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September 09, 2011

Artists' commemorations of September 11

Artists express ideas the rest of us struggle to put into words. The four works shown here were created shortly after September 11, 2001, to remember the events of that time. Two—a ceramic vessel and a proposal sketch for the memorial at the World Trade Center—were made by well-known artists. Two—a drawing of a Zuni Knife Wing figure and a sculpture of the Twin Towers—were made by people who helped in the recovery effort and clean-up of the trade center site. 


Peter B. Jones (Onondaga, b. 1947)

2001; Cattaragus Indian Reservation, Versailles, New York 
Wheel-thrown and modeled stoneware; 28 x 23 cm
Gift of Dorian Brooks and Malcolm Kottler 

Earlier this week, Peter Jones shared what he was thinking about when he made this vessel:

It is my belief that some of the effigy pots created by the Iroquois people were meant to capture a specific moment or to record a specific ceremony. The television images of the towers tumbling and the smoke and chaos are captured in the 9-11 pot. The effigies of the screaming man on two castellations of the pot represent the disbelief and disoriented people. The other two effigies are of the two airplanes that hit the building. The process of pit-firing the pot captured the smoke and clouds of the site. Pottery is a medium that can be difficult to predict. I feel that in this pot all of the elements I wanted to portray worked in the final piece. Thank you.

—Peter B. Jones, September 8, 2011


Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Salish/Cree/Shoshone, b. 1940) and Neal Ambrose-Smith (Salish/Cree Metis, b. 1966)
WTC Memorial 2002
2002; Corrales, New Mexico
Paper, graphite, watercolor; 76.5 x 50.9 cm
Gift of Dorothee Peiper-Riegraf and Hinrich Peiper

This architectural drawing by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Neal Ambrose-Smith was included in Unforgettable, an exhibition of artists' proposed memorials on view at the Chelsea Studio Gallery in New York City. The museum's records describe it as "depicting a World Trade Center Memorial commemorating the events of 9/11 from a Native perspective." The artists' thoughts are preserved in notes written on the piece:

Water sounds are soothing. Watching for spouts can be interactive. The spouts emerge from a fountain 3 times per hour. Can create element of surpise and awe. Black granite ring referencing Minoru Yamasaki's original fountain.

Medicine wheel shape is a place for meditation, prayer & healing. Beamed walls w/grassy areas & steps for seating. Fountain at lower level creates wind break—also reminder of something missing, something removed. Could be amphitheatre for ceremonies.

Granite pavers in lawn with names listed alphabetically. Also interactive. Trees which provide spring & fall colors & can be lit @ night. Wheelchair access.




Octavius Chuyate (A:shiwi [Zuni])
Zuni Knife Wing 
Paper, ink, colored pencil, felt-tipped marker
Gift of the New York City Fire Department 

The Zuni Hotshots, an elite wildfire-fighting unit based in New Mexico, came to New York toward the end of September 2001 to assist urban search and rescue teams in Lower Manhattan. Crewmember Octavius Chuyate made this drawing as a gift for the Fire Department of New York, who later donated it to the museum. The text that accompanied the presentation reads:

The Zuni Pueblo Knife Wing is a symbol of the Zuni Warrior Society and is a protector of the land and its inhabitants; it represents courage, honor, wisdom and strength. The spirit of this symbol is carried into battle or other life threatening situations. The Knife Wing is also a guardian angel watching each and every one of us.

Historically, the Knife Wing symbol was blessed and placed on warriors' shields to protect the warriors. This ancient tradition continues to this day with the Zuni Interagency Hotshot Crew. The symbol is part of the crew uniform and is placed on crew vehicles.

The Zuni Interagency Hotshot Crew presents this Knife Wing artwork, by crewmember Octavius Chuyate, to the citizens of New York and the nation. This gesture is a symbol of unity and brotherhood under one nation.

May this symbol protect our nation and it's people. God Bless America.

The Zuni Interagency Hotshot Crew, October 12, 2001
Bureau of Indian Affairs Zuni Interagency Hotshot Crew Zuni, New Mexico 



Darryl Pronovost (Mohawk)
2001, Kahnawake Reserve, Quebec
Welded steel
Gift of the artist

Beginning in the 19th century, Mohawk ironworkers helped raise the New York skyline. After 9/11, many volunteered in the rescue and clean-up effort, and several began walking down to the museum's George Gustav Heye Center at the end of their shifts. In 2002, the museum honored Native ironworkers' historic contributions to the city with the photography exhibition Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York. At the opening, a group of ironworkers presented the museum with this sculpture welded from materials salvaged from the WTC site.

