November is officially Native American Heritage Month in the United States. The first official legislation recognizing this dates to the George H. W. Bush administration in 1990. In recent years, there has been much conversation about celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October, replacing “Columbus Day,” which was designated as a federal holiday in 1937. Although this has gained traction and sparked controversy in the 2010’s, South Dakota actually became the first state to recognize the date in 1989. According to that source, California and Tennessee observe Native American day in September. While it’s great to have federal recognition and official designations to plan your kindergarten curriculum around, Native American Heritage Month, is, of course, like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian American Heritage Month, Pride Month and Latin American Heritage Month, every month in the United States.
How many of these heritage months did you observe and honor during your K-12 education? Thanks to the dedicated work of activists and a progressive shift towards social action and racial equity, there’s a push towards honoring the history and culture of those historically excluded from American history. Just 5 years ago I was throwing out dangerously stereotypical art lesson plans at work that had children making “headdresses” or using “Native American symbols.” In 2020, instead of having to re-post Adrienne Keene’s Native Appropriations blog to remind folks not to sexualize a culture with by far the highest rates of missing and murdered women, I got to post this article she was asked to write for Pinterest about not appropriating culture as costume! A quick Pinterest search for “Thanksgiving crafts” shows mostly turkeys. The metrics by which we measure success are weird sometimes.
In the Museum world, American art museums are hiring curators of Native American art at a surprising pace. In the past year there have been open positions at the Jocelyn Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, Crystal Bridges Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Montclair Museum of Art and more. It’s striking to witness American art museums recognize that Native American art history is American art history. (It makes me angry but also happy if you know what I mean.) The number of exhibitions in American art museums of both historic and contemporary Native art as well as the inclusion of native art have drastically increased, especially on the East Coast.
While we honor and celebrate this progress, there are still folks out there in the wilderness using past tense to describe traditional indigenous practices and struggling to embrace “material culture” as “art.” Without contextualizing Native voices in everyday life, these gains in the art and museum world will continue to feel like celebrating an Other, keeping us locked into the cycle of feeling like everything is new all the time. The explosion of social media platforms from YouTube to Facebook to TikTok to podcasts help creatives and educators to connect with people directly; it’s easier for Native people to remind us that they are here when we see them as soon as we open up an “explore” tab on Instagram. To encourage immersion in diversifying your media outside of the professional museum world, here’s a little tiny roundup of some contemporary voices promoting first-person Native experience.
- If you’re woke you’re probably worried about whether or not it’s ok to celebrate Thanksgiving – and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, you’re making jokes about spreading disease. The video below elegantly demonstrates how the cultural legacy of indigenous peoples permeates American culture.
2. 2020 is the 20th year of the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Cinema showcase. Every year for 20 years this Smithsonian Institution has celebrated talented Native filmmakers! Dig into the archives, or, due to the pandemic, watch the 65 films on demand. They’re releasing a batch a day from 11/21 – 11/26. Follow the link below to watch 11 family-friendly short films, ranging from 2 – 10 minutes long.
3. This 2017 round-up from The Conscious Kid spotlights children’s books by indigenous authors from sweet board books (Sweetest Kulu and We Sang You Home are favorites) through intermediate readers. Diverse books make great Christmas gifts.
4. Another for the kids – Molly of Denali is just over a year old. In addition to the episodes of the TV show on PBS, the website has activities, short videos, and even a podcast! In addition to promoting literacy, Molly is developed with a working group of Alaska Native advisors and consultants; Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets’aii Gwich’in), producer and Fairbanks resident, is creative producer of the series. It also features Alaska Native voice talent in key roles, including the lead role of Molly, as well as Alaska Native scriptwriters. WGBH and its animation partner, Atomic Cartoons, hosts Alaska Native interns for production and animation roles.
5. And for adult readers – the author of this list describes the selections as not only “important,” but books you’ll love reading – which is kind of the whole point of my round up, too. This list, published at the beginning of 2020, features hot-off-the-press novels that mostly came out just this year.
6. We strive for continuity in education about Native American history. This is difficult because of a systemic effort to erase and assimilate. Languages and connections to place have been lost to time. Aaron Carapella (Cherokee/Anglo) embarked on a research project to map the land now known as the United States pre-1490. He has set up Go Fund Me projects to place the Tribal Nations maps in classrooms across the country. Prior to Carapella’s project, which is now trademarked and been produced for about 8 years. most tribal maps listed maybe up to 50 nations. There are, of course, maps of the current reservation system, but since many tribes don’t live on their ancestral lands and many others do not have federally recognized land, a contemporary reservation map tells us little about indigenous history. Carapella’s map represents 584 tribes, denoted by their name in their own language.
7. Native hip-hop: Supaman, Frank Waln, Eekwol, and of course A Tribe Called Red. Tall Paul (Anishinaabe and Oneida) blends English and Anishinaabemowin in the tack below.
8. As we talk about a lot here on Museum Drip, art is great, museums (often) suck. Social media sucks too, but a lot of creatives are taking to apps to connect directly with other people in an unmediated experience. Apparently I kind of live under a rock because I didn’t realize that @notoriouscree aka James Jones has amassed 2 million followers on TikTok since March of 2020 (also I don’t use TikTok) but I have noticed a growing trend to showcase Native culture on social media apps.
9. While Andi Murphy (Navajo) worked as an associate producer on the radio show Native America Calling, she just kept pitching shows about food. She started this podcast 4 years ago and has interviewed over 50 Native chefs and farmers. Episodes focus on food sovereignty and reclaiming indigenous food sources from the Westernized industrial farm complex.
10. Obviously this being a blog about art and museums, I could easily give you a round up of my favorite Native artists and their projects, but since today’s post is meant to be a little broader-reaching, we’ll stick with just Wendy Red Star and her exhibition Children of the Large-Beaked Bird, now on view at KidSpace at Mass MoCA. This exhibition is brilliantly expository – Red Star and the director of KidSpace achieve the penultimate goal of retaining the complexity of Native history while making it engaging for children and adults.