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April 30, 2013

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe

The settling of the remote Hawaiian Islands over 1,000 years ago is one of the great feats of human adventure. Ancestors of today’s Hawaiians crossed thousands of miles of open ocean to find and settle tiny dots of land in the middle of a sea that covers a third of the planet. In double-hulled canoes, they navigated back and forth across long distances using sophisticated knowledge of the sea and the stars.

This story has captivated me since I arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1984 to attend graduate school. Only eight years earlier, the replica voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a had been built and successfully sailed from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, some 3,000 miles to the south, using traditional navigation. The navigator was Pius Mau Piailug from the Micronesian island of Satawal, one of the few places where such knowledge still endures. This momentous event and its impact on the Hawaiian community have been wonderfully documented in Na‘alehu Anthony’s film Papa Mau. When I arrived in 1984, the excitement was still fresh. The Hōkūle‘a had taken on new challenges, and the revival of Pacific Island voyaging was underway.

Now, three decades later, I’m working on an exhibition that focuses on the canoe both as a central object of Hawaiian culture and as a metaphor for how to live on this finite Earth. As part of the research for that project, I've interviewed a handful of contemporary Hawaiian canoe builders and about a dozen people involved with the Hōkūle‘a and other voyaging canoes, including the late Herb Kane, a founder of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. To comprehend the enormous task of building a voyaging canoe, I've interviewed stone toolmakers, including adze makers, cordage and fiber experts, botanists, wood carvers, and others. It would take an entire village perhaps a year to build and outfit a large voyaging canoe back in the old days. Since there was no usable metal on most Pacific islands, it is often said that this was “Stone Age technology,” but that belies the incredible sophistication involved.

Well, talking to experts is one thing, but doing is another. In order to cement my expertise for this exhibition, and transform rote knowledge into actual experience, I’ve undertaken to build my own canoe. I’m a reasonably handy person but not a trained carpenter, so if I can do it, then anyone who can read directions and manage some tools can do it, too. I’d like to take you on my journey of building this canoe, and along the way, share with you some of the knowledge I’ve learned regarding traditional Hawaiian canoe building and all its related arts. 


The goal: To build an outrigger canoe using modern materials, but closely following the design of traditional Melanesian boats. Photo courtesy of James Wharram Designs. Used with permission.

There are many sets of plans available for building your own outrigger canoe. I chose the Melanesia design by James Wharram. This has got to be the easiest and least expensive place to start. The plans themselves cost £120 (a little more than $185); I got the sailing and paddling version. Now, I would much rather be making the Ulua, an 18-foot Hawaiian-style canoe designed by Gary Dierking, but that is both far more challenging and more expensive. Maybe for my next project . . . .

The Melanesia canoe will be 16 feet long—the same length as an ordinary American-style canoe. It weighs at most 110 pounds and is easy to lift. Almost the entire thing is made from two sheets of quarter-inch plywood. That’s right: I’m not cutting down a tree and carving it out. I’m also using other modern materials and modern tools, but as I go, I want to talk about traditional tools and techniques. The Melanesia uses what’s called the stitch-and-glue technique, which Wharram himself credits to Pacific Islanders.

So, come with me on this voyage, and let’s see if we can build a canoe.

Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood 
Part 3: Roughing out the hull 
Part 4: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock 
Part 5: Stitch and glue 
Part 6: Sanding and gluing
Part 7: Outrigger and booms 
Part 8: Cordage

 —Douglas Herman, NMAI 

Doug-SinotoDoug Herman is senior geographer at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. A PhD graduate of the University of Hawaii Department of Geography, Doug created the indigenous-geography education project Pacific Worlds, working with communities in Hawai‘i and Micronesia to document their place-based cultural heritage. Since 2009 he has been doing research for the exhibition, Aloha ʻĀina: Hawai‘i, the Canoe and the World. That project explores how the values of the voyaging canoe translate into how to live on small, isolated islands, with lessons for how all of us may live sustainably on Island Earth. He's also working on an exhibition about the rise and fall of the Hawaiian Kingdom, scheduled to open at the museum in Washington, D.C., in 2016.