Photo credits (top to bottom): Walter Larrimore, NMAI; Ernest Amoroso, NMAI; NMAI Move Team; Ernest Amoroso, NMAI

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I particularly like the picture of the effigy pot. It's beautiful and haunting all at the same time.

We badly need to preserve the cultures from which these wonderful artists come.

Brent the language guy.

Wow, very cool pieces of art and very timely. I have to say that i am drawn to the iron workers piece. Something about it's rough edges and raw construction, it is a symbol of what America was built upon. Thanks for sharing these.

September 07, 2011

Wait! It’s September already?

Quiz Show module This is what goes through my brain early each morning. Yesterday I was filled with giddy excitement about the opening of the new imagiNATIONS Activity Center in less than three weeks. Today, my thoughts have rotated to the other extreme: terror. There seems to be no middle ground between being stunned at how amazing all the components are and being completely overwhelmed by the amount of detail still to tackle. 

People ask what it’s like to work on a project like this, or what it is we do every day. Take September 1, for example. Bright and early I had a phone call about arranging for a facilities contractor to patch the ceiling after fire strobes and water lines are moved. Then I had a meeting with my boss to keep her updated. Then we had a team meeting to make sure everyone had what he or she needed to keep moving forward and meet our deadlines. I had meetings in the afternoon about public relations and the web; with a staff member who will be taking on some of the programming duties; and with our team editor, about issues that arose in the translation of the questions for the quiz show. And I communicated with a tribal chair about his community’s artwork for our young visitors' imagiNATIONS passports.

Amy's office I unpacked shipments that had arrived; that day we received cushions for the storytelling area, Arctic yo-yos, buffalo parts for the buffalo activity box, and art supplies for the craft room. I separated out all the organic material that first has to go into the freezer (part of the museum's careful pest management program). We had several script reviews and images to select. I stayed late last night to process orders for some of the instruments for the music room, more arts and craft supplies, handling objects for the tipi, and bins for the weaving materials for the big basket. I never did start the grant report.

It’s like this every day right now. This week it got even busier, as the activities themselves (dwellings, graphics panels, etc.) started to arrive and find their new homes in the space. Suddenly next week, it all will change from being a wonderful idea to a very real adventure.

September 25 is the opening of phase one. We’ll have a variety of activities complete and ready to go, and more still in progress. By the end of October, we’ll have the majority of the new space completed, while a few activities will wait for their debut until early next year.

Iglu area design
The excitement is definitely building at the museum, as the imagiNATIONS Activity Center becomes reality. I’m constantly refreshed by the creativity, dedication, and commitment of my colleagues. I tried keeping a list of all the people who have helped with this project, and abandoned it as I realized that nearly all museum staff have played a role. When you’re in the middle of the details, it’s sometimes hard to see the big picture, but this big picture is colorful, playful, and tremendously exhilarating.

Please join us September 25—and many times thereafter!

—Amy Van Allen, project manager for the imagiNATIONS Activity Center

Illustrations (top to bottom): The imagiNATIONS Quiz Show awaits its cue backstage—well, actually, in the basement of the museum. Come September 25, you'll find it at the top of the main staircase on the 3rd floor, at the entry to the imagiNATIONS space.

My office has been overtaken by boxes of marvelous things!

The designer's rendering of the iglu activity area, with a base to build on and a shelf to hold the "snow" blocks. If you visited the museum in February, you probably saw children building—and exploding—the prototype iglu.

