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September 28, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Sarah Frost, Web

The blog series Interning at the Museum highlights the projects and accomplishments of the National Museum of the American Indian's interns. Each intern completes a 10-week internship in a department at one of the museum's three facilities—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland; or George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The museum’s Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015. These interviews feature members of this year's recently completed summer session. —Sarah Frost 

Sarah Frost's experiences at the museum have included helping launch a major exhibition website, pulling together content for the museum's participation in the Google Cultural Institute, and interviewing her fellow interns (and herself) for the blog.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

My name is Sarah Frost, I just received my BA in anthropology from Barnard College, and I’m from Irvine, California.

You're continuing your internship into the fall. What department are you interning in, and what projects are you working on?

I’m interning in the Web Office, and I’m currently working on several projects. I am helping to form a relationship between the Google Cultural Institute and NMAI, and working with curators to create digital exhibits. I'm helping to launch a social media expansion into Snapchat by designing Geofilters for the museum. I also helped proofread and test the website for The Great Inka Road this summer, which was a massive project and an incredible accomplishment for the web team.

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

I decided to intern at NMAI because I wanted to combine my background in anthropology with my interest in web development and social media. I was excited to learn about how a museum manages its web presence, and to work with curators, exhibit designers, and web developers. The museum is doing great work by drawing attention to Native voices and stories.

What is your favorite aspect of your internship at NMAI?

I have really enjoyed seeing all of the pieces that come together to make an exhibition. The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire opened in June, and it was exciting to be able to see the fruit of everyone’s hard work. The website is amazing and has won several awards, and the exhibit is awesome and informative. So many people were involved, and it was great to be a part of that! 

What have you learned, and what do you hope to achieve because of this internship?

I have learned how a museum’s web presence interacts with the brick and mortar institution, and how museum content is created or translated for the web. I think that NMAI impacts many people’s lives by having a strong web presence, and I hope to continue to be part of that in the future!

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

I’ve learned a lot about the issues facing Native people today. I’ve also learned a lot about cultural appropriation. It’s made me realize how often Native images and symbols are misunderstood and misused. It’s important to me that everyone appreciate and respect Native cultures, and I feel lucky to be a part of this work.

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

If you want to work on a specific project, or sit in on a meeting, don’t be afraid to ask! Everyone at the museum is so supportive and will do their best to make sure you have a great experience. 


Photo courtesy of Sarah Frost; used with permission. 

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Always Becoming: Nora Naranjo-Morse's Vision of Change and Renewal

Since the summer of 2007, Always Becoming—a group of clay sculptures artist Nora Naranjo-Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo) describes as a family—has graced the landscape of the National Museum of the American Indian. Nora's work, selected unanimously by the museum from proposals offered by Native artists from throughout the Western Hemisphere, has become a popular, and unusually humble, Washington landmark. 

From the beginning, Nora embraced the idea that the environment would collaborate in shaping her sculptures, although she and members of her non-metaphorical family have returned to the museum each year to provide stewardship for the work. Between now and October 1, they are here to see Always Becoming into a new phase. "The proposed second phase allows us not only to revisit the original concept of Always Becoming," she says, "but to understand and articulate the knowledge of change and renewal." 

The museum will update Nora's photo diary whenever she takes a break to talk about the work. —NMAI

Day 1—A new generation of people is working on Always Becoming, phase 2. Benito Steen was 16 when he worked on the original project. He is now 26. Eliza, my daughter, and her partner John Cross are also on the team, and they bring their important skill sets. It's exciting to be back and to be looking and working on Always Becoming again, it's like coming back to family. —Nora Naranjo–Morse 

Always Becoming day 1-1

Day 2—Forming foundations, collecting materials, connecting community. —NNM

Always Becoming day 2-1

Always Becoming day 2-2

Always Becoming day 2-3Day 3—The cool air and encouragement of passersby made today an easy and inspiring work day. NNM


IMG_1748 IMG_1751

Day 6—Part of the Always Becoming team went on a collecting trip to gather poles from a 100-year-old tobacco barn 50 miles south of the museum. Glenn Burlack, a museum staff person, generously offered his time and efforts to help us locate and collect 15 poles to use in the sculpture known as Taa. 
While part of the team traveled to cull poles, other Always Becoming team members stayed on site building the new sculptures. Our work, all of it, is labor intensive, but truly satisfying.

