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January 26, 2011

Who is Indian, and what makes a person an Indian?

My answer? There are many definitions of who is an Indian. As a starting point, “Indian” is a misguided label that spread through Europe after 1492. Native people have always associated themselves with their tribe(s) and referenced their tribal names in their tribal languages. Explorers and colonists from Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, and Russia, among other countries, began naming tribes they encountered in North America in European languages. As English became the primary language in the United States, American Indian (to distinguish us from Indians native to India) became the collective term used.

American Indians generally belong to or are descendents of tribes indigenous to what is now the United States.

In modern times the federal government, states, tribes and individuals have formed their own definitions of who is Indian. Three important criteria to consider when answering this question are federal legal definitions, ethnological Indian ancestry, and tribal membership. The federal government lists 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaskan Native Communities. Twenty-two states also have criteria for recognizing tribes within their boundaries. The majority of state-recognized tribes, however, are not federally recognized. For United States Census purposes, an individual simply needs to self identify themselves as American Indian and Alaskan Native to be counted in the final summary.

The question of who is an Indian is often debated among Indian people. Does carrying a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) make you Indian? Does being raised away from a reservation and not having traditional knowledge make a person less Indian? Does knowing your language make you more Indian? These are some of the complex questions that have been debated on determining Indian identity. The response depends on who is answering the question.

Skin color does not make you Indian. In our museum I have heard non-Indians comment they have seen an Indian simply if the person they saw has the long black hair, brown skin, and high cheek bones associated with the classic Indian image. In reality, there are proud Indians with blonde hair and blue eyes or black skin. Through intermarriage, their Indian descent comes from one or both Indian parents.

Each tribe has the sovereign authority to define who its members are and who is eligible to be enrolled. Some tribes have blood quantum requirements—a requirement that to be enrolled, a person must have at least a certain degree of tribal ancestry, such as one-fourth—while other tribes’ laws state that a person is eligible for enrollment if one of his or her ancestors appears on a particular historical list of tribal members. Ultimately the question, “Who is an Indian?” is determined by tribal law.


Please comment and turn this blog into a conversation.

Comments (136)

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It is fine if your grandmother or great-grandfather was Native but it seems to be most important to me where your heart is. Do you accept and adopt the customs, traditions and belief's of your tribal organization?

I do and I'm proud of my heritage. It has become the best part of what I am.

Well said!

i believe it is very important to not only take part in your heritage but to know why and what the rituals and belives are. Because at the end of the day that is where you came from , it does not make you any better or worse than any other race, but defines what race you are. We come from so many different backrounds in so many different shapes and sizes and colours and it is positive to show our uniqueness.. every single one of us, and be proud. For purley positive reasons.


I would call "American Indian" a poor concept. A misnomer like "Latino" being used for Hispanic-Indigenous. "Native" or "Indigenous" are descendents of tribes indigenous to the continents of North and South America.

I agree with Gene everybody is quick to claim they have Indian in there blood but not many who claim this truly support the customs beliefs or traditions. Not much awareness is made available either.


Each tribe has the sovereign authority to define who its members are and who is eligible to be enrolled. Some tribes have blood quantum requirements.

Each tribe has a diferent set of standards for enrolling its members. This is their right under the law. A tribal member may rightly be considered a Native American under their tribes laws.

However, if a Native American descendant who is qualified to be enrolled into a specific tribe declines this enrollment, does this mean they are not Native American?

I have heard of many Cherokees who descend from Cherokee tribal members who did not enroll in the Dawes Roll of 1906, because of the incredible presures of the times and hatred of anyone who is identified as "Indian."

Also, many blacks escaping slave masters before the Civil War had been brought into the tribe for their safety, and inter-married with tribal members and were placed on the Dawes Rolls. Are their descendants not Cherokee because the tribe recently descided to take them off of the Cherokee Rolls? Website information at http://americanindianoriginals.com

Ethinic identity is more than a set of rules that change under current pressures or beliefs. This is why laws are needed that withstand political pressures.

This is especially true because tribal revenue from gambling and possibly natural resources would be divided with any additional members.

I have heard many who have been rejected for enrollment that they would be happy to sign away any financial support or gain in order to have their tribal heritage officially recognized.

This may be one area of tribal business that should be uniformly regulated the U.S. government. Bonnie

I think that to be an Indian is not only necessary to be born in India, but believe with commitment to the values ​​of the same tribe. Because usually, India is bound to be a way of life full of sacrifices, therefore, are people who believe very much to their race and to his style. It would be interesting to know, to date, there are many different tribes in the world ...
Jessica Parra|CessioneQuintoINPDAP

My grandparents were from Italy. Much of my childhood was spent immersed in Italian traditions. I feel as though, I am Italian-American. I don't find the distinction much different.

With the global interaction today, it is more difficult to define who is what. Things get more complex and I think it is now in each person's hand to decide.

I feel that 'indigenous' or native Indians better describes the originality than just saying American Indian. America is a long, long continent with many tribes, north, central and south. GD

How far do you actually go back to trace your descendants. In the big picture we are all the same anyway. We descend from apes, them fish then single cell amoebes - so really it is a bit short sited to even argue the fact. I am italian but I am a human being first - we are all the same people!

I was very encouraged to find this site. The reason being that this is such an informative post. I wanted to thank you for this informative read of the subject.

I believe that the qualities that make a man Indian by heart are Selfless service of others and helping others.

The subject about tribes and heritage should be looked into with seriousness. All of us belong to some tribe by heritage. It is not something you choose in life but it is chosen for you before you exist on this earth. So finding your roots and establishing yourself in them is very important. It will help you to know who you are so that you are not lost in a society filled with confusion. Most of us are doing our best to run away from our heritage but we do not realise that is what defines us, we should be doing our best to preserve it.

Thank you for this article! It is very interesting! We hope to come back with other articles as interesting and exciting!

I'm Jewish, and there are two components to how you are identified. Technically it's based on your blood; if your Mother was, then so are you. But as with other peoples there's the cultural aspect. There's a whole way of being, behavior, and values. So with Indians I imagine it's a combination of ancestry and how you conduct yourself.