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September 02, 2011

Indian Country in the News: Aug. 6 - Sept. 2, 2011

This week's news highlights include criticism of the National Park Services for its erroneous information on Native Americans, continued protests in front of the White House to block a U.S.-Canada pipeline; the discovery of the world's oldest living person in the Amazon, and tension between Obama and U.S. tribes over energy plans:

  • ICT: No Longer Circling the Wagons: Many National Parks Get Indian Stories Wrong - "National parks are America’s great outdoor classrooms, and they attract about 300 million visitors a year, from school groups to senior citizens, mountain climbers to families in minivans. The vast majority of those people will flip through the park’s brochure, browse exhibits at in the visitor center, and read some of the informational signs posted at the roadside turnouts. The more organized or ambitious of the visitors perhaps even checked out the park’s website before they came. In all those venues the National Park Service (NPS) interprets the site for visitors, teaching them about the park and why it is important."
  • CBC: First Nations leaders join Keystone pipeline protest - "Indigenous people from across North America are joining the White House protest against TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from northern Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. Several First Nations leaders from Canada are making the trip to join the protest Sept. 2. Protesters have gathered outside the White House in Washington, D.C. since Aug. 20, with actors and scientists among those opposing the pipeline. Over 250 people have been arrested, including Canadian actors Margot Kidder and Fort McMurray, Alta.,-born Tantoo Cardinal. The Indigenous Environmental Network is organizing the effort to bring indigenous people to the U.S. capital."
  • World's Oldest Person Found Thriving in the Amazon - "While the Amazon rainforest is certainly known to be teeming with life, it turns out that the people who live there are too. Maria Lucimar Pereira, an indigenous Amazonian belonging to the Kaxinawá tribe of western Brazil, will soon be celebrating her birthday -- her 121st birthday, to be exact. The truth behind Pereira's remarkable longevity was recently discovered by the Brazilian government while performing a routine review of birth records -- which, in her case, date back to 1890 -- making her the world's oldest living person. And the best part of all? Pereira credits her long-life to an all-natural diet derived wholly from the Amazon. According to Survival International, an indigenous rights group working in the Amazon, the government officials have confirmed the validity of Pereira's birth certificate, indicating that the Brazilian native is not only the world's oldest living person, but is also 6 years older than the previous title-holder."
  • NYTimes: Energy Concerns Up Front as Obama Seeks Closer Relationship With Tribes - "The South Dakota farm represents the tribe's opportunity to escape a high unemployment rate by tapping into the country's renewable energy needs. But a slew of obstacles has stalled the shovel-ready project, beginning with the 18 months it took the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve the leasing agreement back in 2008. Today, the Obama administration is hoping to eliminate such bureaucratic impediments through better consultations with tribes on domestic policies. In 2009, President Obama directed agencies to develop consultation policies; almost two years later, tribal officials say they have unprecedented access to top political leaders. Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said agencies that have historically ignored tribal considerations have responded with better consultation policies."


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September 01, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation: Typecast Indians

P4178_HorseBK #90
Spokane woman on horseback with infant in baby carrier, 1899. Colville Reservation, Washington. P4178

As a child in the early 1970s, I conceived many notions about family, identity, and life roles by sitting in front of my grandmother’s television set. Raised in the city by my non-Native mother and grandmother, I learned about single-parenting issues from A Family Affair and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. My female role models, Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda, were stylish, independent, career-minded women, much like my mother. My first impression of Native culture also came by way of television, through the genre of Hollywood Westerns. On celluloid, garishly painted, red-faced actors portrayed Natives as savage scalpers and merciless killers bent on unspeakable acts of murder and violation.

In films such as War Arrow (1953), wild “Kioways” on the warpath madly circle wagon trains of doomed pioneers. In Kit Carson (1940), other pioneers in peril are saved from Shoshone attacks as they ramble through Monument Valley, Utah. In the end, the hero—a frontier scout, cavalryman, or cowboy—gets the girl, and the Indian meets a grisly death. These death scenes, humorous and horrendous, involved dramatic feats of demoralizing comeuppance: an Indian grave shot from his war pony, somersaulting into the sagebrush, or shot and dragged behind his porn, arms flailing pitifully. Unfortunately, many other children my age drew the same conclusion about Indians as I did: we were dirty savages and merciless killers of women and children. Being the only Native American in my grade school, I became the target of hollering, war whoops, and hand-to-mouth “Indian” chanting.

Through illustration, portraiture, photography, journalism, and film, generations of Native people have been haunted by the cultural stereotypes of the past five centuries. Seventeenth-century European illustrations of Iroquois scalpers, battle reenactments in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, dime novels, and souvenir postcards, for instance, have shaped the public’s erroneous sentiments about Native Americans. Depending on the political agenda of the time—whether in Europe or North America—the evolution of Native identity in the popular press has been dominated by two extreme stereotypes: savage marauder or docile member of a conquered race.