Always Becoming 6-1 Always Becoming 6-2

Always becoming 6-3 Always Becoming 6-4 Always Becoming 6-5

Day 7—Benito's blueprints and collections of clay.

Always Becoming 7-1 Always Becoming 7-2 Always Becoming 7-3

Days 10 & 11—Moving to the tee pee form known as Taa, John and Benito worked shaving and charring the inner ring of posts. 

Eliza, Emily, and I worked on adding more clay balls and refining the lines in the mud forms.

Always Becoming 10-11-1 Always Becoming 10-11-3 Always Becoming 10-11-4Always Becoming 10-11-2

Always Becoming 10-11-5 Always Becoming 10-11-6 Always Becoming 10-11-7 Always Becoming 10-11-8 Always Becoming 10-11-9


Photos by Nora Naranjo-Morse and her family
and colleagues on the Always Becoming project team. 



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September 26, 2015

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: The Shungnak Jade Project

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) supported many regional and tribal arts projects in Alaska. In the 1960s, the IACB created a touring exhibition on the arts of Alaska. In 1966, the board devoted the fall/winter issue of its newsletter, Smoke Signals, to Alaska's arts enterprises. In that issue, George Fedoroff (1906–2001), the IACB specialist for Alaska, explained that the state's vast territory, geographic isolation, and irregular access to materials and technologies affected the production, support, and marketing of Alaska Native arts and crafts.[1] The IACB, therefore, paid special attention to assisting Native craftspeople through training and development workshops such as wood carving in Sitka, metalworking at the University of Alaska Extension Center for Arts and Crafts in Fairbanks, printmaking in Nome, and sculpting in Port Chilkoot. 

256807 Shungnak jadeJade samples,1960. NANA Regional Corporation, Shungnak, Alaska. Nephrite, 16.9 x 8.2 x 9.5 cm. Purchased in 1960 from the Shungnak Jade Project. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6807 

During the 1950s, the Alaska Native Service and the IACB collaborated on supporting the Shungnak Jade Project, an Inupiat arts and crafts enterprise located in the town of Shungnak in the Northwest Arctic Borough. The name Shungnak is a derivation of issingnak, the Inupiaq word for jade, and the town lies in the Kobuk River Valley, which is known for its jade deposits. For thousands of years, the Inupiat have used jade for tools such as adzes and scrapers. An elder told Frank Long, the IACB production specialist assigned to the jade project from 1953 to 1957, that “knife blades, creasing tools, sharpeners, axe blades of jade were highly prized and of great trading value, since they were sharper and more durable than those of any other material.”[2]


256806 Shungnak earringsAn IACB brochure promoted the Shungnak Jade Project as “a business owned and operated by the Eskimo people of Shungnak.”[3] Instead of constructing jade tools, the project produced pieces for the tourist market—earrings, pendants, bracelets, and pins set in silver and gold. Popular items included heart and cross pendants, but also necklaces and earrings representing stylized seals, such as the set below in yellowish-green jade. The project wanted buyers to know that, unlike jade jewelry sold in other Alaskan shops, these works were locally made from Kobuk jade. 

256269 Shungnak set

Upper right: Earrings, 1960. NANA Regional Corporation, Shungnak, Alaska. Jade, metal jewelry findings; 3.7 x 1.5 x 0.4 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6806.  Above: Necklace and earrings representing stylized seals, 1953–54. NANA Regional Corporation, Shungnak, Alaska. Jade, gold jewelry findings, metal chain; 28 x 1.4 x 0.2 cm. Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection, Department of the Interior, at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. NMAI 25/6269

During its first year in 1951, the project grossed $350. That figure rose to $4,830.19 in 1954.[4] The project hired George O. Cleveland (Inupiaq) as its manager in 1953 (he also ran the post office). In the summer months, the artisans staffed a demonstration and sales shop in Kotzebue, a popular post-World War II tourist locale about 150 air miles west of Shungnak. The sales shop occupied a Quonset hut owned by the Bureau of Land Management. The project also sent jewelry to the Alaska Native Arts and Crafts Clearing House in Juneau for sale.