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I wish I had the guts, materials and eagerness to do this kind of projects. I couldnt even finished my own cabinet :(

Oh my, there are people who can really build a masterpiece like this that really floats in the sea. It requires skills and what not to be able to create such a canoe.

This is awesome ! I am very interested in Native American history. strange I found this because I am currently studying Chinese in China and we are planning to build a Chinese raft like they used centuries ago.

Now this is a masterpiece. I admire people who can really build things like this.

Great build for long walks on the sea alone.

April 17, 2013

The Youngest Prisoners: General Nelson A. Miles’s Photographs of Apache Children


John Choate, Chiricahua Apache children upon arrival at Carlisle Indian School from Fort Marion, Florida, November 4, 1886. Formerly owned by General Nelson Miles. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P06848). Front row (L to R): Clement Seanilzay, Beatrice Kiahtel, Janette Pahgostatum (Pahgostatun), Margaret Y. Nadasthilah, Frederick Eskelsejah (Fred' k Eskelsijah). Middle row (L to R): Humphrey Eseharzay (Escharzay), Samson Noran, Basil Ekarden. Back row (L to R): Hugh Chee, Bishop Eatennah, Ernest Hogee. 

In the May 2013 issue of True West magazine, Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous gives a compelling account of the Apache Wars (1849­–1886) from an Apache perspective. To illustrate his article, “The Apache Wars in Apache Words,” Mr. Haozous selected two photographs from the museum’s Photo Archives collection. Significantly, General Nelson A. Miles owned these and other Apache War photographs in the collection. Written in collaboration with Mr. Haozous, within the context of his True West article, this post explores a few additional Apache War photographs that belonged to Miles.

In September 1886, Geronimo, Naiche, and other Chiricahua Apache men, women, and children surrendered to Miles in Mexico. In breach of the terms of surrender, the U.S. government separated their prisoners—the men were sent to Fort Pickens and the women and children to Fort Marion. Soon after their arrival in Florida the children were removed to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Mr. Haozous explains that many of these children died at Carlisle. To protect its reputation, the school began to send sick children back to their mothers in Florida.

John Choate, Chiricahua Apache children four months after arrival at Carlisle Indian School from Fort Marion, Florida, March 1887. Formerly owned by General Nelson Miles. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P06847). Back row (L to R): Hugh Chee, Frederick Eskelsejah (Fred' k Eskelsijah), Clement Seanilzay, Samson Noran, Ernest Hogee. Middle row: Margaret Y. Nadasthilah. Front row (L to R): Humphrey Escharzay, Beatrice Kiahtel, Janette Pahgostatum, Bishop Eatennah, Basil Ekarden.

How does the fraught history recounted by Mr. Haozous influence the interpretation of the “before-and-after” portraits made of the young Apache prisoners in Pennsylvania? And what associated significance does General Miles’s ownership of two sets of these same photographs have? It is likely that Miles either received as a gift or acquired the photographs as a congratulatory testament to his pivotal role in “civilizing” these Apache children. Mr. Haozous’s history, however, particularly challenges the civilizing narrative intended in the “after” photograph. In this photograph, the coifed hair, full cheeks, noticeably whitened skin (a common photographer’s trick, but put to frightful ideological use in this context), and meticulous uniforms flawlessly conceal the bodily trauma—removal, illness, death—recently experienced by these young people.

                                                                        — Heather A. Shannon (Photo Archivist, NMAI)                                                                         & Jeff Haozous (Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman)

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Many ancestors of my tribal family were at the Carlisle Indian school. Many ran away and made their way back to Massachusetts. So, sad that the true history of this school has been hidden for so long.

Wow; a picture really is worth 1,000 words. Hopefully we can eventually learn from these past mistakes and learn to all live in peace.

This second picture looks fake, "civilized" like article writer noticed.