This is an interesting topic one that i surely dont have an answer for but makes me think!

It's interesting to learn that without having to learn a language of the American Indians, you may still be considered a American Indian as long as one of your ancestors are.

I agree with Ankit's statement that discusses being Jewish. I'm Polish, and being Polish is defined in a similar way. I was born in America, but my mom's side of the family is all from Poland. The Polish people have a certain set of standards/customs one should go by, and those standards/customs can at times be considerably different. That may be because of the many wars Poland has found itself involved in, namely WWII. Possibly because of Soviet control as well. Either way, it's interesting to think about it with Native Americans, and I would imagine they have their own version of that too.

I really appreciate this wonderful image that you have provided for us.
Thanks for sharing this image.

I follow you constantly. This kind of hope that you continue to the shares. good luck.

this site is awesome, im bookmarking everything i read

Understanding your family history and where you come from, the culture, etc., is a very important part of life. As I live in Mexico right now, I see many different heritages. While there are many of European blood here, the vast majority has native blood in them.

Your blog is so informative. Most of the time i got busy with my class.
When i got free i read your blog.
But i have not found the subscribtion option of your blog. If i subscribe with ur blog i can get info about updating your blog .
Can u please reply back to me how can i get a subscribtion ? It's really informative.
Keep updating daily.

My wife has native American on both sides, but not enough to be considered Indian. It is interesting that there is no real way to prove that you are Indian.

This is a fascinating topic. I am not a native American - at least as far as I know. As an American however, I feel that our society and culture has truly been enriched by that of the native peoples. I am proud of this aspect of being American. It would be interesting to view the DNA of Americans and see the extent of our overall genetic influences.

It does not matter who you are and what's your origin. What matter is that how you behave. Race does not make you any better.

If you behave nicely then you are a good person and otherwise :-)

I don't have a clear answer for such a fascinating topic (although I believe you are what you feel you belong to), just wanted to tell you, as a fan of American Indians' culture, how much I appreciate your blogsite and its great content.

Sandro Falasca

I am one eighth Indian. My great grandmother married my great grandfather, an English envoy stationed in India whilst under British rule. My great grandmothers family were less than impressed. However she passed her meditation practice down the generations and I meditate every day. Do I feel I qualify as Indian? Superficially you would never know, I'm fairly pale with blue eyes. But inside, definitely yes!

America is a colorful society where people from different race, ethnicity and country live together with a hope of better future. Indian American are the people who have their roots in India but now they are very much part of America. I think calling them native Indians would be better. However, very interesting and thoughtful article. I loved it reading.

Thank you, very nice site, your site would follow with interest from Turkey,good work

America is a colorful society where people from different race, ethnicity and country live together with a hope of better future. Indian American are the people who have their roots in India but now they are very much part of America. I think calling them native Indians would be better. However, very interesting and thoughtful article. I loved it reading.

Man, talk about a fantastic post! I?ve stumbled across your blog a few times within the past, but I usually forgot to bookmark it. But not again! Thanks for posting the way you do, I genuinely appreciate seeing someone who actually has a viewpoint and isn?t really just bringing back up crap like nearly all other writers today. Keep it up!

I was looking for a Dermasis review when I chanced upon this article of yours. America not just about the white or the black. It's a land for different people! Caucasians just came here after the blacks came. Then, the yellow ones the red ones and now, almost every race in the world is in America!

This is a very interesting topic. I am not a native American, at least as far as I know. As an American however, I feel that our society and culture has truly been enriched by that of the native peoples.

I think we are all the same people, scientifically we are all descendants of the apes. Its surprising to see how far we can go to trace our roots and place race/tribe divisions among ourselves.

Who is Indian, and what makes a person an Indian? It's interesting and meaningful.

Really good stuff. Thanxs for this beautiful information ...This is really true.

I really like your post hope to read more from you.



I think we are all the same people, scientifically we are all descendants of the apes. Its surprising to see how far we can go to trace our roots and place race/tribe divisions among ourselves.

Great website. Its surprising to see how far we can go to trace our roots and place race/tribe divisions among ourselves.

I don't have a clear answer for such a fascinating topic (although I believe you are what you feel you belong to), just wanted to tell you.

Thank you for this article! It is very interesting!

Ninh Bình

The most important to me is where your heart is. I have been many places in the world and I always accept and adopt the customs, traditions and belief's of where I am.

People should always be proud of their heritage.
But most important of all, it is the respect for other cultures and traditions and try to understant them.


Understanding your family history and where you come from, the culture, etc., is a very important part of life. As I live in Mexico right now, I see many different heritages. While there are many of European blood here, the vast majority has native blood in them.

I was very encouraged to find this site. The reason being that this is such an informative post. I wanted to thank you for this informative read of the subject.

The culture of American Indians vary widely. The language, dress and customs vary greatly from one culture to another. This is due to the wide distribution of the Americans and the adjustments to the different regions of America. For example, due to the semi-desert of Aridoamérica chichimecas never came to form a civilization like those of Mesoamerica, its southern neighbors. As a result, chichimecas formed a culture based on the practice of nomadism. Although the Aztec and Inca civilizations formed extensive and rich, the garment of both relied heavily on the climate of their land. In Mesoamerica, where the climate is hotter, they would use less clothing the inhabitants of the Andes. Still, there are some cultural features that most Native Americans practiced.

this is just part of the diversity from one place and the other. people will always something interest with their original culture no matter where they live.

January 24, 2011

From Alaska to Arizona: Native Artists Explore the NMAI Collections and Beyond

By Keevin Lewis, NMAI's Community Services Coordinator

20101101_01a_raw_ps_006 Artist-in-Residence John Hudson of Metlakatla, Alaska, examines the museum's collection of Tsimshian puppets and masks. (Photo by Roger Whiteside, NMAI Staff Photographer)

Since August 2010, seven Native artists have used the NMAI collections to gain inspiration and renew cultural connections before returning home to conduct community art projects with other artists or Native youth in their communities. Dylan Miner (Metis), John Hudson (Tsimshian), Erica Lord (Athabascan/Inupiaq), Royce Manuel Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian), Jeri Redcorn (Caddo/Potawatomi), Kelly Church (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Ojibwe Indians), and Eric Hamar (Haida) all came to Washington, DC, to study and document cultural material in the Smithsonian collections, archives, meet with SI staff, and conduct staff and public art presentations.

