« April 2013 | Main | June 2013 »

May 28, 2013

New York’s Native Roots: Illuminating the Indigenous History of NYC

Dugout Canoe
Lenape (Delaware) dugout canoe. Hackensack River, New Jersey. 

For a glimpse into the history of Manhattan and the lives of the Lenape (Delaware) people, consider this centuries-old Lenape dugout canoe, bone fishhook, and an array of clam shells from the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

While these objects immediately suggest a form of transportation and a means of subsistence, they also represent far more complex sociocultural dynamics. The bone fishhook portrays the ingenuity of Lenape engineers to construct tools from available resources. Fishhooks, spears, nets, and more were used to catch the pickerel, bass, sunfish, trout, brown bullhead, and silver perch potentially abundant in local streams and rivers, and the 300-plus pound lake and Atlantic sturgeon.

Bone fishhook
Bone fish hook from East Hampton, Long Island. 13/100. 

The canoe signifies complex trading routes and diplomatic relationships with Algonquian and Haudenosaunee (“people of the longhouse,” the Six Nations also known as the Iroquois) communities. In addition, the Lenape made canoes for sea voyages, during which they applied knowledge of the stars to aid in navigation. Thus, Manhattan has been a portal and hub for inland and overseas trade for millennia, long before it was dubbed “The Capital of the World.” 

Integral to this trade network were the clam shells the Lenape transformed into purple and white wampum beads. Used as a currency and for adornment by the Algonquian, these beads were also essential in documenting history, particularly for the Haudenosaunee. Wampum belts and strings served to commemorate significant people, mark historic events, and record treaties among Native nations, as well as between Native and European and then American governments.

Wampum belt
Replica Iroquois wampum belt made of rolled purple and buff-colored fimo clay beads and imitation sinew. This belt is a recreation of the 18th-century Hiawatha belt that records when the first five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy—the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk (the Tuscarora joined later)—agreed to live in peace. The center tree symbol represents Onondaga, where Hiawatha, the peacemaker, planted the Tree of Peace under which the leaders buried their weapons of war. The squares and center line represent the other nations connected in peace.

Even today, wampum and locally harvested clam shells continue to be critically important to Native peoples of the New York area. As legal documents, wampum belts are still used to verify land rights and negotiate Native sovereignty. In the form of necklaces and earrings, the purple and white clam shell beads signify cultural pride and have become a valuable source of income for contemporary Native artists in the New York area. These concepts and more will drive the forthcoming exhibition Native New York: Where Nations Rise.

— Korah English, NMAI Curatorial Resident

Launched in May 2012, the NMAI Curatorial Residency program was developed to facilitate emerging Native museum professionals with necessary qualifications to become Native arts curators and succeed in tribal museum management.

Comments (6)

    » Post a Comment

Where and how do I harvest shells for wampum? How does one make it? This old man (with some Montauk ancestry ) has bad knees, time, a couple of small boats and access to the Chesapeake. How do I find out how to do this? Many thanks for your most excellent efforts!

Christopher—Thank you for your excellent question. Give us time to do a little research, and we'll get back to you.

Great Lenape canoe.....Lenape were scouts for
Fremont in 1844 and Capt. Fallen Leaf (Lenape)was one of the first Easterners to explore Lake Tahoe with Johnson 1848. We have found a dugout canoe in Fallen Leaf Lake and it doesn't look like anything build in the West. Is there someone we can contact that could look at this canoe?

Thanks John

Hi, John! For informal object identifications, contact NMAIcollections@si.edu and provide as much information as possible about the object (where found, history, description, dimensions, photos of the object, etc.).

For identification of archaeological objects from the U.S., the state archaeologist of the state where the object was found is likely able to provide the best information. Visit the National Association of State Archaeologists website for a list of state archaeologists.

I hope this is helpful?

~ Molly Stephey, NMAI

This shows the determination of people to earn for food. Maybe they used the boat for searching food for the family. And we can never deny the artistic work of the native people way back then. They are also very resourceful.

Christopher, thank you for your patience! Our curatorial fellow Korah English recommends checking out this website: http://www.wampummagic.com/about-us.php

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

May 24, 2013

Amy Hānaiali‘i Gilliom—Hawaiian Ambassador of Music—performs at the museum on the National Mall—Saturday, May 25, at 5 PM EDT

Amy Hanaialii 8x10
Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom. Courtesy of the artist
If you’re going to be anywhere near Washington’s National Mall this weekend, May 25 & 26, stop by the National Museum of the American Indian for Eia Hawai‘i—Here Is Hawai‘i—a celebration of Hawaiian culture. If you can’t be here in person, tune in to the live webcast of events. And if at all possible, plan to be here or watching on line at 5 PM EDT Saturday in particular, when singer-songwriter Amy Hānaiali‘i Gilliom takes the stage in the museum's Potomac Atrium to highlight the Hawai‘i festival and open the 2013 season of the performing arts series Indian Summer Showcase.