John Nicholas Choate is my ancester. His photography just came to my attention as I was working on my ancestry page and discovered his career. I sense he was showing how the Indians came to the school in their native attire and native awareness but somehow after only a few months at the school they were changed to become "more civilized" looking which in my opinion was not a choice of theirs. I look at these photos and see so much in their faces and their eyes and am happy that John captured them in photographs before they had to adapt to what people felt they should look like. I hope as I delve deeper into John's life I will find he felt the same way. I am just beginning this search and hope to find more on his life and his photography passion.

April 15, 2013

Respecting Non-Western Sacred Objects: An A:shiwi Ahayu:da (Zuni war god), the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, and the Museum of Modern Art

By Cécile R. Ganteaume, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

For the last few weeks, American Indians, the international art world, U.S. State Department officials, indigenous rights activists, and intellectual and cultural property rights lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic have been discussing the proposed sale of Hopi Katsina “friends” (often mistakenly called masks) at a Paris auction house. The Hopi, who live in northern Arizona, and their supporters tried to delay, if not halt, the sale. Hopi Katsina friends are among the most sacred Hopi ritual objects. Katsinam (the plural of Katsina) are spiritual beings that live in the peaks of the San Francisco Mountains and bring blessings to the Hopi. When worn during Kastina ceremonies, the friend—the spirit of Katsina—is united with the spirit of man. On April 12, 2013, a French judge ruled that “the claim that Hopi cultural patrimony is exclusively their property has no legal basis according to French law” and that the auction house could proceed with the sale..

The Hopi effort is the latest prominently reported instance of an American Indian tribe trying to regain its sacred objects from the international art world and market. American Indians have been seeking the return of their sacred objects since well before the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990), the federal law that helps enable the return to tribes of certain categories of objects including sacred objects, held by U.S. museums.

Almost thirty years ago, on September 27, 1984, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City opened a highly anticipated and soon to be celebrated exhibition. “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern was curated by William Rubin (1927–2006), then MoMA’s esteemed director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture, in collaboration with Kirk Varnadoe (1946–2003), a professor within the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. On display in the exhibition was to be an A:shiwi (Zuni) Ahayu:da (war god) borrowed from the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin, (now the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin). The MoMA exhibition, and its multi-authored, two-volume catalogue, explored the influence of tribal art and culture in modern art’s development “from Gauguin at the turn of the century to the Abstract Expressionists around 1950.” When the exhibition opened, the New York Times heralded it as “an immensely important show.” 


Zuni war god-Paul Klee color
“People are talking about: The man from MoMA” by Barbara Rose in Vogue (August, 1984. Vol. 174(8), pages 357–361 & 416) with illustrations of the A:shiwi (Zuni) Ahayu:da (war god) in the collections of the Museum für Völkerkunde and the Paul Klee painting, Mask of Fear. Page 357 @ Condé Nast. Used with permission.

In one of their exhibition galleries, the curators planned to juxtapose the painted wood Ahayu:da “sculpture” with a Paul Klee oil painting, Mask of Fear (1932), to discuss what they found to be the striking affinity between the “primitive” and “modern” “works of art.” The Museum für Völkerkunde acquired the Ahayu:da in 1880, and Klee, the Swiss-born artist closely associated with the Bauhaus movement, was known to have visited the museum several times while the Ahayu:da was on display. Like many avant-garde artists of his time, Klee was keenly interested in the formal vocabulary of the visual arts of non-Western peoples; he wrote on the subject more than once. William Rubin was convinced that Klee was familiar with the Museum für Völkerkunde Ahayu:da and that it “consciously or unconsciously” influenced his Mask of Fear. In the catalogue essay, “Modernist Primitivism: An Introduction,” Rubin wrote of the works’ “striking similarities,” comparing the oval-shaped heads; the single arrow projecting from the top of each head; the long, narrow noses and absence of mouths; and the horizontal line crossing each forehead. He suggested that “the curious multiple legs” protruding from Klee’s head were a transformation of the feathers projecting from the Ahayu:da’s chin. Klee’s painting was “a modernist transformation,” Rubin wrote, of the A:shiwi Ahayu:da “sculpture.” And this was how the curators intended to display the A:shiwi Ahayu:da from the Museum für Völkerkunde in “Primitivism” in the 20th Century: as a “primitive sculpture” with “conceptual complexity and aesthetic subtlety” whose exhibition and publication in the West, along with the appearance of other “primitive” works of art, had a great impact on Modernist aesthetic sensibilities. (See William Rubin, “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, vol. 1. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984, pages 29–32.)