Despite its gross sales and number of trained artisans, the Shungnak Jade Project was ended in 1963. Three years earlier in an IACB report, Daniel Burlison, the IACB specialist who replaced Long, explained that the project had been plagued by faulty and damaged equipment, which resulted in “a complete halt in operation . . . [for] weeks” until the arrival of replacement parts or new equipment.”[5] Since the lapidary equipment required power, the project operated from the basement of the Bureau of Indian Affairs school, which often complained about the dwindling gasoline reserves. Furthermore, Burlison found that “less than 10% of all jade secured in this area is of gem quality.”[6]

In a subsequent letter to the IACB Headquarters in Washington, Fedoroff described the multiple obstacles in obtaining the jade itself.

To begin with, it is almost a 50-mile trip by small boat and outboard motor. In actual distance it is not this far, but the many bends and twists in the river add to the mileage. . . . The best possible condition for hunting and securing jade on the Shungnak comes when the river is at its lowest; consequently, getting even a small board and supplies up this river means getting out of the boat every few hundred yards in order to get over the shallows and gravel bars. Pulling a loaded boat against the current for half-mile stretches can be quite a strenuous exercise, and the poor footing in the river bottom over rocks, boulders, and slime does nothing to improve the situation. Hordes of millions of mosquitoes do nothing to improve one’s disposition.

The IACB purchased these jewelry items and the piece of raw jade from the Shungnak Jade Project through George Cleveland and Frank Long for exhibition purposes. Unfortunately, the names of the artisans were not listed in the records.

—Anya Montiel

Anya Montiel (Tohono O'odham/Mexican) is a PhD candidate at Yale University and a curatorial research fellow at the National Museum of the American Indian. This post is part of a series Anya is writing on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Collection at the museum.

[1] George Fedoroff, “Alaska: Design for Today,” Smoke Signals: A Circular for Craftsmen 50–51 (Fall-Winter 1966): 5.

[2] Frank Long, “Alaskan Jade,” Smoke Signals: A Circular for Craftsmen 8 (August 1953): 12.

[3] “Shungnak Jade Project,” no date, brochure, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Record Group 435; National Archives, Washington DC.

[4] Frank Long, IACB Arts and Crafts specialist, to J. Edward Davis, IACB General Manager, 25 March 1955, letter, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Record Group 435; National Archives, Washington DC.

[5] Daniel Burlison, IACB Arts and Crafts specialist, to IACB, report entitled “Report: Results and Development in Promoting Eskimo Arts and Crafts above the Arctic Circle,” March 1960, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Record Group 435; National Archives, Washington DC.

[6] Ibid.

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September 21, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Anna Kelly, Interpretive Services

The blog series Interning at the Museum highlights the projects and accomplishments of the National Museum of the American Indian's interns. Each intern completes a 10-week internship in a department at one of the museum's three facilities—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland; or George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The museum’s Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015. These interviews feature members of this year's recently completed summer session. —Sarah Frost 

Anna Kelly assisted with museum tours and a created a cultural presentation on her community, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

My name is Anna Kelly, and I am entering into my senior year at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. I am an American studies major with a concentration in Native American studies, and an education minor. I am a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, located in Akwesasne, New York.

What department did you intern in this summer, and what projects were you working on?

I worked in the Interpretive Services Unit, which works to promote interest in American Indian heritage, culture, and history. Cultural interpreters do this through tours, demonstrations, programs for the public, and other educational tools. We are the ones you see on the floor, interacting with the public, and hopefully teaching them something new or helping them to better understand various aspects of the museum and Native culture. This summer I worked alongside staff in positions of public interaction, such as the activities center and the Lelawi Theater. I also created a cultural presentation about my community, and researched and compiled information for one of our teaching programs that corresponds to the Nation to Nation exhibition about treaties.

