November 24, 2010

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's Ramsey Weeks (Assiniboine/Hidatsa)

This week the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian is sharing the stories of five Native staffers as part of American Indian Heritage Day and the StoryCorps' 2010 National Day of Listening, a holiday started by the nonprofit organization StoryCorps in 2008. Both holidays fall on the same day this year—Friday, Nov. 26.

Ramsey Weeks So far, we’ve heard from KJ Jacks (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) and Terry Snowball (Prairie Band Potawatomi/ Wisconsin Ho-Chunk).  Today’s interview is with Ramsey Weeks (Assiniboine/Hidatsa). As one of the museum’s Cultural Interpreters, Weeks leads daily tours and education workshops, offering visitors a chance to see the museum through Native eyes and learn about the museum’s objects from a Native perspective. 

His job often involves challenging long-held stereotypes about American Indians—no easy task.

“People will come up and say, 'Did Indians make that tipi or real people?' Well, that’s a great opportunity for education. You have just told me who I really need to target in this group of people in front of me, and who I really need to focus on to make sure they get something out of this,” Weeks said during his conversation with Molly Stephey, of NMAI’s public affairs office. And often, Weeks can pinpoint the moment during his tours when he makes an impact on students. “I don’t see a light bulb so much as a light in their eyes. Their eyes open really big, that a-ha moment. And for me, if I get that just once a week, that is reason enough to continue in this job.”

Before joining NMAI in 2008, Weeks worked at a Living History museum in Colorado.

On using objects and photographs to dispel myths during tours:

Ramsey Weeks-School Tours (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: “I have this wonderful picture of me dressed up in traditional clothing. I like to hold that, “Who is this? Is this person more Native than me?” And most of the kids will look at that traditional clothing and say, “Yep, that person’s more Indian than you.” And then they’re very shocked when I was, “That is me!” It’s a great little learning moment for them to see that clothing doesn’t make a person Native, it doesn’t make a person more or less Native.”

EXCERPT:  “One of my favorite objects is actually part of our permanent gallery in “Our Universes.” It’s a small pin cushion done by a lady of Mohawk descent in 1902. It actually has what appears on it a beaded swastika. We get more questions about that item in the museum than any other single item. I actually find it a really useful item to talk about ideas of cultural perspective, the cultural lens. Because we look at that item, we have that feeling come up -- swastika, what are these Indians doing with a swastika? -- but then we’re able to explain that it actually represents the North Star. From my own culture, it’s the coming together of the four winds, it’s a whirlwind symbol.”

On working at a “Living History” museum:

Ramsey Weeks-Living History (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT: “There was the stereotype that, as Native people, we should obviously know all of the things that traditional Native people knew, like tanning hides. I have never learned to tan a hide. You throw one down in front of me and tell me to tan it, I’m going to give you a very odd look. This is not something I know.”

On lesser-known Native beliefs and traditions:

Ramsey Weeks-Two-Spirit Society (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT: “I do like talking about two-spirit societies in particular. One, it’s just a part of culture that a lot of people don’t know exist. It’s a part of culture that’s really fascinating and amazing and there’s just not a lot of public knowledge about this ... The two-spirit of course, the way I generally preface it is to say, the two-spirit—in my culture we call them “wikkitan” —were men who dressed as women, did the work of women, were treated in all respects as women, even to the point that they could marry other men.”

 

The National Day of Listening is an effort to encourage all Americans to honor a friend, loved one, or member of their community by interviewing them about their lives. StoryCorps has created a free do-it-yourself interview guide with equipment recommendations and interview instructions available online at www.nationaldayoflistening.org.

Comments (4)

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Hi,

Wow loved the article for me its great to challenge beliefs and values that form our identity. I have now been doing this for myself for at least 10 years consciously, what has happened as a result of educating myself and embracing the different cultures is I have beome very flexible and tollerant to other people behaviour.

I try to remember that "the behaviour is NOT the person" its often just a mirror reflecting their internal though processes which are created by beliefs and values, when I also see others gently questioning other people beliefs it amazing its the only way we will adapt and learn to work in a world where we have many multi cultural societies.