But as it happened, by 1984 the A:shiwi were already actively pursuing the return of their Ahayu:da—all wrongfully removed from shrines on their reservation. Cared for by A:shiwi religious leaders, Ahayu:da are powerful guardian beings who protect the A:shiwi and their land from harm. Their acquisition by European and European–America individuals and institutions broke all A:shiwi religious and cultural protocols. Their dispersion was the result of large-scale historical events that brought non-Western peoples, ideas, and practices to the Americas and led, in a myriad of ways and places, to the wrongful alienation of Native peoples’ religious patrimony.

The A:shiwi began their efforts to recover their Ahayu:da in 1978, twelve years before Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to provide a process for museums and federal agencies to return to Native Americans and Native Hawaiian organizations certain cultural items—human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony. The A:shiwi were in the vanguard of Native peoples seeking the return of sacred objects from museums, galleries, auction houses, and private collections. Buttressed by the newly legislated American Indian Freedom of Religion Act (1978), intended to protect American Indian religious liberties that had long been infringed upon and even prohibited, the A:shiwi campaign helped make it possible for other tribes to recover their own sacred objects. As T. J. Ferguson, an anthropologist who aided the A:shiwi in their efforts, has written, A:shiwi religious leaders were not only resolute in their pursuit, but most importantly were “morally persuasive” in their conversations with museum curators, administrators, and others in the art world elucidating the importance of returning Ahayu:da to A:shiwi shrines. (See T. J. Ferguson, “Repatriation of Ahayu:da: 20 Years Later.” Museum Anthropology, vol. 33, 2012, pages 194–95.)

During the summer of 1984, I was a curatorial assistant at the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, the forerunner institution to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. As such, I was very much aware of the increasingly vocal opposition of Native peoples, including the A:shiwi, to having their sacred objects displayed as “art” in museum exhibitions—in fact, to having them housed in museum collections at all.

It is important to bear in mind that in Western art history, the term “sacred art” is used to refer to (what might be called in this specific context) ancillary objects used in religious ceremonies and buildings, such as Byzantine chalices and other Christian liturgical vessels; or medieval or renaissance paintings bearing religious iconography, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s extraordinary altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi; or, much more recently, certain abstract works with fields of luminous color, such as Henri Matisse’s stained glass windows in the Dominican Chapelle du Rosaire in France. In other words, in Western art history the term is used to refer to artistic creations depicting, expressing, or evoking religious subjects and a realm of reality beyond that ordinarily encountered in daily life. It is used to refer to artistic works intended to speak to the hearts, minds, and spirits of those contemplating the divine.

Importantly, it is not used to refer to, for example, a host consecrated by an ordained priest during the Eucharistic service of a Catholic Mass. A consecrated host has never been considered “art” by museums. Yet objects held by American Indians to be spiritually sentient were. And they were displayed in museums throughout the U.S. and Europe for reasons that had nothing to do with (read: without any understanding of) their deeply held spiritual reality, and without any awareness of, and consequently regard for, the religious practices and tenets of contemporary Native peoples.  