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

This summer I wanted to intern somewhere that allowed me to explore my interest in both education and Native American history and culture. I’ve always been fascinated by museums and the way they tell powerful narratives to such a large audience, so NMAI seemed like the perfect place. The work that the Interpretive Services Unit does fit well with what I am studying in school and allowed me to experience firsthand a career that combines many of my interests. The work that everyone in this museum does is amazing!

What is your favorite aspect of your internship?

There are so many things I loved about this internship. The Interpretive Services Unit is an incredible place. I was surrounded by smart, passionate people who taught me so much about this museum and how cultural interpretation works, how we can connect themes and objects with people in a meaningful way. So I guess the people I worked with were one great aspect. Also the amazing people who work in all different departments that we met throughout the internship and the knowledge they shared has been awesome. It’s also pretty cool that I got to be around so many objects and artifacts with amazing stories and histories. 

What have you learned and what do you hope to achieve because of this internship?

I learned so much this summer, from so many people. As I said, I learned a lot about the intersection of education and interpretation and how that works in a museum setting, especially at a museum that focuses a lot on culture. I learned that there are so many ways of ending up in a place like this and that it is often unexpected. And of course I learned just how much hard work and collaboration goes into running a Smithsonian museum.

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

Being here allowed me to find ways to express my interest in not only my own culture but all Native cultures ,and the paths I can take that combine my academic and cultural interests. It also forced me to think in new ways about what culture is and how a place like a museum interprets and displays culture, especially with cultures as diverse and vibrant as Native cultures.

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

Make the most of every opportunity (I know it sounds clichéed, but do it). Get to know the people working around you and make connections with those people. The museum world—and Indian Country—are smaller than you’d think, and people have so much knowledge they are willing to share. Get to know your fellow interns, they turn out to be awesome friends! And obviously explore the city and all it has to offer. Your time will be up quicker than you’d like it to be.

Interviewer Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum as a member of the Web staff, helping launch the Inka Road website and other new projects online and in social media. She is continuing to work on the museum's digital projects this fall.

Photo courtesy of Anna Kelly; used with permission. 

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September 18, 2015

Meet Native America: Wallace Fox, Okimaw (Chief) of the Onion Lake Cree Nation

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 

Chief Fox 004
Okimaw Wallace Fox, Onion Lake Cree Nation. Photo © Rex Lumberjack.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Okimaw Wallace Fox. The English translation for Okimaw is Chief.

Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?

Sīsīkwaniyiniw kīsikonahk kā-ayakowet (it sounds like seeseequan-eeyinew keesikona ka-ayakowait). This name translates into English as "To shake the sacred rattle that sings in the spirit world."  

Where is your community located?

Onion Lake Cree Nation is in Treaty No. 6 territory. Our community is located 50 kilometers north of the border city of Lloydminster, in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada.

Where were your people originally from?

We are all from the families represented by our Headmen, Seekaskootch and Makaoo, who each negotiated for reserved lands and represented our peoples during the making of Treaty No. 6 in 1876.  These reserved lands were amalgamated in 1914 into Onion Lake Cree Nation.

What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?

These are not so much events in our history as key ideas. First is the protection of our nation on all fronts. Filling the roles and maintaining the core vision, which is retaining economic sovereignty and independence. Independence is the day before treaty.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead?

My parents raised me with very strong work ethics: To work for what you have—to earn what you have, you have to work—and to have the desire to help all people. I always thought that I was going to finish high school and go to university to become a lawyer. Little did I know that I was going to be voted in to Council at the young age of 21 and, a few years later, as Chief. That has been my calling since that time, having served with former Chiefs and having received guidance, understanding, and learning on the meaning of the spirit and intent of treaty.

What responsibilities do you have as Chief?

A leader must have a vision. That vision is to break the threats and strangleholds of Indian Affairs and their oppressive policies on all the peoples of our reserves. To be Chief, it is necessary to be able to see outside of the parameters of the reserve boundaries and the boundaries of Canada, to know that there is a bigger world out there.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

One of my brothers was always very outgoing. I have five older brothers, and we were always working; all I ever knew was to work. As I grew to understand the culture and ceremonies, my mentor was Jim Cannepotatoe. He was a ceremonial Elder and Lodge Keeper on the reserve. There were many wonderful Elders who have been my mentors and who have since passed on.

