a way to escape the cold this January, the museum will be offering FREE daily screenings of the 2009 documentary Reel Injun starting this Saturday. Throughout the month, the film will play every day (except Wednesdays) at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. in the museum's Rasmuson Theater.

Directed by Neil Diamond (Cree), Reel Injun explores the Hollywood Indian through a century of cinema to uncover how the myth of "the Injun" has influenced the world's (mis)understanding of Native peoples. Clips from classic and recent films, along with candid interviews (Clint Eastwood, Chris Eyre, Robbie Robertson, Sacheen Littlefeather, John Trudell, and Russell Means, among others), trace the evolution of cinema's depictions of Native people from the silent film era to today.

Check out the trailer below, and bring your friends and family on by!


For more information on NMAI's Film & Video screenings, click here.


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good to know.

There's an excellent review of Reel Indian in today's Washington Post. The writer, Courtland Molloy, uses the issues raised by the film to discuss the Washington NFL team's insensitive nickname and imagery. Here's the link:


The Redskins is a really poor team name and
I think kids should not use it in fantasy
football for example.


December 29, 2010

On the 120th Anniversary of Wounded Knee

P22843Sioux camp scene, unknown man with blanket strip and rifle, ca. 1880 (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution - P22843 )

One hundred and twenty years ago today, more than 140 Lakota men, women and children were killed during the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota. Below is an excerpt from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown. First published in 1970, the book has sold more than 5 million copies and is credited for challenging the mythology that surrounds "Manifest Destiny" and the American West:

There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us. Some said they saw the Son of God; others did not see Him. If He had come, He would do some great things as He had done before. We doubted it because we had seen neither Him nor His works.

The people did not know; they did not care. They snatched at the hope. They screamed like crazy men to Him for mercy. They caught at the promise they heard He had made.

The white men were frightened and called for soldiers. We had begged for life, and the white men thought we wanted theirs. We heard that soldiers were coming. We did not fear. We hoped that we could tell them our troubles and get help. A white man said the soldiers meant to kill us. We did not believe it, but some were frightened and ran away to the Badlands.

- Red Cloud

Red Cloud
1872 Studio portrait of Chief Mahpina Luta or Red Cloud (1822-1909) (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution - P01034)

Had it not been for the sustaining force of the Ghost Dance religion, the Sioux in their grief and anger over the assassination of Sitting Bull might have risen up against the guns of the soldiers. So prevalent was their belief that the white men would soon disappear and that with the next greening of the grass their dead relatives and friends would return, they made no retaliations. By the hundreds, however, the leaderless Hunkpapas fled from Standing Rock, seeking refuge in one of the Ghost Dance camps or with the last of the great chiefs, Red Cloud, at Pine Ridge. In the Moon When the Deer Shed Their Horns (December 17) about a hundred of these fleeing Hunkpapas reached Big Foots Minneconjou camp near Cherry Creek. That same day the War Department issued orders for the arrest and imprisonment of Big Foot. He was on the list of “fomenters of disturbances.”

Pine ridge imagery
"Crow Dog and Family at Home," Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Jan. 16, 1891 (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution - P27614 ) 

As soon as Big Foot learned that Sitting Bull had been killed, he started his people toward Pine Ridge, hoping that Red Cloud could protect them from the soldiers. En route, he fell ill of pneumonia, and when hemorrhaging began, he had to travel in a wagon. On December 28, as they neared Porcupine Creek, the Minneconjous sighted four troops of cavalry approaching. Big Foot immediately ordered a white flag run up over his wagon. About two o’clock in the afternoon he raised up from his blankets to greet Major Samuel Whiteside, Seventh U.S. Cavalry. Big Foot’s blankets were stained with blood from his lungs, and as he talked in a hoarse whisper with Whiteside, red drops fell from his nose and froze in the bitter cold.

Whiteside told Big Foot that he had orders to take him to a cavalry camp on Wounded Knee Creek. The Minneconjou chief replied that he was going in that direction; he was taking his people to Pine Ridge for safety.

Turning to his half-breed scout, John Shangreau, Major Whitside ordered him to begin disarming Big Foot’s band.

“Look here, Major,” Shangreau replied, “if you do that, there is liable to be a fight here; and if there is, you will kill all of those women and children and the men will get away from you.”

Whitside insisted that his orders were to capture Big Foot’s Indians and disarm and dismount them.

 "We’d better take them to camp and then take their horses from them and their guns,” Shangreau declared.