Zuni war god-Paul Klee BW
Museum of Modern Art members’ newsletter (no. 32, Jul–Aug, 1984) announcing the upcoming exhibition “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern.
I learned that the Museum of Modern Art planned to include an A:shiwi Ahayu:da in “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art through a preview in MoMA’s members’ newsletter. I shared this newsletter with the MAI–HF curators, and in particular with Brenda Shears (then Holland), who in turn shared it with our assistant director, George Eager. (Roland Force, director of the MAI–HF, was out of town.) After staff worked their networks to gather salient information, Eager wrote a letter to Richard Oldenburg, director of the Museum of Modern Art and a long-time colleague, advising him that A:shiwi Ahayu:da were “the most sensitive of Native American religious objects” and should not be put on display. He informed Oldenburg that museums throughout the country were in fact removing Ahayu:da from exhibition for this very reason. Eager went on to explain that any Ahayu:da out of A:shiwi  possession were considered stolen objects, illegally removed from shrines on the A:shiwi reservation. In no small measure because of this letter, MoMA removed the Ahayu:da borrowed from the Museum für Völkerkunde from “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art. (See James Clifford, “Histories of the Tribal and the Modern.” In Primitivism and Twentieth Century Art: A Documentary History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, pages 351–68.) 

I have never forgotten the pivotal role that the MAI–HF played in this incident, nor the experience of being a direct witness to a sea change in museum practice. MoMA’s decision represents one of the first times that an eminent institution at the center of one of the cultural capitals of the world removed a sacred American Indian object from display, let alone from such an important (and highly publicized) exhibition. It was, in fact, an historic act that helped focus worldwide attention on the inappropriate display of sacred American Indian objects and on the responsibility of museums to respect Native religious traditions. 

CRG mediumCécile R. Ganteaume is the curator most recently of
Circle of Dance, an exhibition on view at NMAI–New York. She is also the curator of the exhibition An Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian also on view at NMAI–New York, and the editor of the accompanying book. She is a recipient of a 2011 Smithsonian Secretary’s Excellence in Research Award. She joined the staff of the museum when it was established as part of the Smithsonian. Photo by R.A.Whiteside, NMAI. 

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This paper should be translate in French!Could somebody do it, and we will forward it to the differents organisation, medias and others.

I am so delighted that Cécile Ganteaume remembered and memorialized this little incident! One supposes after a long career that perhaps these efforts toward the right and just are forgotten, feeling with Shakespeare's Mark Anthony that “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Thank you, Cécile, for insuring this particular good doesn't get interred!

April 08, 2013

Buried History: “Hear Me, My Chiefs”


Naiche and G P06727 700x700
(L to R) Naiche (Natchez, 1857-1921) and Goyathlay (Geronimo, ca. 1825-1909) of the Chiricahua Apache during their imprisonment at Fort Bowie, shortly after their surrender in August 1886. (NMAI Archive Photo P06727)


Nestled behind the capitol and the Anacostia River is a quiet cemetery almost as old as Washington D.C. Founded in 1802, Congressional Cemetery was nicknamed for the U.S. Congressmen who were buried there, even though this tradition stopped shortly after it began.

This unassuming cemetery also contains the remains of the first woman to run for president, the first director of the FBI and 36 Native Americans who came to the nation’s capital to negotiate on behalf of their people. These Native leaders died far from home and family. They traveled thousands of miles to speak with federal politicians in hopes of making life better for their tribal nations. Chief Taza of the Chiricahua Apache was one of these who made the cross-country trip to D.C. Tragically; he was only in leadership for a few short years before he passed away at the age of 36. His story, like many in Native history, is complex and contested.

Born in 1842, Taza was the eldest son of famed Chiricahua Chief, Cochise. Cochise raised his eldest son Taza to lead. He was well educated and groomed to be a great chief. Cochise had great influence over the other Chiefs in the four bands of Chiricahua Apache. Through his influence, a peace treaty was signed in 1852 with the United States. Taza would have held the same influence as his father. Cochise taught Taza about their nation’s land in the desert of the Southwest. He showed Taza the locations of all the springs and the mountains passes. Cochise even passed down his medicine to his oldest son.

