National Museum of the American Indian

New York, NY



who stole the tee pee?, continued


The first section of the exhibition -- "Changing Reservation Realities" -- explores the varying, often contradicting perspectives on reservation life. For many, the reservation was a desolate place of strange schools, new religions, and oppressive racism. But for some it was a cultural oasis where Native People could express themselves on their own terms. Art was one of the primary ways in which old ideas and new realities could be expressed. However, cultural contradictions created provocative ironies, such as Lakota Sioux making and decorating pouches for their ration cards, as illustrated by objects from the museum's collection. These meal tickets that were pacifying and crippling their skills as hunters and farmers became a new means of survival.

Left to right: "St. Eustace's New Suit," Norman Akers, Osage/Pawnee, 1995, Photo: Roger Whiteside; "Indoctrination #3," Steven Deo, 2000, Creek/Euchee, Photo: Roger Whiteside; "End of the Trail," Steven Deo, 2000, Creek/Euchee, Photo: Roger Whiteside; "Flowers," 2000, Mario Martinet, Pascua Yaqui, Photo: Roger Whiteside; "Iroquois... Matriarchal Society," 1991, Shelley Niro, Mohawk, Photo: Roger Whiteside; "Generic Guide," Ryan Rice, 2000, Kahnawake Mohawk, Photo: Roger Whiteside)

"School Bells and Haircuts: Re-educating the Indian" explores the traditional steps missionaries and government officials took to "humanize" and "civilize" young Native People in communities and boarding schools. The first step was to cut the children's hair, illustrated in a photo by Cherokee/Creek artist Tom Fields, and replace their traditional clothing with European-style dress, which Yanktonai Lakota artist Oscar Howe illustrates in a 1949 watercolor of Native college students in their "ballroom best." The next step was to teach them to think in English about wealth, private property, and individuality. The final step was to teach Native children to salute the flag that many of their ancestors had fought against.

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