American Indian News Service American Indian News Sat, 15 Jan 2011 14:14:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 FILM: Films by and about Native women, and about the movement of Native peoples across the Americas are among those to screen at 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival Fri, 14 Jan 2011 23:30:49 +0000 New York—The 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York will bring an indigenous hemisphere together from March 31-April 3, at a free festival that celebrates the diversity and expression of contemporary Native filmmaking.

Courtesy of Sande Zeig - “Apache 8: The Movie,” about an all-Native woman wildland fire-fighting crew, will premiere at the Film + Video Festival in New York at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It was directed by Sande Zeig.

“The festival brings you Native storytelling at its best—wrenching at times, touching, risky, ironic, hilarious and experimental,” said Elizabeth Weatherford, director of the museum’s Film and Video Center, which puts on this biennial event.

The festival attracts filmmakers from Native communities across the Western Hemisphere, and offers them training workshops, panel discussions and networking opportunities. Weatherford is proud that many a professional connection has been made at this festival, generating new works.

“This festival will have the largest representation of Native women filmmakers, and many films of the last two years address the stories of Native peoples immigrating and immigration,” Weatherford said.

A movie that will make its premiere at the festival is “Apache 8” by Sande Zeig, about an all-woman Apache wildland fire-fighting crew that has worked together for 22 years. Zeig said that all the firefighters would attend the festival, which she said was the best venue for the movie’s world premiere.

“The Native American Film + Video Festival is the preeminent Native American film festival in the United States. I have been a supporter and fan since the early ‘80s,” Zeig said. “We are honored to have been chosen.”

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

The festival predates even the National Museum of the American Indian by 10 years, having started at its predecessor, the Museum of the American Indian in New York. When it started in 1979, only 10 percent of the films were by Native filmmakers, but 32 years later, 95 percent are Native-made. And the diversity among Native filmmakers is great.

Four groups of tribal youth filmmakers plan to attend the festival, including Camille Manybeads Tso, 15, a Navajo who wrote and directed a 20-minute short as a 13-year-old eighth-grader, “In the Footsteps of Yellow Woman,” which is all in her tribal language. The center became aware of Tso after she wrote a letter explaining the needs of her school near Flagstaff, Ariz.

One of the distinctions of the Film + Video Festival is that a four-person panel, drawn from the ranks of indigenous filmmakers, selects the films that will be screened from those submitted. As a result of this process, the films chosen represent a wide range of Native film making. And the festival isn’t driven by awards; and it doesn’t give any.

Instead, it is driven by what Weatherford calls the “creative energy” of indigenous directors, producers and creators. People involved in the films that will be screened come from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Suriname and the United States. Many of the films are short documentaries of the kind that often air on PBS, while the feature-length films that will travel a circuit of festivals and art-house theaters after their premiere.

Some of the celebrated films scheduled for this festival include, “La Pequeña Semilla en el Asfalto” (The Little Seed in the Asphalt) by director Pedro Daniel López, Tzotzil. It features four Native people from the Mexican state of Chiapas who have moved to the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas to attend school, and their reactions to the prejudice they face as indigenous youth.

Others include “Kissed by Lightening,” the debut film by Shelley Niro, who is Mohawk, and co-produced by Annie Frazier Henry, who is Blackfoot and Sioux. The 2009 film is inspired by an ancient Iroquois story about an artist who in grief immerses herself in her painting only to realize that she has to let go and move on. The film is set in the contemporary on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. “Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian” by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond documents the portrayal of North American Natives in a century of cinema. Another, the horror film, “File under Miscellaneous” by Jeff Barnaby, who is Mi’gMaq, is about a Mi’gMaq man who wants to be white. 

For more information about the 2011 Film + Video Festival visit,


By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

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PEOPLE: Native filmmakers use eye, experience to winnow entries for Film + Video Festival Fri, 14 Jan 2011 23:30:49 +0000 New York—Every other year, the Film + Video Festival at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian begins by selecting 100 films, from shorts as long as five minutes each to feature-length films, to screen during the two-day festival.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s Film and Video Center - The Native filmmakers who selected the films to be shown at the 2011 Film + Video Festival in New York are: (front, left to right) Terry Jones, Nancy Mithlo, and (back) Ana Rosa Duarte and Helen Haig Brown.