Cochise intentionally did not give his 2nd son, Naiche this same training because he didn’t want power disputes between his sons. Taza grew up in a time of war. Despite many battles with the U.S. and Mexico, Cochise supported peace. But in these tumultuous times, peace was not easy. His people were fighting to protect their existence as a sovereign people. They were also fighting for the right to exist. In this time of “Indian Wars,” it wasn’t unusual to hear generals publicy proclaim, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

Taza inherited a nation with an uncertain future. Cochise negotiated with General Howard to create the Warm Springs Reservation. The reservation was created by an executive order in 1871. It read in part as follows:

Having personally inspected the country and condition of the Apache … and finding the Indians to be, in considerable numbers, destitute and in a starving condition … their country overrun by hunters who kill their game, and not unfrequently kill the Indians—gold prospectors and others …I have concluded to declare… that portion of country … to be an Indian reservation … Apache Indians are to be protected, fed, and otherwise cared for, and the laws of Congress and Executive orders … unless otherwise ordered by Congress or the President.”

Department of the Interior, Camp Verde, Ariz. October 3, 1871

Apache map of territories overlay (2)
Apache Map for Chiricahua Bands provided by Fort Sill Apache Nation of Oklahoma.


Four years later, though, following Cochis’s death, the reservations were closed:

"All orders establishing … Indian Reservation, in the Territory of Arizona … are hereby revoked and annulled; and the said described tract of country is hereby restored to the public domain."

U.S. GRANT, 1875

Ranching and mining interests had lobbied for years to close the Chiricahua reservation for their own financial gain. The entire tribe was blamed for an altercation resulting in the death of a US citizen. The altercation appeared to be an excuse for closing the reservations and Chiricahua removal to another reservation. The removal also benefited Indian Agent John Clum by placing all the Apaches under his jurisdiction. Additionally, Chiricahua rations were reduced. Taza’s people were homeless and hungry. His only recourse was to visit Washington. Indian Agent Clum offered to make arrangements. According to Herman Viola of the Smithsonian, the position of Indian Agent did not pay well and one of the few perks of the job was occasional travel to Washington. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Clum had a fiancé in the east he was eager to marry.

Because of a lack of travel funds, Clum financed the trip by having Taza and his delegates perform in little theaters along the way. This occurred right after the Battle of Little Bighorn, which Apache Historian Michael Darrow refers to as the “Custer debacle.” Anti-Indian sentiments ran like a hot fever throughout the West. These performances would have been viewed as an exotic sideshow act by most American audiences. By today’s standards, the idea that the leader of any Nation should pay their way by dancing across the country as an oddity is unimaginable. Taza wouldn't have been able to negotiate for his people had he not made this decision.

But just a few days after Taza arrived in Washington, he suddenly passed away. The official cause of death was recorded as pneumonia. He was given a grand burial service that included a silver-handled coffin transported to Congressional Cemetery in a glass carriage. Many people came to pay their respects to the Chief in his final resting place. In blatant disrespect for Apache, Agent Clum wrote a letter stating:

 “[His] … illness and passing were not devoid of beneficial results … They afforded the Indians in our party an opportunity to observe the civilized methods and customs of … preparing the dead for burial as well as our funeral rites and ceremonies.”

Taza GraveRKC2
Taza's grave marker in Congressional Cemetery (Photo by Rachael Cassidy, NMAI)

 Clum, in a hurry to marry his fiancé, left promptly after the service and never bothered to place a marker on Taza’s grave. When the Indian Agent returned to the Chiricahua community, he was pressed for information about their leader’s death. Clum’s details were vague. Many Apache suspected that Taza had not died of pneumonia, believing he may have been poisoned.  This inflamed the tense political relationship between the Apache and United States. Taza’s younger brother, Naiche, became a Chief. Naiche did not have the same influence over the other chiefs the way his father and brother did. The reservation was closed. These events led to Victorio’s War and late Geronimo wars. A decade after Taza’s death, the entire tribe of Chiricahua became prisoners of war in Florida, Alabama and Ft. Sill Oklahoma for 28 years. Some children grew into adulthood never knowing freedom. In 1913, the tribe was split and some returned to the Southwest. One year later the remaining were allotted land in Oklahoma. These descendents are the Fort Sill Apache Nation of today. It’s interesting to think about how history might have been written differently for the Chiricahua if Taza had returned home.