Knowing that Indigenous people have historically traveled in sustainable ways, Dylan Miner came to the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) to study Native transportation items, such as, carts, canoes, shoes that were eventually replaced by the automobile, plane, or bicycle. Dylan’s Youth Public Art Project hopes to work with about 10 Native youth in East Lansing, MI, to collectively produce 10 unique lowrider bicycles that will reflect the urban Native community in Michigan and serve as portraits for noteworthy Metis and Anishinaabeg visionaries.

Oral Native storytelling encompasses a variety of formats and puppetry is one method of storytelling for the Tsimshian of Metlakatla, Alaska, which is located about 20 miles south of Ketchikan. John Hudson  researched wooden Tsimshian puppets that were carved and used to explain legends, battles, and cosmologies. Mr. Hudson plans to collaborate with the Tsmishian art class in the Annette Island School District in Metlakatla, AK. The art students will help in the creation of numerous puppets, and will assist in the planning and public performance of the puppets.

399px-20101102_01a_raw_ps_021 Erica Lord traveled from Nenana, Alaska to learn more about the material culture of Alaska's Athabascan tribes, and how popular culture has connected indigenous groups that are geographically disparate and remote. (Photo by Roger Whiteside, NMAI Staff Photographer)

For Erica Lord it is all about the future for the youth in her home community of Nenana, Alaska, some  50 miles west of Fairbanks. Ms. Lord searched high and low in the collections, Photos and Film Archives of images of the Tanana Athbascans and material culture of the Gwich’in, Canadian Dene, and the Inupiaq to the north. For Erica’s community project, she will collaborate with the boarding school students who are from rural villages who attend school in Nenana and stay at the Student Living Center and create a wall mural in Nenana. The theme of the wall mural will explore how these young people relate to and define the history and culture of their village.

For Royce Manuel his goal is to recreate the tools of yesterday using the most authentic materials and methods. By studying the Kia-ha here at the CRC and at the Department of Anthropology for the National Museum of Natural History at MSC, Royce was challenged to gather and record as much information to patterns and size of agave fiber used to create these carrying baskets. Mr. Manuel plans to conduct an Artist Community Workshop to teach the methods, processing, and creating Kia-ha under the theme “Binding Our Future to the Past” in Scottsdale, Arizona, from January 29 to February 11, 2011. Royce told me that because the baskets are no longer used in its traditional sense no one has made these baskets in over 60 years. The NMAI Collections once again is a vital resource to Native artists for sharing skills and methods of Native knowledge through art.

20101101_01a_raw_ps_010 Royce Manual researches the traditional methods of Kia-ha baskets for a community workshop he will hold this winter in his hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo by Roger Whiteside, NMAI Staff Photographer)

Revivals in Oklahoma can mean many different things to people. But for Jeri Redcorn the revival of Caddo pottery is her main mission and personal story. Following the forced removal from their traditional lands Jeri realized that today no Caddo are making any pots and the pottery traditions are lost. After spending 2 weeks last month in the Smithsonian collections at the CRC and MSC, Jeri will share her new knowledge and inspiration with 30 other artists at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and the Oklahoma History Center March 10 – 12, 2011. Jeri Redcorn sees herself as a teacher and mentor and notes that she “accepts the challenge and responsibility to share her pottery experience so this clay art is not lost, but handed down from generation to generation with the utmost respect.”

One of the challenges of the NMAI Artist Leadership Program (ALP) is to provide a stimulating and empowering learning experience for all Native participants while here in Washington, DC. And when the participants are able to return for the second or even third time this challenge is set even higher. So with the third NMAI visit by Kelly Church we expanded her research time to include consultations with staff from the Woody Landscape Plant Germplasm Repository of the U.S. National Arboretum and Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. For Kelly it is all about black ash trees, the Emerald Ash Borer, and the legacy of the cultural and traditional black ash basket making. Ms. Church will conduct a Community Arts Symposium to include Native leaders on black ask basket making, seed collection and seed driers, harvesting and preparing black ash. This symposium is scheduled to take place in Plainwell, MI, April 5 – 7, 2011.

380px-20101209_01a_raw_ps_016 Eric Hamar, a carver, studies the museum's collection of Haida masks. (Photo by Roger Whiteside, NMAI Staff Photographer)

Eric Hamar is a participant in the NMAI Emerging Artist Program (EAP) as a sophomore in Native  American Studies at the University of Fairbanks. This track is shorter than ALP but still allows the participants to research the collections, meet with staff, and conduct staff presentations. Mr. Hamar knows the Haida language is on the decline and is making an effort to learn as much Haida as possible. Eric is also a carver and hopes to carve a fully functional dancing mask that incorporates facial features that will be painted with the corresponding Haida word. This will be Eric’s contribution to incorporating his Native language in art.

It is truly amazing to see so many SI, NMAI and off site facilities helped to make this ALP and EAP so meaningful to so many Native artists and their communities. Thanks goes to staff in NMAI Collections, Conservation, Photo and Film Archives, Education, Public Programs, Resource Center, Administration, Protection Services, Information Technology, Exhibitions, Curatorial, Public Affairs, Photo Services, Film & Video, External Affairs, Department of Anthropology, National Anthropological Archives, SI Arctic Studies Center, Library of Congress, U.S. National Arboretum, PROVISION Learning Project, SI Enterprises, Smithsonian Magazine, Discovery Theatre, La Mama Theatre, First Peoples Fund, Alaska Public Radio, and the Indian Craft Shop, Department of Interior.

The Emerging Artist Program seeks to enhance the artistic growth of emerging artists in high school and college. This program aims to rebuild cultural self-confidence, enable artists to think more broadly about themselves while providing the art student with new learning environments and resources of cultural materials.

