November 29, 2011

Heritage Month & StoryCorps: Home Sweet Home

Me and grandma museumCultural Interpreter Mandy Foster (Cheyenne River Sioux) with her grandmother at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.(Photo courtesy of the author)

Mandy Foster belongs to the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe. She works as a Cultural Interpreter at at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

I was born on the prairie on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in the middle of a blizzard in January. Growing up in South Dakota was good.  Once you manage to survive that many sheer days of freezing cold weather you become a stronger person; at least for my ancestors, I know that is true.

The prairie is magnificent. Sometimes you get this feeling that you are the only person in the world, and that can be intimidating — although it isn’t quite as intimidating as moving over a thousand miles away to live in the nation’s capital. I never imagined I would be living and working in the D.C. metro area. On a recent trip back home, I found a book that I wrote in the 3rd grade. In it, I wrote, “I want to live in Maryland when I grow up because that’s where the President lives.”  I don’t even remember writing that, but it’s funny because it happened, granted I was a little off on where the President actually lives.

Education has always been important to me and it is a big part of how I got where I am today. Just ask my dad about my first day of kindergarten when I came home crying because I didn’t learn how to read and you can see its value to me. I’ve always had support from my family to do well in school. When I graduated from high school, I received my first eagle feather and was given a star quilt my great-grandmother had made: both symbols of honor in Lakota culture. 

I chose to continue my education at Black Hills State University. My grandfather was exceptionally proud, he truly valued education.  It was there that I really began to understand the complexity of the history of Native people in America. I learned about issues concerning the history of Native people that had never been discussed before in formal education. I had many realizations during this time that gave me a desire to help people understand the history and lives of Native people. I earned my second eagle feather when I was granted a B.S. in Sociology with a minor in American Indian Studies.


20100926_01a_kjf_ps_025Foster during a hands-on activity with visitors. (Photo by Katherine Fogden)

I first came to NMAI after I graduated as an intern in the Visitor Services department. I was amazed at the museum. What I loved the most was that it is a living cultural museum. I returned to work here as a Cultural Interpreter so that I can take what I have learned and share with people the important history and presence of Native people in the Western Hemisphere.  

I am rewarded every time a museum visitor expresses to me that they have learned something new that changed their perceptions of Native people. Education within our communities and outside of them is what can move us forward as Tribal Nations. I believe I have a responsibility to my family and my ancestors to make sure that people know the story of who we are and where we come from, even if it’s a prairie a thousand miles away.

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I also was born in January in a blizzard! But actually it was in Pennsylvania.

Actually, we have been to the museum and it was a great experience for us and the kids!

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. You have a wonderful blog! Keep it up!

moving history that deserves to be shared and it is good to be able to learn of our native ones, thank you!

it's really great thanks for sharing.

really hearttouching story and lot of learning from this very well written post.

lot of learning from their story. nice post.

November 25, 2011

American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: One Woman's Family Story

Phoebe Mills Farris is the arts editor for Cultural Survival Quarterly and professor emeritus of art and design and women's studies at Purdue University. She is also the curator of and a participating artist in the U.S. Department of State's traveling exhibit Visual Power: 21st Century Native American Artists/Intellectuals.

Below, Dr. Farris shares her family's tribal history:


Phoebe Farris Miles0001Chief Paul Miles and his wife, Nannie. (Photo courtesy of the  NMAI Photo Archives )

I am a direct descendant of the Miles/Mills families on the Pamunkey Reservation in King William County, Virginia. The Pamunkey reservation, founded in the early 1600s, is the oldest American Indian reservation in the U.S.; formed by a treaty with England before the U.S. became an independent country. It is now a state-recognized reservation.

The Pamunkey tribe and its village were very significant in the original Powhatan Confederacy. It was the home of Chief Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas. Today, Pamunkey tribal members work collaboratively with other Powhatan tribes in Virginia and also have descendants who are members of the Powhatan-Renape Nation in New Jersey. Some of my cousins still live on the Pamunkey reservation, while others have migrated to northern Virginia, Maryland, D.C., New York and New Jersey.

  Miles #20001Chief William Miles standing in a cornfield on the Pamunkey reservation, ca. 1980s (Photo on display in the museum's 3rd floor exhibition, Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities

Three members of the Miles/Mills family have served as chiefs on the Pamunkey reservation, including William Miles, pictured above. The necklace he is wearing in the photo above was created by my maternal aunt, Georgia Mills Jessup. Upon his passing, Chief William Miles's son was elected chief and served until a few years ago.

My great grandfather John Watson Miles left his home in King William county in the early 1870s and moved to  Fairfax County, the land of the Dogue Indians, a Powhatan tributary tribe. John married Martha Loretta Goings in Fairfax County on July 18, 1876. Like many Indians living away from the reservation, his racial classification changed on his marriage license without his permission.