Steve

It's surprising how similar fashion is across the globe! We realize that most of the trends you have at AUC are prevalent here at Stanford as well. On the other hand, your description of styles at AUC seems to be influenced mainly by European styles whereas the "Californian" style is more dominant here at Stanford.

Great blog! I genuinely love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the info are well written.
I am wondering how I may be notified whenever a new post has been made.
I have subscribed to your rss feed which need to do the trick! Have a nice day!

Thank you for this, my grandfather is actually full Cherokee. So I really have a passion for the culture of Native Americans. Ramsey definitely provides a lot of great insight.

Thanks

November 23, 2010

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's Terry Snowball (Prairie Band Potawatomi/ Wisconsin Ho-Chunk)

This week the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian will share the stories of five Native staffers as part of American Indian Heritage Day and the StoryCorps' 2010 National Day of Listening, a holiday started by the nonprofit organization StoryCorps in 2008. Both holidays fall on the same day this year—Friday, Nov. 26.

Terry Snowball _ Chile repatriation in 2007 (with members of the Aymara communities on either side of Snowball) Yesterday's interview with KJ Jacks (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) is followed by today's conversation with Terry Snowball (Prairie Band Potawatomi/ Wisconsin Ho-Chunk), who got his start in the field of Native American studies as an intern at the Institute of American Indian Arts. (Pictured: Snowball, center, with members of Chile's Aymara communities during a repatriation trip in 2007).

As repatriation coordinator at the museum's Cultural Resources Center, Snowball works with tribes from North and South America to return human remains and sacred objects from the museum's collection. He's been with the museum since 1996.

In addition to working for the Smithsonian, Snowball is a traditional practitioner of his tribes' dream dance religion.

On witnessing the museum's 2004 opening, which brought more than 25,000 indigenous people to the National Mall—the largest gathering of tribal communities in U.S. history:

Terry Snowball-Opening Ceremony (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "It's not just my defining moment and it's not just my tribe's defining moment, I also think it's a defining moment for indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere ... Never before had we witnessed so many nations, so many leaders, so much cultural celebration or personal expression or cultural identity ... Today it's something I still reflect on, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around ... What we are talking about here is cultural survival, so each and every one of those groups and individuals that was there has been a product of a form of survival that was due in part by how our ancestors persevered."

On how the museum should portray Native American history:

Terry Snowball-Identity (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "Some tribal people that come to this museum feel that it should be about holocaust, it should be about that type of experience, whereas other tribes feel that it should be about our survival. But I guess the question is why can't it be about all those things?"

On his mentor at the Institute of American Indian Arts:

Terry Snowball-Mentor (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT:  "There was actually a moment when he was teaching one of our museum-studies classes and he said to a couple of us, "You know, someday you'll be helping each other." And lo and behold, when I was working here at the Cultural Center in Suitland, I was host to one of my former fellow classmates, as he was a tribal representative for the Seminal Tribe of Oklahoma."

On artistic expression versus cultural identity: 

Terry Snowball-Native Identity and Art (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "You didn't have gallery openings on the plains. You didn't have gallery openings at a potlatch. You had what you wore as your culture. You had what you wore as your past. You had what you wore as your identity, and that was very artful …"

On the power of tradition and religion to maintain cultural identity:

Terry Snowball-Cultural Values (Click to Play)

 EXCERPT:  "I've always grown up with an important aspect to my culture, which is our religion. And for as long as I can remember, we've practiced that religion ... I was initiated into that practice when I was 14 or 15, and have witnessed a number of passings and loss of certain traditional knowledge ... but it nevertheless keeps going, because it constantly promotes the one thing that helps us maintain an identity for ourselves."

 

The National Day of Listening is an effort to encourage all Americans to honor a friend, loved one, or member of their community by interviewing them about their lives. StoryCorps has created a free do-it-yourself interview guide with equipment recommendations and interview instructions available online at www.nationaldayoflistening.org.

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Thanks a lot for sharing a very nice wording with us! Please keep it up..

November 22, 2010

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's KJ Jacks (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma)

This week the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will share the stories of five Native staffers as part of American Indian Heritage Day and the StoryCorps’ 2010 National Day of Listening, a holiday started by the nonprofit organization StoryCorps in 2008. Both holidays fall on the same day this year—Friday, Nov. 26.