The NMAI Artist Leadership Program enables indigenous artists to research, document, network, and then return to their home communities empowered with new artistic knowledge and skills to share with their community and the general public the value of Native knowledge through art. This program aims to rebuild cultural self-confidence, enable artists to think more broadly about themselves and their art while perpetuating indigenous cultures and reflecting artistic diversity.

The next ALP and EAP deadline for applications is April 4, 2011.

Please see the NMAI website under Indigenous Contemporary Arts Program for more information on ALP and EAP: http://www.nmai.si.edu/icap/leadership.html



Comments (12)

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wow! Hopefully the Project is to work with about 10 Native youth in East Lansing, MI, to collectively produce 10 unique lowrider bicycles that will reflect the urban Native community in Michigan and serve as portraits for noteworthy Metis and Anishinaabeg visionaries.

That's my uncle Royce!! Wow! You're doing a fantastic job and your art work is amazing! Go Royce!!

I attended Mr. Manuel's workshop this past Saturday with my husband and six year old stepson. I have always admired Royce's work. I especially appreciate the fact that he does it in the most traditional ways. I love how he would never consider taking a more modern shortcut to produce his work. It is in these truly traditional methods that we can begin to understand and appreciate what our Native American ancestors went through. Attending Royce's workshop is truly a blessing that continues to unfold for me and my husband. Just being there with the other people who shared the appreciation for preserving our native cultures was medicine as we all worked together as a community on our projects. Listening to the other participants and learning their reasons for being there was also very moving. I believe workshops and events like this can truly bring all our Native people closer together as well as bringing great healing and restoring a real sense of worth to all Native peoples.

Just a few words for my good friend Royce... The time and effort he puts into every piece of artwork makes Us, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, very proud. Royce's knowledge of our past will keep our strong heritage growing. As long as Royce continues to share his love and pride of our peoples, we will always have a future filled with our traditions. His ever-loving family's support will ensure his success as one of the keepers of our flame. Continue to use this blessing and make all nations proud.

Thanks to Royce and Debbie Manuel and all those who helped to bring the Kia-ha project to Salt River Community. I was so excited to visually see Kia-ha made by Royce and pictures of those made long ago. Then to be able to touch them and get a close up experience was bridging the gap of those who have gone before to me personally.
Today I continued to prepare the fibers and make long strands of cordage. It is very gratifying to see the cordage develop in my own hands. this has also given me an opportunity to connect with others who are language speakers, I love hearing the O'odham language spoken by our Elders it gives me a sense of belonging.
Thanks again for a great day.

A special thanks to Royce Manuel and his family for taking the time to include us in his journey by teaching us the traditions that our ancestors had as a part of their everyday lives. To have the opportunity to work with the fiber and make cordage has been a most gratifying experience. And the smile it brought to my Auntie when I told her what I have been blessed to be a part of gives me even more strength to want to learn even more. And It assures her that traditions are still being taught and will not be lost.
Thank you Mr Manuel.

I love to see people with passion doing what they love and believe in. A worthy mission for sure!

Good to see this event held in Michigan. will wait too see next year.

thank you for this insightful article..It assures her that traditions are still being taught and will not be lost.

thank you for this insightful article.

very nice and i do get lots of information to this post..thank you!

very nice article. thanks for sharing.

January 20, 2011

Mohawk Artist Alan Michelson Wins Prestigious GSA Award

Michelson photo

The National Museum of the American Indian would like to congratulate Mohawk artist Alan Michelson for winning the Citation in Art award from the Government Services Administration. Michelson's glass installation, Third Bank of the River, at the U.S. Port of Entry in Massena, N.Y., is one of just eleven works being honored this year at the GSA Design Awards. NMAI staffers Paul Chaat Smith, Rebecca Trautmann, John Haworth, and Kathleen Ash-Milby attended the ceremony this afternoon in Washington to see Michelson accept the honor. (Click here to watch video of the ceremony.)

In 2009, NMAI featured Michelson and Third Bank of the River in a five-page spread in American Indian Magazine. The article, written by Kate Morris of Santa Clara University, is reprinted below. You can also read about the Design Awards and the 2010 honorees at the GSA website.  

Michelson's video installation Mespat (2001) is on view at the museum's Washington, D.C., location now through August 7, 2011, as part of the exhibition Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection.


Art on the river: Alan Michelson highlights border-crossing issues

By Kate Morris

Third Bank 1
Third Bank of the River, by Alan Michelson. 69 x 489 inches; ceramic glass melting colors on glass, 2009. U.S. Port of Entry, Massena, N.Y.

Last Spring, Mohawk artist Alan Michelson stood inside the new U.S. Port of Entry at Massena, N.Y., and watched as a crew of Mohawk ironworkers permanently installed his federally commissioned glass artwork Third Bank of the River above the passport checkpoint bays. Third Bank, nearly six feet tall and more than 40 feet long, is a striking medley of four panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River as it forms the border between the United States and Canada.

The title’s reference to three banks of the river reflects the unique geography of the international border-crossing at Massena. In the middle of the St. Lawrence, between the United States and the Canadian mainland, lies Cornwall Island. It is within the international boundaries of Canada, yet it is also the sovereign territory of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation. All travelers crossing the border there must traverse Cornwall Island and are for a short time the “guests” of the Akwesasne.

Michelson, 57, is well attuned to the issues of the borders that divide the Haudenosaunee. He is an enrolled member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, in Canada, and has many relatives on the Six Nations Reserve. He was born in Buffalo, New York, raised in Massachusetts and educated in New York City at Columbia College and in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.  

Third Bank is comprised of hundreds of photographs that Michelson shot from a boat and digitally joined into glowing, elegant bands depicting the Ontario and New York banks of the St. Lawrence. Michelson also included the shores of Cornwall Island – the “third bank” of his title – underscoring the presence and participation of the Mohawk Nation at the “Three Nations International Crossing.”

The work can be likened to a stained glass window, but was fabricated by Franz Mayer of Munich using a modern process in which the glass was imprinted with images sandblasted through a dot-matrix screen.