“All right,” Whitside agreed. “You tell Big Foot to move down to camp at Wounded Knee.”

The major glanced at the ailing chief, and then gave an order for his Army ambulance to be brought forward. The ambulance would be warmer and would give Big Foot an easier ride than the jolting springless wagon. After the chief was transferred to the ambulance, Whitside formed a column for the march to Wounded Knee Creek. Two troops of cavalry took the lead, the ambulance and wagons following, the Indians herded into a compact group behind them, with the other two cavalry troops and a battery of two Hotchkiss guns bringing up the rear.

Twilight was falling when the column crawled over the last rise in the land and began descending the slope toward Chankpe Opi Wakpala, the creek called Wounded Knee. The wintry dusk and the tiny crystals of ice dancing in the dying light added a supernatural quality to the somber landscape. Somewhere along this frozen stream the heart of Crazy Horse lay in a secret place, and the Ghost Dancers believed that his disembodied spirit was waiting impatiently for the new earth that would surely come with the first green grass of spring.

At the cavalry tent camp on Wounded Knee Creek, the Indians were halted and children counted. There were 120 men and 230 women and children. Because of the gathering darkness, Major Whitside decided to wait until morning before disarming his prisoners. He assigned them a camping area immediately to the south of the military camp, issued them rations, and as there was a shortage of tepee covers, he furnished them several tents. Whitside ordered a stove placed in Big Foot’s tent and sent a regimental surgeon to administer to the sick chief. To make certain that none of his prisoners escaped, the major stationed two troops of cavalry as sentinels around the Sioux tepees, and then posted his two Hotchkiss guns on top of a rise overlooking the camp. The barrels of these rifled guns, which could hurl explosive charges for more than two miles, were positioned to rake the length of the Indian lodges.

P22420 View of survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre surrendering to the U.S. Army, Jan. 1, 1891 (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution - P22420)

Later in the darkness of that December night the remainder of the Seventh Regiment marched in from the east and quietly bivouacked north of Major Whitside’s troops. Colonel James W. Forsyth, commanding Custer’s former regiment, now took charge of operations. He informed Whiteside that he had received orders to take Big Foot’s band to the Union Pacific Railroad for shipment to a military prison in Omaha.

After placing two more Hotchkiss guns on the slope beside the others, Forsyth and his officers settled down for the evening with a keg of whiskey to celebrate the capture of Big Foot.

The chief lay in his tent, too ill to sleep, barely able to breathe. Even with their protective Ghost Shirts and their belief in the prophecies of the new Messiah, his people were fearful of the pony soldiers camped all around them.

Fourteen years before, on the Little Bighorn, some of these warriors had helped defeat some of these soldier chiefs – Moylan, Varnum, Wallace, Godfrey, Edgerly—and the Indians wondered if revenge could still be in their hearts.

“The following morning there was a bugle call,” said Wasumaza, one of Big Foot’s warriors who years afterward was to change his name to Dewey Beard. “Then I saw the soldiers mounting their horses and surrounding us. It was announced that all men should come to the center for a talk and that after the talk they were to move on to Pine Ridge agency. Big Foot was brought out of his tepee and sat in front of his tent and the olderr men were gathered around him and sitting right near him in the center.”

After issuing hardtack for breakfast rations, Colonel Forsyth informed the Indians that they were now to be disarmed. “They called us for guns and arms,” White Lance said,” so all of us gave the guns and they were stacked in the center.” The soldier chiefs were not satisfied with the number of weapons surrendered, and so they sent details of troopers to search the tepees. “They would go right into the tents and come out with bundles and tear them open,” Dog Chief said. “They brought our axes, knives, and tent stakes and piled them near the guns.”

Government school with tipi camp nearby at Pine Ridge Agency, S.D. The families are camped near the school their children are attending - Jan. 17, 1891. (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution - P22546 )

Still not satisfied, the soldier chiefs ordered the warriors to remove their blankets and submit to searches for weapons. The Indians’ faces showed their anger, but only the medicine man, Yellow Bird, made any overt protest. He danced a few Ghost Dance steps, and chanted one of the holy songs, assuring the warriors that the soldiers’ bullets could not penetrate their sacred garments. “The bullets will not go toward you,” he chanted in Sioux. “The prairie is large and the bullets will not go toward you.”