My great grandmother, Martha, was a substitute teacher at the all-white Carper School and my great grandfather was a farmer, carpenter, fisherman, and lay minister; one of the founders of the historic Pleasant Grove Church, which now also functions as a museum.

JoeMillsJoseph Henry Mills (Miles), the author's grandfather, ca. 1910. He was born in Virginia in 1886 and died in 1961. (Photo courtesy of the author)

John and Martha's son, Joseph, was my grandfather. Joseph's first wife Evangeline had 11 children and died in childbirth during her last delivery. His second marriage to my grandmother Margaret Hall produced seven children. After a fire on their Virginia property, the family re-settled in Georgetown, D.C. and my mother, Phoebe Loretta Mills, was born in DC in 1927. My mother was one of the museum's early patrons. Her name and that of her mother, Margaret Hall Mills, are inscribed on the walls of the museum. My family and I have spent years searching through the museum's archives -- as well as local, state and tribal records -- to find out everything we could about where we've come from.

 With Pocohantas Players0001

My grandfather's sister, Lucy Mills, married Lewin Boston in Fairfax County on July 24, 1907. The Bostons are a historic Virginia family and several generations of Mills and Bostons married each other. The Bostons have roots in New England tribes and upon migrating to Virginia, they married Indians of Tauxenent heritage, also known as Doegs, Dogues, and Taux.

Their most famous ancestor was Keziah Powhatan, leader of the Tauxenent Indian band who burned the county courthouse in the 1700s. During the same year (1907) when Lucy Mills married Lewin Boston, her cousins on the Pamunkey reservation participated in the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The NMAI photo archives has a photo of the Miles/Mills family participants in the 1907 play, "Pocohontas Pageant," pictured above.

  Pic7The author's mother, Phoebe Mills Lyles (Pamunkey), 1927-2006 (Photo by Phoebe Farris)


In 2005, I co-curated an exhibition with artist Rose Powhatan at the Fondo del Sol Visual Arts Center in D.C.. The exhibition featured the works of contemporary Powhatan artists and writers, including several of my own relatives who, like me, continue to comb local and tribal records to learn about our family's history and community's heritage.

The exhibit's title?

"Still Here."


Author's note: The documentation for this brief family history can be found in the article, We're Still Here: Pamunkeys of Fairfax County, written by Georgia Mills Jessup and published in "Yearbook: The Historical Society of Fairfax County, Virginia, Volume 23: 1991-1992, the magazine, The Mills-Boston Family Reunion: Celebrating the Mills-Boston Family Centennial 1907-2007, the book Pamunkey Speaks: Native Perspectives, by Kenneth Bradby Jr., and publications listed in the family reunion magazine by acknowledged scholars such as anthropologist Frank Speck and historian Helen Rountree.


To learn more, visit the museum’s 3rd floor exhibition “Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities,” which examines the identities of Native peoples in the 21st century, and how those identities are the results of deliberate, often difficult choices made in challenging circumstances. In addition to the Pamunkey of Virginia, seven other communities contributed their stories: the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians (Southern California), urban Indian community of Chicago (Illinois), Yakama Nation (Washington State), Igloolik (Nunavut, Canada), Kahnawake Mohawk (Quebec, Canada), Saint-Laurent Metis (Manitoba, Canada), Kalinago (Dominica).

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November 21, 2011

American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: Where The Buffalo Roam

ITBC Staff

 (Photo courtesy of the ITBC)


The American buffalo, also known as bison, has always held great meaning for many American Indian people. To certain tribes, buffalo represent their spirit and remind them of how their lives were once lived: free and in harmony with nature. During the 19th century, the U.S. government encouraged mass hunting of bison as a tactic in the war against the tribes of the Great Plains. An estimated 60 million bison were killed in just 100 years. By 1893, only a few hundred bison remained in North  America.

In recent years, many tribes that traditionally depended on bison have been engaged in efforts to bring back the Buffalo Nation and reclaim an important part of their people's traditional diet.

The InterTribal Buffalo Council is a significant force in this growing movement. Made up of 56 member tribes across the country, the ITBC is a federally chartered, nonprofit tribal organization devoted to reintroducing bison to their former ranges. The organization now has a collective herd of more than 15,000 bison.

The ITBC supplies the museum's own Mitsitam Cafe with the meat used to make bison burgers, chili and other traditional and contemporary American Indian dishes. The popularity of buffalo meat continues to grow among Americans from all backgrounds. In fact, Americans now consume approximately one million pounds of bison meat each month.

  Calf stretching(Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Field Campaign)


Jim Stone, executive director of the ITBC, talks about what this work means to him:

I have spent considerable time looking at the relationship between man and buffalo; how it began, the evolutions it has undergone and what the future holds. I look at it through the eyes of a biologist through my education and as a Native American through my heritage.