Probing both geographic and political boundaries, Third Bank is but one in a series of extraordinary works by Michelson that has featured rivers and charted their cultural landscapes. His first video installation Mespat (2001), acquired by the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in 2006, incorporated video of three miles of the industrial shoreline of Newtown Creek, the severely polluted stream that divides Brooklyn from Queens. The video, shot from a boat and then projected onto a screen of white turkey feathers, is a haunting, elegiac meditation on both the present and the past, underscored by the title Mespat, which means “bad water place” in the Lenape language.

Today, urban Newtown Creek is part of Michelson’s own “backyard”; he has lived in Manhattan since 1989. His evocation of the Lenape language in Mespat pays homage to New York City’s original inhabitants and is indicative of the artist’s approach to North American history, in which Native peoples are not only represented but are central to the narrative. Shot eight years later and 400 miles north, Third Bank continues this tradition.

The U.S. Port of Entry at Massena is one of 37 land ports that the Department of Homeland Security has built or significantly renovated since September 2001. Four times the size of their predecessors, and decidedly high-tech, their purposes are paradoxical. They must restrict access, exerting control over people, vehicles and goods; yet, according to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which is responsible for their design and construction, they must also strive to present “a positive federal presence at the border.”

Plans for a modernized border crossing station at Massena progressed through a series of design competitions sponsored by the GSA’s Art and Architecture Program, which in the end awarded the commissions to Manhattan-based Michelson and the architectural firm Smith-Miller + Hawkinson. Third Bank is situated high on the west wall of the main passenger lobby, facing travelers as they wait in line below to clear their documents.

The arresting composition – two horizontal rows of gemlike purple, interspersed with three horizontal rows of luminous white – can be discerned even from a distance. When viewed up close, details emerge, and the purple bands resolve into a pair of rivers, bordered top and bottom by trees and the occasional bridge, building or factory. Prominent among these monuments are local landmarks such as the Alcoa plant at Massena, a brick-making factory and all four anchorages of the Seaway International Bridge. In Michelson’s unique design, adapted from 19th-century panoramic maps, river banks mirror one another across two channels, so that the four shorelines are alternately right-side up or upside-down. The white stripes are expanses of sky – dazzling cloudscapes that digitally merge to conjoin separate, gravity-defying horizons.

Mespat by Michelson
Mespat, by Alan Michelson. 20-minute video; turkey feathers, monofilament, steel; stereo soundtrack by
Michael J. Schumacher, 2001. On view as part of NMAI's Vantage Point exhibition through August 7, 2011.

Third Bank recalls Michelson’s earlier, four-channel video installation TwoRow II, first exhibited in the New Tribe: New York exhibition at NMAI in 2005 and acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 2006. For TwoRow II, Michelson filmed the opposing banks of a different river – Ontario’s Grand River – as it flows through the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. The river holds a dual significance for Michelson, as it defines both his personal ancestral territory – his grandparents were born and raised on the reserve and many of his relatives reside there – as well as the collective territory of the Six Nations, promised to them by a 1784 proclamation.

By the terms of Great Britain’s Haldimand Deed, the Six Nations were awarded a sixmile tract of land on either side of the Grand River from mouth to source; today the river forms a boundary between the reserve and non-Native townships. In addition to the video, Michelson made an audio recording of the non-Native boat captain as he described the history of the river and its people to his passengers. Michelson produced a second soundtrack, recording stories of the river told by Six Nations residents. In the gallery, the two run simultaneously, competing and conflicting as narratives, but never quite canceling one another out. As if to further underscore the degree to which the two cultures – the two sides of the river – are at odds, Michelson set the two video tracks moving in opposite directions; the Native and the non-Native worlds literally run at cross purposes.

TwoRow II describes a contemporary reality, yet the evocation of the river as a metaphor for contact and coexistence is generations old. The symbolism is said to date back to 1613, when, according to Iroquois oral tradition, the Haudenosaunee entered into a reciprocal pact of noninterference with the Dutch. In the metaphoric language of the “Guswhenta” Treaty, the two cultures – Native and European – were described as two vessels traveling down a river on a parallel course. These vessels, a birchbark canoe and a European ship, represented the laws and customs of each people; the agreement stated that neither would impede the other’s progress. The historic Two Row Wampum, a woven beaded belt which formally ratified the agreement and also embodied it in graphic form, represented the two vessels
as parallel purple stripes against a background river of white. Michelson’s TwoRow II reminds viewers that the treaties and agreements made between Native and European Nations have not been honored. Part of the soundtrack details the loss of nearly 90 percent of the Reserve’s land base promised by the Haldimand Deed.

While TwoRow II is a meditation on the relationship between two nations, Third Bank literally pictures three sovereign entities: the United States, Canada and the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation. The region where these three nations come together has been described as one of the most complex international jurisdictions in the Americas. In order to convey the complexity of this territory, Michelson chose to navigate the river by boat, photographing the shores from that shifting perspective.

In foregrounding the river in Third Bank, and in printing his images on the reflective, highly interactive medium of glass, Michelson deftly captures much of the sense of movement and shifting perspective evident in TwoRow II. The artist’s dedication to this point is underscored in a statement he made in an interview in 2005. “[This is] why I make panoramic works,” Michelson said, “because you can’t just take them all in and think you know what you’re seeing. It forces you to look at things from more than one direction and one angle, and to look at life as flux rather than something that you can fix and control.” This then is one of the most crucial aspects of Third Bank: in keeping the river flowing and shifting, in refusing to resolve the complexities of either the image or the territories it pictures, Michelson’s work keeps the border visible, open and navigable.

In the months since Third Bank was installed at Massena, Michelson has completed a new river-based project, Shattemuc, a thirty-one minute HD video commissioned for the Tang Museum and Art Gallery’s “Lives of the Hudson” exhibition (on view through March 14, 2010 at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.). Once again, Michelson shot video from the perspective of a boat, this time from a former New York City police launch sailing up the Hudson at night, illuminating the banks of the river in the beam of a marine searchlight.

In this mesmerizing work, set to an original musical score by Apache composer Laura Ortman, pristine wooded landscape gives way to an increasingly industrial wasteland of quarries, factories and power plants that pass ghostlike through the light of the grainy beam. While it is tempting to read Shattemuc as an elegy for the river, or for the Native peoples who once called the Hudson by that name, it may also point to the uncertain future of any society, past or present, subject to global forces beyond its control.