The selectors are Native filmmakers from across the Western Hemisphere, artists who, like the makers of the films they are screening, struggle to give voice to the unique stories of Native America. The task of screening more than 700 films could be mind-numbing, but Elizabeth Weatherford, director of the museum’s Film and Video Center, always seems to pick the right four people. When the festival, which this year begins March 31 and concludes April 3, dims the lights it will be these selectors to thank for helping to shape a great festival.

The 2011 festival’s selectors are Ana Rosa Duarte, who is Maya from Mérida, Yucatán; Helen Haig-Brown, Tsilhqot’in Nation, from interior British Columbia; Terry Jones, Seneca, from northwest New York; and Nancy Mithlo, Chiricahua Apache, from Apache, Okla. The selectors, who are all filmmakers, recently sat down for a conversation with the Film and Video Center’s staff. They are Weatherford, Amalia Cordova, Millie Seubert, and Reaghan Tarbell, who is Kahnawake Mohawk. The interviews have been edited to present an overview of the background experiences about filmmaking that have influenced the selectors.

Film and Video Center: Where is home, where are you from?

Nancy Mithlo: I am a cultural anthropologist by training and am very interested in contemporary Native arts, the world of creative production, creative thought, for indigenous peoples…. My past story is that my father was one of those kids that was taken away from his community of Apache, Okla.—we’re Chiricahua Apache—by his mom, at a young age. It wasn’t a forced residential school system, but it was a form of assimilation. And when he wanted to return home, I was a part of that process with him. It’s kind of sweet now, because my Apache relatives will say that I brought Dad back home, but I always feel that Dad brought me home. Out of my generation I’m the one that has a great longing and love for that community and that land and the extended family of the Mithlos that exists in the plains of Oklahoma.

Terry Jones: I am a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians located in upstate New York. I’m an independent filmmaker [and have] recently moved back to the reservation after 26 years here in New York City. My rez—or, actually, we call it our territory, because reservation implies that you were somewhere and they moved you, but we still inhabit [our original] area—we are about 40,000 square acres, situated about 30 miles south of Buffalo, N.Y.…. Growing up on my rez, I really didn’t have a whole lot of role models. Luckily for me in the late ’70s and early ’80s they had these federal programs where they brought photo journalism and video workshops for gifted Native youth. That’s when I thought more about photography as a way of documenting life, or Native life. But even then, photography was still considered new. The Indians back home didn’t consider photography art; it was usually beading, and usually carving, but it was never photography.

Helen Haig-Brown: I have always lived between my community in the interior and Vancouver. Probably the majority of life has been in the city, Vancouver…. My mom went to school, University [of British Columbia], when I was a child, so we moved to the city then. My father ended up trading in his career from working as a teacher in the interior and became a freelance writer in Vancouver, so he bought a place there. My mother, when she finished school, moved home. We were split between the two places quite consistently throughout our life after that…. Yeah, in a lot of ways it was a conflict…. I’ve had to come to a place where it’s like, “OK, I have to live in both places to a degree.” Trying to find a good compromise or a way to stay balanced within that is quite difficult. I finally decided I was ready to create my base back in the Tsilhqot’in, in the country. Right now, I just travel all the time into the cities. That’s kind of a balance, though it doesn’t seem like the balance that I want [laugh]. Hopefully I can, at some point, just come to the city for two months of the year, maybe even more, if I needed to do a specific project.

Ana Rosa Duarte: I am Ana Rosa Duarte. I come from Mérida, Yucatán, and I am Maya. I’m here to participate and share my experience working with Mayan communities of the southern and southeastern region of Mexico, as well as to learn what is done here in this festival.

Film and Video Center: What influences guided you to filmmaking or guides you now as a filmmaker?

Ana Rosa Duarte: Well, it was a matter of destiny. I left my community and went to the university and became an anthropologist. However, I was restless, the methodologies of anthropological work were not entirely satisfying, and I felt I needed to find another way…to provide a voice for the indigenous communities. This was how I began thinking of using the available media—in this case [available] due to the high volume of migration to the main cities in Yucatán, to other states of Mexico and also to the United States. I realized there was access to video cameras, and it occurred to me that I should try to use that language so that the people in the communities could communicate, not only amongst themselves, but also with the outside, for them to have a voice, so that they are not limited to written forms… and also the culture is visual, very visual.