When we talk of our heritage, the buffalo played a crucial role: It provided us with the foundation for life, it provided us with the foundation for our social structure, and it was a major component of a diet that made us strong and healthy people.

After college I started to work for the Yankton Sioux Tribe, where I am enrolled and grew up. I worked there for 14 or so years directing a number of Tribal programs. I had never been much of a spiritual person nor did I practice any form of religion and these issues came up from time to time in my interaction with the people I worked and lived with. I had many members of my family who participated in the Sioux religion and some who were involved in the Native American Church, so I spent time around the religious aspects of my heritage but never fully adopted any one religion. A good friend of my father’s and a person I considered a mentor said it was because I was a scientist and I always needed proof before I would believe something or follow someone. This seemed to make sense to me and that was something I lived by for quite a while, and today it still seems an accurate description as it was 20 years ago.     

  Buffalo Dancer by Bigbee - JPEG FormatA young child during a traditional Buffalo dance (Photo courtesy of the ITBC)


One of the programs I managed was the Tribal Buffalo Program, and — typical of most Tribal buffalo programs — we spent a lot of time in the buffalo pasture. The time was never in sync with the amount of work we had to do in the pasture, but included a lot of time spent observing the buffalo, making a connection with the buffalo that was unique to each person, and I would say that this is universal for people who work in all the Tribal buffalo programs. My own personal experiences with the buffalo herd -- not as caretaker, or owner, or master but as a person able to view their interactions as a herd, as family groups and as individuals interacting with the earth — gave me a brief glimpse of what life used to be like.

I am still not a religious person, but I am a spiritual person and I live through the spirit of the buffalo. When buffalo are allowed to live in their natural setting, all of the strengths of their society still exist. This is a lesson we can take from the buffalo; it shows that the buffalo are still trying to provide for us in the way they have since time immemorial. It is true that as Tribal people we will never be able to fully return to the lives we used to live, but we have the opportunity to return the foundations of our heritage back to our everyday lives. Heritage is a word that stands for objects and legacies inherited from the past. Heritage also stands for what we leave for our future generations.

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I found this blog by chance, but I've seen em entries that have interested enough.

I think I will visit from time to time.

A greeting.

Thanks. Good informations.

I enjoyed reading your blog.

I believe that our heritage is essential and needs to be preserved at all costs. Yes we do need to move with the times but holding core values and allowing them to unfold in our lives each and every day is something I strongly unhold.

An essential piece of work.



Thank you for your article.

I am a practicing Buddhist and without men and women of ages carrying the message of hope, truth and enlighenment what would we have to pass on to our children?

Let humanity adapt before time runs away from us.


November 17, 2011

American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: Identity and Art

Each December, the museum is honored to host traditional artists from across North and South America for our annual Art Market. But the artwork is not only prized for its beauty and craftsmanship. For many of the Native artists who created them, these objects represent a tangible link to their community’s ancient traditions.

Ascension 300dpi-1
Katsina carvings by Hopi artist Gerry Quotskuyva.

“The artwork itself is kind of a cultural responsibility,” said Gerry Quotskuyva, (Hopi) an artisan who creates Katsina dolls and bronze sculptures. “I’ve always said if you’re born Hopi, you’re born with a paintbrush in your hand.”

The traditional version of these dolls, which have been used for centuries to teach Hopi children about the tribe’s spiritual beliefs, are meticulously carved using cottonwood roots, natural earth pigments and feathers. “Katsina dolls represent our friends”—spirits who act as messengers— “and the children are taught that when they come to visit, they bring song and dance and prayer for many things, including bringing rain for our corn to grow tall and healthy.” Quotskuyva's dolls reflect a contemporary, sculptural style that incorporates acrylic paint, wood-burning tools and hand-carved feathers.

Pahponee fired pottery smooth gourd shape_Bronze and clay artwork by Pahponee (Kansas Kickapoo)

For artist Pahponee (Kickapoo and Potawatomi), her calling as an artist literally came to her in a dream. She had just visited a ranch with her friend, a medicine woman, to behold a rare white buffalo and her newborn white calf—creatures that are considered sacred among tribes like the Lakota because, according to legend, a holy woman once appeared as a white buffalo during a time of famine, bringing with her relief and song. Pahponee says the sight of the white buffalo left her with a memory so profound she started dreaming of white buffalo vases. “The vision haunted me for a year and a half before I realized I needed to do something about it,” she says. “And that’s what got my pottery career started.”

“I’m the only living member of my tribe to do the work that I do, so I feel an obligation, a responsibility,” Pahponee said. “I always call it my assignment: To tell my world through my eyes and my hands. I try to speak through the clay.”

Melvin Cornshucker (Cherokee) grew up surrounded by art, which has always been part of his family. One of his grandfathers was a rug weaver, the other was a stonemason, his father was a silver smith and his cousins are basket weavers. He began taking pottery classes in college, but he never thought it would become his career. That is, until he realized how much fun – and fulfilling – it was. “This is all I’ve ever done,” he says. “I've been throwing pots ever since.”