Kate Morris is assistant professor of art history at Santa Clara University. She writes on topics in contemporary Native art, and is particularly interested in the depiction of landscape in both painting and installation art.

Reprinted with permission from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian Magazine, Winter 2009. To learn more about NMAI's American Indian magazine, click here.

Comments (9)

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Excellent article Molly. Landscape lighting no matter where it is, even in your own back yard, can be a work of art. Thanks for the wonderful info.

Congratulations ALAN!!!

That was a fantastic read!

Excellent pictures..
I have imagined about the river and the boats on before. I still thinking to understands the meaning of this art. And I know it.

Its not at all an encouraging thing. Aggressively the government should take initiate and save the future innocent participants..

I really love seeing groups of people that are sometimes "cast under the rug" become this successful.

Alan Michelson and congratulations for this really interesting article ... thanks.

Excellent article, Molly. Thanks for the wonderful info.

Congratulations Alan...

I like the post but I like very much - Art on the river: Alan Michelson highlights border-crossing issues . I would love to have something like that in my house.....

January 19, 2011

Double Jeopardy!

NMAI on Jeopardy 4

This December, the National Museum of the American Indian was a category on Jeopardy!, the quiz show.  It was amazing to watch the contestants strategically avoid the NMAI category.

NMAI on Jeopardy 2
I guess the other subjects—“Places in the Bible”, “Movie Names”, “The Rat Pack”, “Play Penners,”and “Five-Letter Words”—were more familiar. 

NMAI on Jeopardy
The players avoided our category until every other clue was gone, then ran out of time before they could get to the $2000 NMAI question. 

NMAI on Jeopardy 3
Leonda Levchuk and Molly Stephey from the NMAI Public Affairs Office worked with the producers of Jeopardy! to create videotaped clues from the museum on the National Mall. They also signed paperwork swearing that they wouldn’t give away the answers—er, questions—in advance. After the show aired, Leonda and Molly asked the producers to send us a copy of the tape so that we could share it with you. I’ve edited it to get right to the NMAI part.  

Watch the video below.


Comments (148)

    » Post a Comment

I'm loving this. Millions watch jeopardy. It's great the contestants had the right answers. Their reluctance to select the category speaks volumes on their and this nations ignorance of native history, culture and tradition. Kudos to you all for the great presentations for the clues.
Moving into the future with NMAI, many visitors will not have an opportunity to improve on their knowledge now that the Resource Center has been dismantled.
That being said, the internet may be the next best tool to address educating the public about native people's history; past and present.
As a Charter member since '94 and a former NMAI staff member, I'm hopeful it will keep balance in addressing Education and Art while meeting its obligations that keep the doors open.

It seems like the powers that be want to phase you out of its history. I'm not an American Indian (to my knowledge)... Speaking as a African American I can say that has happened to our people as well. My mother is middle school teacher, she will not let her kids do any papers on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, or Rosa Parks. Not because these individuals did not accomplish great things... She will not let her kids study them because that's all they have been; and for the rest of there middle/high school year be taught. The story of my people is not being taught either. That is why I can relate to this post. I do pride one educational organization for their multicultural views... CARR http://ctreadingresearch.org/

This quiz show is fun! The NMAI category is helpful for contestants and audience to learn more interesting facts. I hope there will be more quiz shows like this.


Some categorys are much more excepted than others. And in a game like this you see that in full swing.

Hi, very useful and interesting post.

I’ve been reading a few article posted here and really enjoy your writing. I’m just starting up my own blog website and only hope that I can write as well and give the reader so much insight.

Currently working as google apps for business developer @ http://www.cloudadapt.com.au.

Absolutely agree. The majority seems to be totally ignorant of NMAI and they really should be ashamed. Very well written and presented article, BTW.

Its interesting post especially watching video was fun. Keep doing Quiz shows like this.

Paying attention in history lessons is obviously more valuable than many people think!

Kind regards,


This is a really informative and valauable information! thanks for sharing.

I think it makes a very clear point about people's lack of information of history in some specific circumstances. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing us this very informative and well written blog post. I love every bit of it especially the points that you expressed. And I would love to come back in a regular basis so post more of the subject!!!

Jeopardy is one of my best game show. I have watched it.

On a quiz show its natural that contestants would want topics which are familiar to them. Their aim is winning - not education. Perhaps you could work out an awareness campaign with the show producers and find a way to make people more aware about natives.


Great article can be shared by you with all, its really useful to all. Just update your site with this kind of useful postings.


Amazing quiz show. I really enjoyed watching it. Great post.

Their reluctance to select the category speaks volumes on their and this nations ignorance of native history, culture and tradition. Kudos to you all for the great presentations for the clues.

Love this! Great post, can't wait to see more!

Very interesting topics here in your site mate. Can't wait to read more of your blogs. Just keep it coming. :)

I saw that episode of Jeopardy! I have to admit that I was wondering if I could answer those questions myself.

I stumbled across this blog post quite by accident and thought it was so funny I had to comment...


Last year I had an aunt sign up for Jeopardy and make it on the show but didn't make it all the way. She told me that history is a big subject to learn on this show.

Go old Jeopardy! Always good entertainment.

Kristelle Bridge

I love this show. It's concern is history,culture etc, i like those subject as they help us to know about myself very well. I always love to know about my root. I love to see more of this.
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I am feeling so happy seeing this post. True to say, I am searching for such a post for many days.

Very Nice And Effective article.
amir khan

I like this type of show because you always can learn some interesting new knowledge and at the same time revive the knowledge you already know.


great publishing On a quiz show its natural that contestants would want topics which are familiar to them. Their aim is winning - not education.

I love history and culture subjects. So this is my favorite program.

Great post about national museum...

History questions are only easy if you know the answer :) In fact that could be said of all quizzes

Fantastic topic! I totally agree with your concept. Great work man! Keep it up in the future.

One must be very smart to guess all the questions you raised the program. I've really been impressed.

its amazing, i loved this show. great post.