The troopers found only two rifles, one of them a new Winchester belong to a young Minneconjou named Black Coyote. Black Coyote raised the Winchester above his head, shouting that he paid much money for the rifle and that it belonged to him. Some years afterward Dewey Beard recalled that Black Coyote was deaf. “If they had left him alone he was going to put his gun down where he should. They grabbed him and spinned him in the east direction. He was still unconcerned even then. He hadn’t his gun pointed at anyone. His intention was to put that gun down. They came on and grabbed the gun that he was going to put down. Right after they spun him around there was the report of a gun, was quite loud. I couldn’t say that anyone was shot, but following that was a crash.”

“It sounded much like the sound of tearing canvas, that was the crash,” Rough Feather said. Afraid-of-the-Enemy described it as a “lightning crash.”

P12752 Bird's Eye View of Complete Battle Ground at Wounded Knee, Jan. 1891 (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution - P12752)

Turning Hawk said that Black Coyote “was a crazy man, a young man of very bad influence and in fact a nobody.” He said that Black Coyote fired his gun and that “immediately the soldiers returned fire and indiscriminate killing followed.”

In the first seconds of violence, the firing of carbines was deafening, filling the air with powder smoke. Among the dying who lay sprawled on the frozen ground was Big Foot. Then there was a brief lull in the rattle of arms, with small groups of Indians and soldiers grappling at close quarters, using knives, clubs, and pistols. As few of the Indians had arms, they soon had to flee, and then the big Hotchkiss guns on the hill opened upon them, firing almost a shell a second, raking the Indian camp, shredding the tepees with flying shrapnel, killing men, women and children.

 “We tried to run,” Louise Weasel Bear said, “but they shot us like we were buffalo. I know there are some good white people, but the soldiers must be mean to shoot children and women. Indian soldiers would not do that to white children.”

“I was running away from the place and followed those who were running away,” said Hakiktawin, another of the young women. “My grandfather and grandmother and brother were killed as we crossed the ravine, and then I was shot on the right hip clear through and on my right wrist where I did not go any further as I was not able to walk, and after the soldier picked me up where a little girl came to me and crawled into the blanket.”

When the madness ended, Big Foot and more than half of his people were dead or seriously wounded; 153 were known dead, but many of the wounded crawled away to die afterward. One estimate placed the final total of dead at very nearly three hundred of the original 350 men, women and children. The soldiers lost twenty-five dead and thirty-nine wounded, most of them struck by their own bullets or shrapnel.

After the wounded cavalrymen were started for the agency at Pine Ridge, a detail of soldiers went over the Wounded Knee battlefield, gathering up Indians who were still alive and loading them into wagons. As it was apparent by the end of the day that a blizzard was approaching, the dead Indians were left lying where they had fallen. (After the blizzard, when a burial party returned to Wounded Knee, they found the bodies, including Big Foot’s, frozen into grotesque shapes).

The wagonloads of wounded Sioux (four men and forty-seven women and children) reached Pine Ridge after dark. Because all available barracks were filled with soldiers, they were left lying in the open wagons in the bitter cold while an inept Army officer searched for shelter. Finally the Episcopal mission was opened, the benches taken out, and hay scattered over the rough flooring.

It was the fourth day after Christmas in the Year of Our Lord 1890. When the first torn and bleeding bodies were carried into the candlelit church, those who were conscious could see the Christmas greenery hanging above the open rafters. Across the chancel front above the pulpit was strung a crudely lettered banner: PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN.

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

- Black Elk

  P22421 The monument at the Wounded Knee Cemetery, photographed during the 40th anniversary of the Wounded Knee. The monument, erected in 1903 at the site of the mass grave of victims  by surviving relatives, honor the "many innocent women and children who knew no wrong..." (National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution - P22421)

Comments (6)

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I have the book and have been to Wounded Knee. It is a very emotional place to be. Sacred Ground!!!

It is a good day to wear my T-shirt. Over a picture of four armed Apaches it says: "Homeland Security" and beneath the photo it says "Fighting Terrorism Since 1492." I'm descended from Eastern Band Cherokee and Lumbee through my great-grandmother, and I cherish every drop of my native blood.

I remember reading about a lot of this as a kid in school. It is so saddening to think that the Native Americans were treated in such an inhumane way.

Things for the most part have certainly improved here in the western world, but things like this are still happening to many other people in different parts of the world still today.

Thanks for a great article and history lesson.

What a valuable piece of history and details. Thanks for putting into such efforts writing this article.


Great post, you did hard work to make it.