How can we be so certain Saturday is going to be an evening you won’t want to miss? Amy’s five Grammy Award nominations are part of the answer, to say nothing of her 17 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, presented by the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts, an organization whose mission is to preserve, protect and promote the islands’ music.

Another reason is the legacy of Hawaiian—and Mainland American—cultural contributions made by Amy's family. As a kumu hula (master dance teacher) and choreographer working on Hollywood movies in the 1940s and ’50s, Amy's paternal grandmother, Jennie Nāpua Woodd, helped create the popular image of Hawai‘i. Jennie encouraged Amy to pursue an education in Hawaiian, as well as classical, music. Through Jennie, Amy met Aunty Genoa Keawe, an icon of Hawaiian music and language-preservation, and was introduced to Hawaiian women’s falsetto singing. Amy’s mastery of the style has in turn inspired a new generation of Hawaiian singers. Amy’s paternal grandfather, Lloyd B. Gilliom, played trumpet with Sammy Kaye, Tommy Dorsey, and other jazz greats. 

And it's true—Amy is an official Hawaiian Ambassador of Music, appointed by the state's governor in 2008. And, yes, she has opened for and performed or recorded with a long list of accomplished musicians, including Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker and Ernie Watts. 

But what really gives us the moxie to suggest that you drop everything Saturday and take part this event is Amy’s performance at the museum during the inaugural festival, Out of Many, earlier this year. Check out the video and see if you don’t agree: Saturday evening is going to be one fun time!


If you can’t make it to the concert in person or live on the Internet, we’ll post a link to the You Tube video of Saturday's concert as soon as it’s available.

Comments (0)

    » Post a Comment

May 23, 2013

Tornadoes have devastated American Indian families in Oklahoma. Here's one way people are helping.

“Our house is trashed. Time to rebuild. I’m just sad for those kids that died.”                             
—Charley Eisenberger (Kiowa), upon seeing
 his home after the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado

Perrin in front of her home after the tornado
Perrin Deal (Choctaw) sits in front of her house, which was badly damaged by the tornado. May 2013, Moore, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Perrin Deal, used with permission.


My colleagues and I at the National Museum of the American Indian offer sincere condolences to the people affected by the recent, severe tornadoes in Oklahoma. More than 20 American Indian families lost their homes in this disaster. Their tribal affiliations include Arapaho, Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Delaware, Jicarilla Apache, Kickapoo, Kiowa, Pawnee, and Shawnee.

In addition to the Moore tornado, tornadoes displaced and affected American Indian families in the communities of Shawnee, Bethel, and Little Axe. Rain and flash floods are expected today in Oklahoma as families clean up their homes and begin to rebuild their lives. 

So many tribal and non-tribal individuals, government agencies, and nonprofit groups are working to provide assistance. I’d like to shine a light on one of them, to give people outside Oklahoma a sense of the grassroots efforts among people there. I hope this organization can serve as a stand-in for all the people we’d like to thank for their good work.

The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) Disaster Relief Team—whose mission is to provide direct support, care, and assistance to American Indian victims of disasters—is serving as a focal point to coordinate Native relief efforts. Rev. David Wilson (Choctaw), dwilson@oimc.org, head of the OIMC Disaster Relief Team, has provided telephone numbers for people who need help or who want to provide assistance; the team can be reached at 918-724-1966 or 405-632-2006. Also, donations can be made online on their website at http://www.umc-oimc.org/ Checks can be mailed to The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, 3020 S. Harvey, OKC. OK 73109  Attn: Disaster Relief.

Other local organizations have come together behind OIMC, including the Jacobson House Foundation and the Oklahoma Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). “I have full confidence in them,” says Cortney Yarholar (Creek/Pawnee/Otoe), senior tribal prevention specialist for SPRC in Oklahoma. “They have protocols in place that allow them to assist tribal families in a comprehensive way, addressing immediate needs, such as shelter, food, clothing, to longer-term life-changing help, such as rebuilding homes and offering grief support, which is vital for many months and sometimes years to come.” 

To the many people coming together behind the work of recovery and rebuilding, Cortney says, “Thank you for understanding and taking the time to join our efforts to provide direct support to Native families. Our Indian people are great people, and your generosity, love, and kind words have been very humbling.”

Tracey Satepauhoodle-Mikkanen, secretary of the Jacobson Foundation, echoes Cortney’s words. “Ah-ho [thank you] to everyone who wants to contribute to this cause.”

I'd like to join them both in saying thank you and to let people in Moore and other affected communities know that we're thinking of them as they work to support each other and move forward.

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI

Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota) is a writer and cultural specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian. Before joining the Smithsonian, he lived in Moore and helped develop the American Indian Gallery of the new Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.


Comments (2)

    » Post a Comment

Thank you for sharing information and accessibilty for individuals and organizations to assist.

Rebecca Balog

I have always thought there should be a Native American rescue organization to help Natives reclaim any regalia, ceremonial items, etc. that may be in the debris.

Thank you Dennis for sharing this information on how we can help in the meantime.