Taza’s grave remained unmarked until the American Indian Society of Washington designed a marker bearing his image and erected it in 1971. At the time, the image was thought to be Taza. Today, there are no known photographs of Taza and the image used for the marker is not the leader.

—Rachael Cassidy (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma)

Rachael Cassidy is a Cultural Interpreter at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.



  1. Chiricahua perspective and historical expertise provided by Michael Darrow, Tribal Historian for the Fort Sill Apache Nation in Oklahoma with April Darrow, Director of Cultural Programs
  2. Diplomats in Buckskin by Herman Viola (1995)
  3. “Hear me my Chiefs” quote from a speech by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
  4. Encyclopedia of Native American Wars and Warfare (2005)
  5. Cochise by Melissa Schwarz (1992)
  6. Indian Affairs Law and Treaties; Pt 3 Executive Orders Relating to Indian Reserves. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/Vol1/HTML_files/ARI0801.html#az
  7. Interpretation and historical insight provided by Ramsey Weeks, NMAI Cultural Interpreter.

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April 04, 2013

Native Sounds Downtown! Saxophonist Sharel Cassity presents bebop and more, Thursday, April 11, at the museum in New York

Sharelcassity photo by Michelle Watt

Sharel Cassity. Photo by Michelle Watt, used with permission.

Saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Sharel Cassity will grace the stage of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York next Thursday, April 11, at 6 p.m.  Her phenomenal band will include Greg Gisbert (trumpet), Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass), and E. J. Strickland (drums). The concert is free and open to the public; invite friends to attend via the museum's Sharel Cassity event page on Facebook.

In 2010, Sharel and the Tony Lujan Septet performed an extraordinary, standing-room-only concert at the museum in Washington, D.C., in tribute to trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and bassist Oscar Pettiford. Dizzy and OP performed together in 1943 and 1944 at New York’s Onyx Club on 52nd Street, and their fertile collaboration was characterized by Dizzy himself as “the birth of the bebop era.” In bebop, complex, asymmetric melodic lines performed on several instruments bracket improvisational, fast-tempo solos that highlight the superb musicianship of each player. Intentionally pursuing the difficult, beboppers freed the music from the page, inverting chord progressions, altering rhythm and scales, experimenting with changes in structure in a poetic display of musical fluency. 

Cassity and band

Sharel Cassity (saxophone), Edsel Gomez (piano), Conrad Herwig (trombone), Tony Lujan (trumpet), and Yunior Terry (bass) performing at the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall. 2010, Washington, D.C. Photo by R.A.Whiteside, NMAI.

Today’s jazz musicians continue to make history and push the music forward. Sharel Cassity is particularly known for her breathtaking improvisations, and ability to hold her own with the greats. She has performed with saxophonist Jimmy Heath and trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and recently toured Europe with the Dizzy Gillespie Afro Cuban Experience.  Sharel has released two albums to critical acclaim, Just for You and Relentless

Like Oscar Pettiford, Sharel Cassity grew up in Oklahoma, with a musical father of Cherokee heritage. Both Pettiford and Cassity are inductees in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Up Where We Belong: Native Americans in Popular Music, a current exhibition at the museum in New York, reveals the broad spectrum of Native musicians who have played transformative roles in many American musical genres. Pettiford is featured in the jazz section of the exhibition; Cassity is writing the next chapter in this moment we are so privileged to share with her. 

The concert on April 11 will give the museum's New York audience the opportunity to experience this exciting music firsthand through Pettiford standards, as well as to enjoy new music and new collaborations.

—Margaret Sagan

Margaret Sagan is Visitor Services manager at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.

Native Sounds Downtown! with Rob Lamothe, Ryan Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Zander Lamothe, and Rose Lamothe
Thursday, April 11, at 6 p.m.
National Museum of the American Indian in New York


RSVP & share the event via Facebook 

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Very Nice Thanks