Helen Haig-Brown: I remember it being really nerve-wracking when starting, especially trying to tell traditional stories, or important stories. I spent a lot of years hiding in Vancouver, to develop my skills to feel ready enough to go home…. All of a sudden I began to notice, “Hey, wait a second, my uncle is always video recording and editing on his computer;” they’re family videos, they’re recordings of events. He’s a rancher; he puts up the hay…. So he drives a tractor all day and then he’s taught himself to edit on a computer. Then I have a couple other aunts and my mother who have been recording stories and songs since the ’60s. So there’s not only old Super 8 footage that my uncle did, there’s VHS from another aunt, who’s been recording through the ’80s and ’90s. That’s just my family. Then I recognized, it dawned on me, “Oh, my God! No wonder I do what I do!” It’s interesting to see I’ve always been following them or been taught by them in some way…. So, doing the films now that I’ve been doing at home, actually doing films that are from home, that are in our language, that are our stories, that are acted by people all in our community—it’s been the first time that I’m being recognized as a filmmaker and feel like I’ve come home.

Terry Jones: Reaghan Tarbell is an influence [laugh]. I think for filmmakers and artists in general there’s a lack of role models. I used to always complain growing up, “Whose footsteps can I follow in? Who can I emulate?” I actually thought that was a curse until I got to a place of embracing my own artistry, to realize we all have our own machetes and we cut our own path; it’s actually liberating to do work that’s not mainstream. Being in New York, everyone wants to be an actor, everybody wants to be a writer, but what makes you you? Everyone’s trying to fit into this mainstream ideal.

Film and Video Center: We’ve asked you to come in and be part of the selection portion of the Native American Film + Video Festival. I’m curious what you’ve been seeing and how you’ve been experiencing the viewing of these works. What do you take away from them?

Nancy Mithlo: In a lot of my academic work and my essays, [and my] book, I’ve been challenged for my adoption of a pan-tribal sensibility because I’m not being specific to one tribe, one geographic location, one time period. Our academic life has gotten narrower and narrower in scope, and at the same time the world has gotten broader and broader in terms of communication and globalization. I’ve found that I’ve had to advocate for a sense of what I know by common sense, and that means multiple tribal communities organizing together for higher goals—and that any kind of resistance to that is really a resistance to political and social development and change and empowerment. And so, I’ve entered, I think unexpectedly, into the film festival feeling that same sense of pan-tribal indigenous empowerment through being able to observe and to watch and engage in that experiential learning.

There is a sense of, still, indigenous communities being locked in time and space, indigenous communities not having access to the same resources, including media, [and] indigenous communities trying still to react against Western norms instead of being empowered outside of those norms.

Terry Jones: For me, my whole experience as a filmmaker, actually my whole life, has been unconventional: I’m left-handed, I have a different eye for art and the new media, whether it’s film or photography; I came to New York, I left the reservation. I didn’t get a college degree, I got real-life experiences in terms of the skills I have—working with a nonprofit organization for four years on their board, sitting on the panel for the New York State Council for the Arts gives me a strong sense of what needs to go into a grant; my experiences with ABC/Disney and the different workshops and programs I’ve been in for filmmaking—I’ve just been a sponge, completely learning…. In terms of being a selector, I think I have a different eye. Growing up traditional—I don’t want to say it in a way that sounds like ‘I’m a real Indian,’ but because I’m traditional and I come from a very traditional upbringing, and then being able to live in the city, I know that whole [experience] from the point of being traditional to being completely urban and everything in between.

Screening all these films from indigenous people throughout the hemisphere—the content may be different, but the processes are all the same—we’re all dealing with language, we’re all dealing with preservation of language, and we’re dealing with maintaining our culture. The biggest thing that I’m seeing is that a lot of these stories are about trying to find that balance between personal self and dealing with the outside world and dealing with yourself in the community.


American Indian News Service

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CULTURE: Through art, dance, language, Boxleys breathe new life into Tsimshian culture Fri, 14 Jan 2011 23:30:49 +0000 Kingston, Wash.—David Boxley is putting designs in red paint on a bentwood box, while his older son, David Robert Boxley, carves alder wood into a beaver face for a helmet commissioned by a Native dance troupe in nearby British Columbia.