-Shotridge Jewelry by Tlingit artist Israel Shotridge.

Israel Shotridge (Tlingit) grew up in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which gets its name from Shotridge’s tribal ancestors, the Tongass Tribe (Taantakwaan), or the Sea Lion people. For more than 25 years, Shotridge has created traditional and contemporary Tlingit art, from totem poles, canoes, masks to bentwood boxes, bowls and engraved jewelry, that have been displayed all over the world. But he has also kept his work close to home by offering workshops and apprenticeships to younger generations. "It is not enough to merely create masterpieces for the sake of aesthetics,” Shotridge says. “Leaving a legacy of work behind for the next generation to be inspired by is a lifetime goal.”

Coral bracelet turq
A coral and turquoise bracelet by Diné artist Tonya June Rafael.

This year’s Art Market in Washington, D.C. and New York will be held Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum members in Washington, D.C. are invited to a private preview Saturday, Dec. 3 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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November 11, 2011

American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: A Crow Warrior vs. The Nazis

JoemedJoseph Medicine Crow, about to enter the dance arena at the annual Crow Fair, holds a dance stick representing the horses he captured from German SS officers in World War II. (Photo by Glen Swanson.)


To commemorate Veterans Day, we're sharing this story from Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, above, who grew up on the Apsáalooke (Crow) Reservation in southeastern Montana hearing the stories of his grandfather White Man Runs Him and the other aged veterans of the Indian wars.

Raiding an enemy’s horses is a tradition that survived even into 20th-century warfare, and during World War II, Dr. Crow got the chance to capture an enemy's horses in the finest tradition of a Plains Indian warrior. Now in his 90s, he tells his story of modern horse-raiding.


Joe Medicine Crow - Click to Play


In World War II, I managed to have captured fifty head of horses. These were not ordinary horses. They belonged to SS officers, you know? During the last days of the war over there, there was a lot of confusion, so a bunch of these SS officers got on their horses and took off. . . . They were heading back to Germany. And here’s that old sneaky old Crow Indian now following them, watching them. So they camped for the night. I sneak in there and took all their fifty head of horses, left them on foot. So I got on one, looked around there and I even sang a Crow victory song all by myself. Crows do that when they think they’re all by themselves, they do things like that. So I sang a victory song.

—Joe Medicine Crow


Native Americans have served in the U.S. military since the American Revolution, and by percentage continue to serve more than any other ethnic group in the armed forces. For these reasons and more, Veterans Day is an especially significant holiday for many tribal communities across the country.

In 2009, Dr. Crow was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for his services. He will join fellow Native veterans at the museum on Dec. 2nd for a symposium to talk about his experience fighting for the U.S. military . The talk will be webcast live at

Audio and transcript re-published with permission from the museum's online exhibition, A Song for the Horse Nation, as part of the museum's partnership with StoryCorps for Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month and the StoryCorps National Day of Listening.


A Song for the Horse Nation, which will be on view from October 29, 2011, through January 7, 2013, 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

For an online overview, visit

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This is very beautiful I will be sharring THANK YOU

Its humbling to hear how individuals such as Joe Medicine Crow played such an important role in the WW2. I'm so glad those SS guys had their horses taken from them.

Its humbling to hear how individuals such as Joe Medicine Crow played such an important role in the WW2. I'm so glad those SS guys had their horses taken from them.

Such a great honor for our veterans, a day to commemorate the world war II. Cheers!

he deserves the honor that he got. i bet that part of his life was very adventurous. he experienced a very rare moment he deserves all it all.

I think this is a good article.People respect those who gave everything for their country in times of conflict. A fitting tribute. Thank you.

I find this story very intereseting because I am doing a report about Modern Day American-Indian culture and the majority of information that I have found along my gatherings has been along the lines of casinos and indian reservations, and a few mentioning the unique communal approach that the tribes have taken to "share the wealth" and as always, there are some disagreements along the way. Rather than learning about the casino war that goes on between these tribes, it is refreshing to read a bit about the actual culture and recognize them in that dimension.

You provided an impressive article I like it too much. Thanks.

This is a great story. It's nice to hear story from elders about what happened some past years ago.


I love historical articles like this. Would never have linked Native American warriors with WW2.

very interesting post
Thanks so much for the article. I really liked it.

Thanks for the interesting read, we don't hear much about the Indians during World War 2 this is the first article I have come across in fact.

It is very humbling how this man proudly served the same government that did so many bad things to his people.

Incredibly intersting. A wonderful tribute to Joe Medicine Crow to have a record of his amazing story - in his voice - in his words. A true national treasure. Thank you for your bravery Joe Medicine Crow - your heroic story is now part of recorded history.