December 27, 2010

In Memory of Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck

Helen In May 2009, Helen’s 40-plus-year odyssey fighting for Indian self-determination was recognized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, longtime champion of American Indian civil rights, pioneer for Indian control of their own education, and passionate advocate for the sovereignty of her Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, died Sunday night, Dec. 19, 2010. She was 75 years old.

"Dr. Scheirbeck's passing is a true loss for North Carolina's Lumbee community and the greater American Indian community," U.S. Senator Kay R. Hagan (D-NC) said in a statement on her passing.

"As a Lumbee, Dr. Scheirbeck was a champion for the full federal recognition that her tribe so rightly deserves. Over the course of her distinguished career, she was a tireless advocate for all American Indians. She began her career working for former North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin, and among her many accomplishments, her influence helped Congress to pass the 1968 Indian Bill of Rights and the Indian Education Act of 1975. Dr. Scheirbeck's contributions to the Indian American community will not be forgotten."

On Dec. 22, Senator Hagan read a tribute for Helen into the Congressional Record:

"Mr. President, last weekend the nation lost Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck – a great civil rights leader and a passionate advocate for American Indian rights.

 Born in Lumberton, North Carolina, as a proud member of the Lumbee Tribe, Dr. Scheirbeck’s passing is a true loss for the Lumbee and the greater American Indian community. A champion for American Indian sovereignty, Dr. Scheirbeck worked constantly throughout her incredibly prolific career to enable future generations of Indian leaders to build healthier and better-educated communities.

In her early work on Capitol Hill, Dr. Scheirbeck served on the staff of North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin, then Chair of Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. This work helped lay the foundation for the historic 1968 Indian Bill of Rights that extended Constitutional rights and protections to American Indians nationwide. Similarly, Dr. Scheirbeck’s efforts to organize the 1962 Capitol Conference on Poverty helped to ensure that Indian communities were a focus of the nationwide War on Poverty.

Her commitment to self-determination and individual responsibility is further exemplified by Dr. Scheirbeck’s work to empower tribal leaders to govern and educate their communities. Working on behalf of the Carter Administration, Dr. Scheirbeck’s leadership was instrumental in realigning federal policies to support Indian sovereignty. Most notably, her efforts helped to ensure the passage of the Indian Education Act of 1975 and the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978, which have enabled Indian leaders to provide better educational opportunities for current and future generations.

Working throughout her life to provide a forum for Indian leaders in our nation’s capital, Dr. Scheirbeck was instrumental in establishing the National Museum of the American Indian. As Assistant Director in the early years of the museum, Dr. Scheirbeck guided the Office of Education and its program in Cultural Arts. In so doing, she sought to bring the experience of the American Indian to the National Mall, and to demonstrate the applicability of Indian education models to educators throughout the world.

Finally, much of Dr. Scheirbeck’s life was devoted to the cause of recognition for the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Her life’s work helped reverse the federal government’s efforts to terminate relationships with American Indian tribes. Sadly, though, Dr. Scheirbeck’s own Lumbee Tribe still bears the burden of this unfortunate policy, and she fought throughout her life to provide the Lumbee with the full recognition that they so deserve. While Dr. Scheirbeck did not live to see this dream become a reality, her life and work have helped to sustain the drive for Lumbee recognition for decades.

Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck’s presence and contributions throughout Indian country are irreplaceable, and her tireless efforts on behalf of American Indians throughout the country will continue to inspire future Indian leaders for generations to come."


Helen is survived by her only child, Mary L. Miller of Ocean Pines, Md., and grandchildren Samantha Nicole Miller and Michael Jay Miller, Jr., and three sisters.      

The family will be establishing a scholarship fund in her name. Share your memories and express your condolences for Helen Scheirbeck in our comments. 

Read the Washington Post's obituary here.        

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Helen was an extraordinary person who brought remarkable energy and passion to her life and work. When she first came to NMAI, it was instantly clear that she was a real leader, one with the ability to motivate and inspire others. Her commitment to the advancement of indigenous peoples was her great, singular passion, but, in her personal relationships, she brought a similar, though more personal and intimate, commitment to those about whom she cared most. Where others might be authoritarian and rigid, Helen was generous and expansive. And while some could be guarded and cautious, Helen would always cut through the posturing and obfuscating, and get right to the heart of her mission—life, love, good works, and the pursuit of happiness. It was an honor to know her and a joy to be her friend.