By Kai Monture - The Git-Hoan dance group, co-led by David Robert Boxley and his father, David A. Boxley, sing their “Outside” song from behind a screen at the Anchorage Museum, letting their hosts known “we are here.” The performance celebrated the opening of the exhibition, “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska,” last May.

Father and son are often together, whether at performances of the Git-Hoan, Boxley’s Tsimshian dance troupe (scheduled to appear at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York on May 21-22), or in the carver’s shed by his house on Washington state’s Kitsap Peninsula. A second son, Zachary, 26, who makes the drums and bentwood boxes now, works a job on the graveyard shift and is asleep in the house. An almost-constant winter rain muffles sounds. In the shed the father, 58, and the son, 30, talk while they work, finishing each other’s sentences, and possibly each other’s thoughts.

“I’ve taken on a mantle of cultural leadership,” Boxley said. “David Robert has, too, for his generation. We look at it from a broad spectrum of carrying on the culture. In 100 years no one alive will remember us. I don’t care if people don’t remember my name, as long as people are speaking our language, and people are still doing this kind of art.”

Boxley is internationally celebrated for his carvings and his visual arts. He also teaches students the Tsimshian language in his spare time. At this point in this life, he is thinking about generations backward and forward, most notably his sons’, who have grown up in a depth of Tsimshian that was unimaginable when their father was a boy.

“Our village, Metlakatla, Alaska, was founded by people who left their home in British Columbia with a missionary in 1887,” Boxley said. “They left all their traditions behind. The missionary was very successful with us, I think you might say.”

His grandparents, Albert and Dora Bolton, were among the first generation of Tsimshian to be born in Metlakatla. Cultural expression was illegal when they were young, and their daughter, Boxley’s mother, was among a generation of Alaska Natives sent to boarding school. His grandparents raised Boxley at home, teaching him what they still had, language, and subsistence life skills. His grandfather was a quiet man who loved his family. His grandmother wove Tsimshian baskets at home. As a young man, Boxley wanted to become a basket ball coach, so he became a high school teacher and coach. He was teaching 1978 when his interests turned to Tsimshian culture and artistic expression.

“The art started taking me over,” is how he remembers it. He laughs now that when he decided to become a carver he bought an X-Acto tool kit. His grandfather soon took him to a junkyard and salvaged leaf spring from a VW Bug, ground one end of the metal down until it was sharp, and bolted it to a wood handle to make Boxley’s first adze.

He copied pictures of totem poles in books, carving pieces, some of which he still keeps in dark corners of his workshop, and one of which he calls “the ugliest-looking thing in the world.” In two or three years, his carvings started to look like the old pieces carved by Tsimshian a century earlier. In 1982 he gave the first pole-raising and potlatch in Metlakatla; a newspaper picture shows Boxley dancing in street clothes with a carved wooden helmet on his head. It was the first time Boxley danced in public. A father with a wife and two young sons, he quit teaching school in 1986 and turned to art full time. The next year he composed his first six Tsimshian songs for a newly formed adult dance group called 4th Generation.

“I would have loved to have instruction,” Boxley said of his carving. “But I didn’t know who to go to. Because I had no instruction, I developed a style of art that is known as Alaskan Tsimshian.”

David Robert and Zachary grew up in the Tsimshian culture; often simply in the carver’s shed, which is really an insulated garage next to the house on the Olympic Peninsula. David Robert remembers never being forced to carve or dance, but he remembers being coached by his dad, both in art and in Little League. He said, “It was always great to do something with Dad.”

Over 30 years Boxley has built a reputation as an artist, notably stepping into the international arena in 1990 when he was commissioned to create the crown of a talking stick, for which he carved an American eagle and a Russian bear embracing, for the Goodwill Games. U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev wrote messages of goodwill and inserted them in the carving’s hollow.

David Robert followed quickly in his father’s footsteps, selling two pieces for $150 each when he was 7 years old and achieving his first gallery show when he was 15. His first totem commission followed at La Push, Wash. “I have a clear memory of being 6 years old and learning how to run adze along a straight line, then seeing how chopped up the wood was. Now I can run a pencil line straight down the board.”