KJ at the Sculpture Garden A new audio interview will be posted daily here on the museum's blog. Today's interview features KJ Jacks (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma), who started working for the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004—the year the D.C. branch opened on the Mall. In fact, her first day coincided with the Sept. 21 opening ceremony.

"I grew up in Colorado with my mother, who is of Irish decent," Jacks said during her conversation with colleague Leonda Levchuk (Navajo), of NMAI's public affairs office. "She was a single mom. My father is full-blood Cherokee. I didn't meet him until I was 16-years-old. So my mom tried to get me interested in Indian culture when I was young, and I wasn't having any of it—I was rebelling. But when I got the job at the museum, I became very active in finding out about the Cherokee culture. I asked a lot of my coworkers, did research in our resource center, and did some stuff on my own online, so I have learned a lot in the last 6 years."

Jacks is currently a member of NMAI's Special Events Department, which plans private receptions at the museum, including an upcoming gathering for leaders of the 565 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. who will meet with President Barack Obama on Dec. 16.

On her childhood and what it meant to be Native American:

KJ Jacks-Heritage (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "We lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is really close to Denver and so my mom would always take me to Denver March Powwow ... I always had fun doing it; it's just that I didn’t identify myself as being Native American. I didn't know what it meant.  I didn't know if it was supposed to mean anything. And she did the best she could, but she didn't really know either."

On challenging myths and changing minds:

KJ Jacks-Changing Minds (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "There was a group of elders that came from the eastern band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina ... and there was a group of school kids that were here too, and the elders sang for them, they spoke in Cherokee for them and these kids were so excited they just got out their notebooks and got their autographs and got their pictures taken with them. It was one of the very best days working here; it was so fun to see that."

On experiencing racism within the Native community:

KJ Jacks-Racism (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "One Columbus Day I was sitting outside waiting for a group to come in and we had a drum group; and one of the drummers came out and sat with me—I believe he was Kiowa—and he was like, "Are you Native?" and I said, "Yes, I'm Cherokee." And he said "Oklahoma or North Carolina?" I said, "Oklahoma," and he said, "Well, those aren't real Cherokees." ...  And then he was like, "Well, what's your name?" and I said, "KJ Jacks."  He said, "Jacks isn't a Cherokee name," and I said, "No, it's not. It's my mom's last name. She's Irish." And he said, "Well, then you're really not Cherokee  because if you're mom's not Cherokee, then you're not."

Recalling one of her favorite moments at the museum:

KJ Jacks-Memorable Moment (Click to Play)

EXCERPT: "It was a very weird day. Felipe Rose, who was one of the original members of the Village People—he is actually Lakota and Puerto Rican—donated one of his gold records to the museum. And when we came in, he had a costume on. It was a bright blue turquoise Native costume, and then we had our fabulous curator Emil Her Many Horses, who wore his regalia. And just the juxtaposition of those two people standing next to each other (Laughs). And then we all did the YMCA with Rick West, who was the director at the time..."

 

The National Day of Listening is an effort to encourage all Americans to honor a friend, loved one, or member of their community by interviewing them about their lives. StoryCorps has created a free do-it-yourself interview guide with equipment recommendations and interview instructions available online at www.nationaldayoflistening.org.

Comments (5)

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Hi,
This is fascinating! Can you tell me if there is any mention of art techniques and materials used in the pre-1700 Cherokee culture?

I read that in several books on Native Americans that if your mother is Native then you were considered Native, but if your father is not then you are not considered Native. Well I have a Afro/Native Grandmom and an Afro/Irish Granddad, but my father only claimed the Afro part and said that we were Black. But everyday people would ask me am I NATIVE INDIAN because of my skin tone and features. So I began to research my family tree, and I found out that my mother also had an Native Indian great uncle on her father's side. So although some Native people may not consider me a true Native, I believe that I have more Native blood in me than any of the Irish and Black in me. So now when I fill out an application I always check Native Indian box, and I am proud of it.

KJ, this is a wonderful interview! Thanks for sharing! I know you're used to being on stage but this is different, this is personal and SO intersting! It's great to hear other perspectives on being a Native person, and being a Native person that works in a museum representing Native people! You've got guts!

KJ has done awesome work! I did not know about her talent.

Excellent and interesting info! Thanks! :-)