This was an interesting show. It is appalling how little the public really knows about Native American history.

I agree with the post, pertenenzo to class majority, but I think it's important to respect multiculturalism in a globalized world like ours. Roby of finanziamenti and prestiti INPDAP

My daughter-in-law was on Jeopardy a couple of years ago. She was the winner the first day, then was beaten the second day. She won over 11 grand, so it wasn't to bad.

I love this show! Great post. Looking forward to more like this!

Very good article indeed. Keep the good work going on.

I used to watch this show everyday. It was very entertaining. Sadly, I don't have local channels anymore. I think these people on the show are very smart. Cindy

I am very interested in your article, I think your articles are so interesting that I need more information,

Love this ! keep them coming ....

I love it! This was very entertaining, I love jeopardy! Thanks for posting this.

Really nice stuff..i love to see your article..keep posting

Now thanks to the internet everything is possible and we all have the same opportunities to learn.

Love this post..
keep adding up..And Thanks for sharing.

I think your articles are so interesting that I need more information.

I always liked that look in the 80's. Cool to see that something similar to the original has come around again.

This was very entertaining, I love jeopardy!

i like ur article..very nice interesting...
thnks for the post

Cool to see that something similar to the original has come around again.

January 17, 2011

Introduction & 1st question: American Indian or Native American?

Guests are drawn to the National Museum of the American Indian for a kaleidoscope of reasons and intentions. One is to experience Native cultures, an experience that is enhanced when visitors have an opportunity to speak with staff members face-to-face. People working at the museum’s welcome desk, as cultural interpreters, in visitor services, and at the resource center all serve on the front lines, meeting, greeting, and answering questions.

I am an American Indian and one of these liaisons for the museum. My name is Dennis Zotigh. I am Kiowa, Santee Dakota, and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. I grew up receiving cultural knowledge from both my maternal and paternal grandparents. My parents further made sure that I was well acquainted with first-hand knowledge of other, diverse tribal cultures and their aesthetics, across North America.

Enlarged Blog Photo by Travis Helms caption With this rich foundation, I became the director of an internationally known professional Native dance company and traveled to 26 countries representing American Indians. Recognizing my working knowledge, the Oklahoma Historical Society hired me to help develop the Indian gallery of the new Oklahoma History Center as a researcher and historian. While presenting a conference paper at the British Museum in London in 2004, I was approached by co-presenter, Terry Snowball, who’s now my colleague. Terry encouraged me to apply for the advisor position for the 2005 National Powwow.  I got the job, and my personal Native history began a new chapter.

My experience both traveling abroad and speaking daily to guests who visit our museum has shown me that there is a worldwide fascination with Indian cultures. I believe in the philosophy that the only bad question is the one that is never asked. I’ve been asked the gamut of questions pertaining to Native culture, from the insulting (a good test for that theory) to the academic and cultural-specific.

Beginning with this blog, I’d like to share a series of questions that I’ve been asked, give my answers, and invite you to discuss, debate, and add your personal ideas and experiences.

The first question is, “What do we call you, American Indian or Native American?”

My answer? Ultimately, I would like to be referred to by my tribal names of Kiowa, Santee Dakota, and Ohkay Owingeh! Most Native people also appreciate being associated with their particular tribes. But I know this is difficult. In actuality, the reference of Native American vs. American Indian is largely generational. My grandparents and other Native elders first referred to themselves by their tribes, although I also heard them less frequently refer to themselves as American Indian.  I refer to myself by my tribal affiliation first, but don’t mind being called Indian.

The generation younger than mine refers to themselves as Native Americans. Others have followed their politically correct identity. Were you born in the United States? If so, you are technically a native American, a label that literally describes anyone who was born in and remains a citizen of a country in North, South, or Central America.

"Indian" is the term used in federal law. It is also the official term used by major U.S. Indian agencies and organizations, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, National Congress of the American Indians, National Indian Education Association, and National Museum of the American Indian. In modern usage, the legal term "Indian" usually means an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe (or one who is eligible to be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe).


Please comment and turn this blog into a conversation.

Comments (69)

    » Post a Comment

American Indian, then maybe tribal.

Dennis's post has prompted a number of comments on the museum's popular Facebook page. If you have something you'd like to add, please do, in the comments here or at http://www.facebook.com/NationalMuseumoftheAmericanIndianinDC. We're interested in what you're thinking.

Here's the roundup for Monday afternoon:

Diana D.— North American Indian

Nancy R.— I always prefer American Indian.

Breeze W.— To me 'American Indian' implies there are two kinds of Indian. I much prefer NATIVE American since we were here first and still are going strong in the 21st century!

Nancy R.— Native!!! There are too many natives. Whites saying they're native from where ever they live or come from. Come on now! American Indian! WE'RE FROM AMERICA

Tessa T.— I agree, Breeze - that sums it up completely : )

Jolly C.— this semester i had a biology teach say that it was wrong to be calling myself Native american because we are all from africa. then he asked me what i wanted to be called. how bout the 1st people? sorry im not from india so Indian never sounded right to me

Jennifer D.— I prefer Copper River Athabascan from ALASKA for myself.


Sienna N.— I don't use either, because we were here prior to any "America".... I simply state my tribe.... but for applications and such I use Native American, because I'm "native" before I'm "American".

Art W.— Thanks, Mr. Zotigh. A good clear explanation. Sincerely,
Art Wolf (Swensk, Norsk, Volga Deutsch).

Don't care to carry the brand that Christopher Columbus gave!

I think it should be Native North American because America is a continent and if you say Native American that is a general name for all of the continent native people. But there's a difference between North, Central and South America. And as far a being called and Indian, I don't think the term is right, because we have nothing to do with India.

it is nice to read and learn about different cultures
Thank You for taking time to wright this

Lately I have heard Indian people referring to other Indian people as "Natives and Indigenous Americans."

I think you are all basically just Americans

I am one of the millions of citizens that fancied saying I had some "Indian" blood in me while I was growing up. While I'm sure there are many people in the United States with "Indian" blood in them, I'm sure many are like me and really have no proof of that statement.