Boxley nods, appreciating how his sons have been able to live a life entirely in Tsimshian and never having to be on the outside looking in. He said, “The best thing a parent can have is for their children to do more than they did. I am proud of both my boys.”
David Robert works now for Robert Davidson, a widely respected Haida carver. Boxley notes with pride that his son is a carver working for Davidson, not an apprentice.

Boxley and David Robert co-lead the dance troupe Git-Hoan, and before that they co-led another group, Tsimshian Haayuuk. “My dance group is well known for its masks. At one time people were likening us to modern dancers, but that wasn’t true. We are old style dancers. Masks were used a lot in the old days by all the tribes.”

The inspiration for the masks, the box drums and the capes comes from the old materials that the Boxley family has found in museum collections such as the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Md. Bringing out new materials made in the old style may have made the style seem new. But David Robert said of visiting the Tsimshian objects in museum collections, “It’s the only way to talk to the old people.”

His father said, “He is taking it over after I hang it up.”

“Not too soon, I hope,” David Robert replied. “One thing we feel strongly about is that the culture doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to everyone.”

Boxley grinned at the bentwood box he’d gone back to painting, and said, “It’s a big canoe, that is what I say, everyone can fit.”


By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

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HISTORY: Family is foundation of documentary on NYC’s Mohawk ironworker community Fri, 14 Jan 2011 23:30:49 +0000 New York—Reaghan Tarbell never set out to be a New Yorker, or a filmmaker, for that matter.

Courtesy of Reaghan Tarbell - Mohawk children from the Little Caughnawaga neighborhood visit Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. This neighborhood is featured in the documentary “To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey.”

But eight years ago, this descendant of Mohawk ironworkers moved to New York from the Kahnawake Reserve near Montreal. She came to work in the Film and Video Center of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. In the city, she found she had questions she’d never asked about the sojourns of her grandparents in a Brooklyn neighborhood called Little Caughnawaga.

Little Caughnawaga, as Tarbell explained in her 2008 documentary, “To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey,” was a small neighborhood that was home in the 1950s to as many as 700 Mohawks, making it the largest Mohawk settlement outside of Canada.

“It is my family story,” she said. “When I first moved here, my experience was so different than what I had heard about, how my whole community was here, your aunties, sisters, all lived here within 10 square blocks.”

Tarbell’s documentary, which premiered in 2008 and was shown on PBS in 2009, is popular at festivals around the U.S. and Canada. It has brought back a piece of Brooklyn’s diverse history, as noted by the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Public Library.

On December 3, the documentary was shown at the Brooklyn Film and Arts Festival, drawing an audience that was fascinated by the subject, said festival director Aziz Rahman.

“Now there is almost a mythology about this Mohawk community in Brooklyn,” he said.  “Before now there has not been an effort to document this neighborhood.”

Courtesy of Reaghan Tarbell - Reaghan Tarbell recently directed a documentary about the Sami people of arctic Norway.

The documentary starts with the tragic 1907 collapse of a bridge under construction near the Kahnawake Reserve that killed 75 steelworkers, including 33 Kahnawake Mohawks. After that, the Kahnawake discouraged the steelworkers from all working on one job, and the families of steelworkers began moving to New York, where so many projects were being built that the men could take their pick of different jobs. And in this distant city, they preserved their Kahnawake community and culture.

While the story of Mohawk ironworking men is iconic, this documentary tells the story of the women like Tarbell’s grandmother, Ida Meloche, who came to Brooklyn at age 16 in search of work and the opportunity she dreamed of in New York City. Like other Mohawk women, she would live and work, raise a family and keep traditions alive in Little Caughnawaga during the long hours while the community’s men built the Manhattan skyline.

In 2004, Tarbell took a month off from work to investigate her grandmother’s story. Over the next two years she researched and wrote, and finally filmed interviews with her relatives.  In time she decided to include herself, the researcher and filmmaker, in the storyline, as she realized the parallels between her grandparents’ move to New York for opportunities and her own move—going but always keeping ties at home. “I had to have my voice come through,” she said, “if I was going to find their voice.”

The year, 2007, that she spent in putting the documentary together was the most rewarding and challenging of her life.