Approximately how many members are in your band?

Onion Lake has a population of 5800 members, with about 3700 who live on reserve.

What are the criteria to become a member of Onion Lake?

We have a Citizenship Law that was developed by the people of OLCN. There is an application process—a committee and Elders review applications. The law includes instances where there is a member who wishes to relinquish membership from another band.  

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

I am estimating 50 percent of our people speak the Cree language. The Cree language is still generally spoken in the community by those who are 35 years and up.

How is your nation's government set up? 

Our nation has passed our own Convention Law, OLCN Election Law, Lands Law, Citizenship Law, and Education Law, and we are in the process of stepping out of the Indian Affairs Indian Act system. Contrary to the stereotype of the "Indian Act Chief," I will never succumb to INAC policies and direction—Indian and Northern Affairs, now Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada. I serve the members of Onion Lake first and foremost. That is my belief.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system? 

We are in the process of developing governance systems based on the original tribal systems of the Cree peoples.

How often does your Council meet?

Chief and Council meet once a week, generally on Tuesday. We have band meetings and special meetings—such as where OLCN leadership and senior administration provide budgets—at the end of March, prior to the April fiscal year, to seek the support of our people. We do this because OLCN's own sources of revenue provide 65 percent of the funding needed to operate our services. We require the approval of the membership because this is their money. This is the transparency process where all departments, including the Chief and Council, present their annual budget line by line, including salaries, administration, and travel, to share with the people who are present.

What economic enterprises does the Onion Lake Cree Nation own?

Our economic enterprises include OLCN Energy Oil and Gas, All Nations Lumber Services, OL Gravel Crushing, OL Enterprises, Askiy Apoy Hauling (oil and water hauling, rig services, vacuum pressure truck services), Beretta Construction & Pipelines, three convenience stores (two owned by the nation, one individually), OL Pharmacy, and OL Ambulance. OL is self-contained in the area of natural gas services with OL Gas. OL Gas was established in 1995 as the first natural gas coop of its kind in North America owned and operated by one of the First Nations.

Chief Fox 005
Okimaw Wallace Fox, Onion Lake Cree Nation.

What annual events does your band sponsor?

Onion Lake sponsors and hosts the largest powwow in western Canada. It's held every year during the third weekend in July. We host July 1st celebrations, gymkhana events, hockey, ball, golf, and soccer tournaments, and quad ATV rallies.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Fort Pitt site in Saskatchewan, where the making of Treaty No. 6 happened in 1876, is just a few miles from the reserve. That is another event held each year: On September 9 we honor the Elders and leaders of the past. We have a ceremony and feast and a gathering of the treaty peoples.

There is also the site of a Hudson’s Bay store on the reserve.

How does your band deal with Canada and the United States as a sovereign nation?

Onion Lake is a sovereign nation, and we manage through economic development and networking amongst business and political leaders. The nation has made numerous representations on behalf of the Treaty No. 6 peoples at the United Nations, both in Geneva and in New York. Also we have established treaties with other tribes within the United States and with other nations of Treaty 6 and nations of Treaty 8. These are economic treaties.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?

Education has always been a priority for Onion Lake. Over the course of the years as graduates have sought their education, many have come back to become directors or managers or leaders. Ninety-five percent of our senior administrators are members of our nation.

Cree language immersion is a leading factor when it comes to our education. We highly encourage our up-and-coming generations to walk through this program as we believe highly that our culture and identity as Cree Native people is important in the development of future leaders, including the ones yet to be born.

Go and understand who you are. Learn the language. Continue on in education. Have a balance. Know the history and foundations and natural law that are within our people's knowledge base. Take the time to walk back and learn what those ideas are and who we are—our values, the principles, governance, and laws. Then walk into the future with that.  Never give up. Ahkameyimok—persevere. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Look as far into the future as our ancestors did at the time of treaty. They looked 100 years into the future. We need to continue to do that in order for our future generations to live. Continue to pray in a good way to be able to get that understanding. 

Ekosi—that is enough.

Thank you.

Photos courtesy of the Onion Lake Cree Nation; used with permission.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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