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July 04, 2011

The 4th of July at NMAI

Block parties, barbeque, watermelon, water fights and fireworks.  These are my childhood memories of the 4th of July.  A time for friends and family to get together and enjoy the relaxing days of summer.  More food than anyone could imagine eating, paired with an annual bicycle decorating contest and parade and finishing off with some Piccolo Pete’s and Sparklers  (back when you could have small fireworks in the middle of your street) made the whole day complete.  It’s been a few years since I’ve lived in a neighborhood like the one I grew up in, but that feeling of celebration comes back each year.  There is something about the nation coming together, setting aside all our differences and realizing that when it comes down to it, we are just a nation of people, from so many different backgrounds all celebrating the same thing. 

The relationship between Native Americans and the United States has at times, been a tumultuous one.  At NMAI you will find various manifestations of the relationship between Native people and the U.S. I took a walk through the exhibitions the other day in order to get a sense of where the United States as a nation fits into the narrative of the Native nations represented within the museum. 

Beginning my adventure through the museum in search of American flag images I entered “Our Lives,” located on the 3rd level.  Fritz Scholder’s The American Indian (1970) is housed within this exhibition.  The description accompanying the piece reads “The relationship between Native nations and modern nation-states is full of complexities and ironies, confrontations and negotiations.  Every nation-state in the Americas regards indigenous peoples as citizens of the countries that took over our lands.  But many Native peoples do not submit to this assertion of citizenship, considering themselves to be members of their own nations.  And some see themselves as citizens of two nations.”  Scholder’s piece illustrates the complex nature of Native identity in the United States.  A Native figure draped in the American flag suggests the ongoing occupation of Native homelands.  Across the Americas these complex relationships continue and sometimes result in struggle between the two parties. 

The American Indian(The American Indian; Fritz Scholder)


The second stop on my patriotic tour of the museum found me at Jenny Ann “Chapoose” Taylor’s “Nations: a mourning tribute.”  A beautifully beaded piece, Nations was the product Taylor’s frustration in the lack of information regarding Native history.  A tribute to the original nations of people who lived in the U.S. before it was the U.S., Taylor hoped that this would serve as a marker for moving forward together.  The piece was started long before September 11th but the events of that day only reaffirmed her belief that as Americans we need each other, more than ever, “if we are to create a future that our descendants deserve to inherit.”

Nations Flag (Nations- A Mourning Tribute; Jenny Ann “Chapoose” Taylor)

As I stepped off the elevator on the 4th floor and into “Our Universes” I immediately gravitated towards the display of the Denver March Powwow.  One of the largest powwow’s held in the United States, Native Americans from all over travel to Denver each year to participate.  Among those in attendance are U.S. military veterans who reunite with members of their old units and celebrate their Native and military heritage.  On display we have a quilt with the colors of the American Flag represented within the official logo of the Denver March Powwow.  There is also an Osage purse (my familial tribe) honoring military service.  A beautiful Miss Denver March Powwow replica crown by Iris Rouillard can also be seen in the display.  This display shows us the close relationship that some experience with their dual identity; Native and American.    

Denver March Powwow 007
(Our Universes The Denver March Powwow Display 4th Level, image by Brieahn DeMeo, NMAI)

I come from a family of many backgrounds, my paternal grandfather is Italian and my grandmother is Osage.  I am beginning to understand more fully what it means to live a multi-faceted identity.  I am Italian-Native-American, 3 identities, the product of my roots.  For me, the 4th of July is not just about celebrating the War of Independence; it’s about feeling proud of who I am and where I come from. 


Brieahn DeMeo (Osage) Office of Public Affairs intern


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