Monday, January 17, 2011

National Museum of the American Indian

Most people use Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday as a free day off. And maybe I'm just in the wrong circles, but I never hear of a rally or other events/ideas to celebrate King's legacy and life. This year I wanted to do something specifically to celebrate him, to educate myself and to think about the future of people of color.
What I ended up doing is going to the National Museum of the American Indian. I realize, of course, that King was African American, but King was not fighting for just civil rights for African Americans, and his cause inspired other people of color to demand justice and equality. If King had survived his shooting, he would probably be proud to see his words inspire other activists fighting for other minorities.
Moreover, I feel like I have a personal blind spot when it comes to Native American culture. Not on purpose, of course, but I do not know much about the differences between nations. So going to this museum was an attempt to spend some time, in honor of King's work, educating myself. I wanted to post some pictures I took and share some of the assorted thoughts I had.

The first floor of the museum had this wonderful collection of everyday items Native Americans made. Obviously, this is a bowl. (I am having trouble discerning my notes, but I believe this is from either the Lakota or Dakota. At the very least, it's Sioux.) The artist who created this did a great job capturing the animal's likeness.

This is a set of playing cards. After having contact with Westerns, Native Americans adopted some of their games and changed them. Games were also played by Native Americans to settle clan disputes, which made me think about how some Southern African people would use poetry as a way to battle one another without actually shedding blood.

I believe this is a cribbage game.

The dramatic lighting in the museum. The museum is located in a historical, Beaux-Arts building.

A more modern piece of art the greets you when you first walk in the museum.
There were a lot of omissions at this museum. I realize most people do not want to talk about the issues affecting living Native Americans, like all the problems that plague reservations, but there was not even a discussion of the horrible things that happened to Native Americans as part of the U.S. attempts to "civilize" them, just brief mentions here and there of them being moved against their will to places like Oklahoma. This is a huge gap in history to ignore, and important one.
I also wish there was some discussion of what modern life for Native Americans is like. There was art from contemporary Native Americans (which was very cool), but it had muted political quality, and a fair amount of it, displayed in another context and without information, could have been seen as non-political art.
I have more pictures on Flikr and I wrote a longer review of the museum on my review blog.

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