I do remember when I was saying that as a kid I was thinking about how proud I was to say that and said it as a part of the bragging every kid does.

When I think of "Indians" now I think of a noble and proud race of people that, even though there were many different tribes, I would love to be associated with.

I definitely hate the way Indians were treated by the europeans that settled here and stole the lands.

But this is a great question, "What should the people who lived here before the arrogant europeans arrived be called?"

I think they should be called, with all respect, whatever they want to be called.

But it would be great if there were a name invented or dragged up from their past that conveyed what a proud and noble people they truly are.

Great post!

It is nice that you are moderating this blog, otherwise spammers fill it with garbage.

Although my genealogy goes back to Indian blood about 10-11 generations back, I don't feel native, but I do think to be called Native Americans commands more respect from Joe-public.

Native American is both descriptive and referential, as a "native" is a natural inhabitant of a place. I work with people from India, and I find it hard to even use the term Indian, after all these strange misnomers! I have to use East-Indian.

Human Being

Dennis truly seeks to preserve the past, to broaden how Native Americans are viewed in the present and to create new opportunities for Indian youth in the future.

Dennis's post has prompted a number of comments on the museum's popular Facebook page. If you have something you'd like to add, please do, in the comments here.

American Indian or Native American?
Really fantastic post...
Keep on Going...

Love this topic. Thanks for posting.

Native American is apt as it implies that the Indian tribes were there first, before the settlers from the old England, European etc origins. Land should in theory belong to the indigenous, 'native Americans.'

Dennis is a great man and a truly great American. This country seems to forget our "native" people and are totally ignorant to the richness of their history.

Great article highlighting common but interesting issue. I agree that One should not be ashamed of being affiliate himself openly to his tribe or belongings. My father used to say the same thing and he did not feel any shame in highlighting his tribal background.

It shows how clearly you fully grasp this matter. Bookmarked this page,many thanks god someone that basically knows what they are talking about – thank you

I love this article and have shared it with my family. My great grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee. I personally like Native American.

It is surely Native North American.

there is nice information.

great article to highlighted here.

it should be Native North American !!!!!

hi nice site

Dennis is an example of a real patriot. Dennis truly seeks to preserve the past, to broaden how Native Americans are viewed in the present and to create new Although my genealogy goes back to Indian blood about 10-11 generations back, I don't feel native, but I do think to be called Native Americans commands more.

Living in Central America, although most people are referred to as Panamanian, Nicaraguan or which ever country they were born in, when it comes to classification, it is proper to refer to them by tribe such as the Kuna People for example.

Isla Pergola

Cool Article... 100% agree

In Colombia, the tribes have been displaced by violence and this has led to gradually lose the ancestral traditions of them all, and greatly increased poverty. is a shame.

One should not be ashamed of one's origin. That's what I feel. Today you find people trying to blend into the herd and losing their distinctive identity. Preserving your identity is not bad though you may be the butt of jokes by insensitive people. Every culture has something to offer to the world and we can learn from them.

I like the American Natives, they have a very nice culture.
In Mexico there are a lot of Mexican Tribes

I like the article.

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It’s a happy day to be able to read an article that is so clearly researched and written. I have very much enjoyed this informational content. Your layout is excellent. I will come back again.

whoah this blog is great i love reading your posts. Keep up the good work! You know, lots of people are hunting around for this information, you can aid them greatly.

William Shakespeare wrote: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Meaning no matter what people are actually called as a group, they are still individual characters with personalities all their own.

So whether it is American Indians or Native Americans, you are still a group of people with a rich heritage.

Best wishes,


Whilst the debate rages, as an African living away from Africa, the same sort of issue reared it's head with me. As far as I am concerned, I am African first and foremost, irrespective of what anyone else thinks.

Pride in ones own heritage is great to see, and its shows in this article.

Best wishes from all at Elliptical Trainers

Nice information for me I have to
bookmark it thanks buddy

Native American history is unbelievably rich and yet movies, television and media rarely focus on it. And it's a big part of why America is what it is today.

I appreciate your article.One should not feel inferior regarding his origin as every culture has something to learn from it.


Dennis has done something worthwhile to try to preserve the history of the past and this is something that is important for the future.

En Colombia, las tribus han sido desplazadas por la violencia y esto ha llevado a perder poco a poco las tradiciones ancestrales de todos ellos, y la pobreza aumenta considerablemente. Es una vergüenza.

wow character, Comprendo. ¿Quizás de ahí que algunos tribus de la selva escojan mover más profundo en la selva y no tener contacto con el mundo del exterior?

Until I read this post I really didn't think it mattered whether the terms Native American or American Indian were used. But now that I know there is a legal definition for Indian and it seems to be a very generic association to a tribe, then I would have to say that being called by their name and tribe would be the best and Native American also a respectful way to reference a person or tribe. What I do know is they need to be recognized for their incredible contribution to America through their culture. We can remember there history through their art and prints of their life.

As a non American, maybe my comments mean little, but nevertheless here goes:
the American Indians are true Native Americans with a supremely rich background and History.

I feel that their past knowledge of how the Earth and its Vibratiobs etc should be resurrected - they were in touch with Universal Energy.

People from Germany = Germans
People from Italy = Italians
People from Greece = Greeks
People from INDIA = INDIANS

Calling Native Americans "Indians" is just perpetuating an error that Columbus made over 500 years ago. If he had thought that he had reached China, would we now be calling Native Americans "American Chinese?"

My great-grandmother was a full-blood Delaware. I was born in Wisconsin.

Am I "native American" because of my place of birth or my genealogy?

The best-known organization that advocates for descendants of indigenous people, the group that shot it out with the FBI at Wounded Knee in 1973, is known as:


Case closed. "Native American" is just another term invented by white liberals to stroke their sense of moral superiority.

Hi everyone,
I am always in quest for knowledge, and this article enforced the reason; I finally understand the difference between Indian and American indians concept. I would like to subscribe to your newsletters.

Stay blessed!

i dont know about indian obvious problem of introducing the culture of the nation's struggle indian inspired me to intriduce my own culture in indonesia succesful greeting for you