In the United States, portraying Native Americans in a hostile light justified extreme measures in Indian policy, such as the use of brutal military force, land theft, and treaty violations. The idea of Indians as uncivilized and un-Christian also legitimized forced conversions, mandatory attendance at boarding schools, and other religious abuses.

A century ago, the popular pastime of postcard collecting created a market for a flood of images that greatly contributed to the miseducation of several generations of Americans about who Indians are. To me, the seemingly benign photographs document the success of the length and exhaustive U.S. military campaign to forcibly obtain Indian lands. By the late nineteenth century, most tribes had been relegated to reservations, creating dependence on government subsidies. Other forms of dependence and need manifested themselves in the extremes of religion or alcoholism. No matter the grim reality, in the postcard images, Indians and horses are paired to create a sense of nostalgia and security—a commercial device to lure homesteaders and financiers to the newly tamed West.

Westward expansion gave rise to the railway, tourism, and mass production. Adventure-seeking travelers were lured west by the brochures and souvenir books produced by companies such as the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Company, whose advertising images promised the thrill of Indian encounters.

P16618 Early 20th-century postcard of Cree man in traditional dress on horseback. P16618. It appears that the warrior pictured here has been cut out and given another background, a technique common to images in this genre.

Unfortunately, the posed portraits in both postcards and brochures created misconceptions and false expectations about American Indians. Images like these continue to serve as a kitschy measuring stick of “Indian-ness,” warping our own sense of Native identity and expression even as we modernize our communities and strive to continue our traditions in language, ceremonies, and arts.

These types of images have led to the commercial manufacture and gaudy interpretation of the most sacred Native objects. Curios come in a variety of forms, from hideous war bonnets and grotesque collector dolls to the “End of the Trail” belt buckles found in airport gift shops. In turn, these representations—usually in the visage of iconic chiefs and alluring Native maidens—reach large-scale international audiences through the mediums of Hollywood productions and sports team logos as well as vehicle, clothing, and food brands. To add insult to injury, the mass-produced appropriations create untold prosperity for everyone but the tribes themselves.

From century-old postcards to contemporary logos, these stereotypical images have distorted and oversimplified our cultures. They have created false understandings of the traditions of the hundreds of tribes that have their own languages, stories, art forms, and ceremonies. The self-esteem of our youth is damaged as they recoil from these grotesqueries and eventually their own true cultures. Ironically, our communities have often become dependent on perpetuating these Hollywood ideals in order to sustain any measure of economic stability.

Yet, as we endeavor to share with the world our unique voices and lifeways, our communities are increasingly empowered to redefine and celebrate our authentic identities. At the heart of my own nostalgic quest for the Indian and his horse, I need not look any further than my own photo albums. Today, one of my most cherished photographs is of my dad, John C. Martin, and his horse Skipper. Photographed on family land near Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, he is the image of a real Indian, a hardworking, spiritual man who has embodied many different identities throughout his life: husband, father, grandfather, educator, tribal councilman, businessman, and rancher. But he’s truly a Navajo cowboy at heart.

—Linda R. Martin (Navajo)


From A Song for the Horse Nation, edited by George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin) and Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota). Published by the National Museum of the American Indian in association with Fulcrum Publishing.  ©2006 Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

A Song for the Horse Nation is curated by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota). The accompanying book, edited by Her Many Horses and the scholar George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), is available at the museum’s shops and the museum’s Web site.

For the online exhibition, visit http://nmai.si.edu/static/exhibitions/horsenation/

For an online overview, visit http://nmai.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/item/?id=905.

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center is located at One Bowling Green in New York City, across from Battery Park. The museum is free and open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursdays until 8 p.m. For information, call (212) 514-3700 or visit the museum’s Web site at http://www.americanindian.si.edu/.


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This picture is really great "Spokane woman on horseback with infant in baby carrier, 1899". Nice blog..

thanks for sharing for such informative topic contains lot of information

Love the picture of the Spokane woman with her baby in the cradleboard.

I've love the colored art! I didn't know that it was common to cut out the main part for a different background.