Truly fascinating blog.
Helen's work and achievements paved the way for a new purpose.
Much time dedicated to helping others, with no self-gratification.
The Lumbee tribe will continue to prosper from Helens work and many others will see the reasoning behind such thoughtfulness.

December 20, 2010

VIRTUAL TOUR: "Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the Earth under the night sky)"

Artist Brian Jungen (Dunne-za First Nations/Swiss-Canadian) transforms familiar consumer goods into unexpected objects that question globalization, pop culture, museums, and the commodification of Native culture.

Jungen first came to prominence with Prototypes for New Understandings (1998-2005), for which he fashioned Nike footwear into masks that suggested Northwest Coast iconography. Later works have included a pod of whales made from plastic chairs, totem poles made from golf bags, and a massive basketball court made from 224 sewing tables. 

Created on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbor for the 2008 Sydney Biennale, Jungen's piece Crux depicts animals native to Australia which figure prominently in the constellations defined by Indigenous Australians: a crocodile, an emu, a shark, a possum, and a sea eagle. Crux is the formal name for the constellation commonly known as the Southern Cross. The mobile suggests themes of displacement and disorientation, lost luggage, and the question of who has the right to name the stars.


See Crux on display in the Potomac Atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian.

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I found the artwork with glass amazing. To take glass and make such a beautiful piece of art is really amazing. It sure seems unfair how the American Indians were treated. A true black mark in American History. Thanks for the great information, really enjoyed it.

I like Brian Jungen, he's great Artist.

I like the work of Brian Jungen. Thanks for the article and the video.

Brian Jungen's idea of Crux is really brilliant. He's a real artist!

Wow, you might say that the technology is very good! Photo, so beautiful, very clear, wish you good luck, create the future together!

Brian Jungen is a great artists, I love his work. Thanks for the video.

Brian Jungen is a true artist of immense creativity. I am still literally out of words for his glass creations. Thanks for posting this video !

Hi Molly,

Some people's minds are truly extraordinary. Jungen's work is beyond impressive.

In the Smithsonian Art Museum in D.C., there is a giant portrait of a woman... the whole thing done in black ink and thumb prints!

I also saw a gentleman who carved out all but a needle-thin skeleton of ostrich egg shells, leaving an almost oval snowflake effect.

I personally have an infrared camera that I've been using in a pretty unusual way to produce exotic art, but I'll save that for another discussion.

Outstanding post. I really appreciate you sharing it, Molly.

Take care.

You're an awesome blogger, I give you that. Keep up the good work.

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your site? My blog site is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would really benefit from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks!

The museum would be delighted if you reposted from this blog. Thanks in advance for giving the author the proper credit and for linking back to NMAI. All the best with your blog.

Great video and extraondiary artist!! loved the glass one

I’m glad to know there are still writers out there that can create good
thought-provoking content. I really like this article and the writer’s unique point of view.There’s a lot of good information here.

It is really fantastic article.This video is superb.

Brian Jungen's idea of Crux is really brilliant. He's a great artist!

Now this is unbelievably amazing.

December 17, 2010

Navajo Film "The Rocket Boy" Headed to Sundance!

Congrats to Donavan Seschillie, Jake Hoyungowa, and Deidre Lynn Peachesthree Navajo filmmakers whose latest work, The Rocket Boy, has been selected for this year's Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January. At 22, Seschillie is the youngest Native American director in Sundance's history. The trio made the film with just $600 and are currently fundraising for their trip to Sundance. (Read more about the film and its creators at The Arizona Daily Sun.)

The Rocket Boy premiered at NMAI’s 2010 Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe and has also been selected for the museum's 15th Native American Film + Video Festival,  which will be held at the museum's George Gustav Heye Center in New York from March 31 through April 3, 2011. Peaches's first film, Imagine, was created in 2007 for the museum's showcase "Thanksgiving Revisited: New Views by Young Filmmakers." She was 14 years old when she made that film.

Check out the trailer below for The Rocket Boy and get to know these talented young people at their website!


You can learn more about Native directors, producers, writers, actors, musicians, and cultural activists by visiting the museum's Native Networks website, which features profiles of childhood friends Peaches and Seschillie.


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"The Rocket Boy", I have not seen the film, look good?

We helped some of our guests to visit the sundance festival... A must see one... Seschille has done a good work


Good Work Seschille
and looking forward to seeing more films

Roam World

Movie trailers have a difficult job. They have to condense a full feature film into an exciting, bite-sized morsel without giving away too much. Some do the former great, but blow it when it comes to the latter.