For other filmmakers who want to tell a family story, Tarbell advises that they start interviewing and writing, if only their thoughts about those interviews. “Maybe it won’t make it into the film, but at least you will have it recorded,” she said.  As a filmmaker, knowing how many years a documentary can take, she said the early research can tell whether the project is going to be worth the investment of time and money.

Since 2008, Tarbell has directed a documentary on the reindeer-herding culture and language of Norway’s Sami people, which thrives despite past government-imposed assimilation. “Sami” is an episode in Mushkeg Media’s Finding Our Talk series. Mushkeg Media also produced To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey.”

Like her family before her, Tarbell’s residence in Brooklyn has also, at least through her film, become  a path back to Kahnawake.

“When I moved here this was a temporary home for me,” she said of New York. “Most of the people who lived in Little Caughnawaga came expecting it to be temporary too. Now I have many have friendships and colleagues, and it feels a lot more like home than I ever expected.”


By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

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MUSEUM: Three elders, a century of inspiration Fri, 14 Jan 2011 23:30:49 +0000 When Maria Hinton was born in 1910, every Oneida family spoke the language of their ancestors—and at age 100, she has lived to make digital recordings in her language that can be heard on the world the Internet.

Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay - Oneida elder Maria Hinton, 100, has dedicated decades to teaching the Oneida language to people in her tribe.

When Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee, was born in 1908 in the foothills of the Ozarks, she was only one year younger than the state of Oklahoma—and she would live to become a leading figure in America’s space race.

Photo by Mary McCarthy - Pioneering aeronautic engineer and mathematician Mary G. Ross (1908-2008) at the opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, September 21, 2004.

When Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, Lumbee, was born in 1935, the Ku Klux Klan was a powerful force in North Carolina—she would live to play a pivotal role in getting civil rights extended to American Indian people.

These highly accomplished elder ladies of Indian Country each have had a special relationship with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Together they represent some of the many American Indian elders for whom the opening of this museum in 2004 represented a watershed moment in American Indian arts, culture and achievement.

Although Ross passed away at 99 in 2008, and Scheirbeck passed away at 75 in 2010, they, like Hinton, embodied some of the values that are of great importance to the museum, including scholarship and celebration of American Indian cultures.

Hinton, who is Oneida and turned 100 last summer, was honored with the 2009 Prism Award from the museum for her work in reviving the Oneida language and teaching to successive generations of Oneidas.

Last spring Hinton put the finishing touches on an exhaustive recording of the Oneida dictionary. Taking five years of almost daily work, she recorded 12,000 audio files, including tens of thousands of Oneida words, and told stories she first heard in her mother’s tongue.

In 1971, after helping to raise her grandchildren in California, Hinton returned to Wisconsin.

Photo by Marilu Lopez-Fretts - Helen Maynor Scheirbeck (1935-2010)

Soon she and her brother, Amos Christjohn, began working with the Oneida Nation to teach the language to a generation of children who knew only English. They would work for the next 35 years to create a written Oneida dictionary. To that end, Hinton enrolled in the University of Wisconsin in 1973, and graduated cum laude in 1979. Then she became one of the founding teachers at the Oneida Nation Turtle School, and she continues teaching, though now her pupils are the people who teach the tribe’s youth.

Speaking from her home in Oneida, Wis., she said in the spring of 2010, “I am not completely retired. We need to keep doing this so the young people can learn things and then they can pass them on.”

Mary Golda Ross was 96 when the museum in Washington, D.C., opened, and she proudly wore her Cherokee tear dress as she walked with nearly 100,000 other Indians on the National Mall in celebration.

Ross, a skilled mathematician, is famous for becoming one of 40 engineers in 1948 in a super-secret think tank led by legendary aeronautics engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson that later became known as the Lockheed Skunk Works. It was the start of the Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., a major consultant to NASA.

She contributed to several seminal papers of the early space program, and in 1962 she was one of the authors of the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. III.

After her one and only visit to the new Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Ross told the Los Altos (Calif.) Town Crier newspaper, “The museum will tell the true story of the Indian, not just the story of the past, but an ongoing story.” When she passed away in 2008, just three months shy of a century, she left a bequest valued at more than $400,000 to the museum.

Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck was a longtime champion of American Indian civil rights, a pioneer for Indian control of their own education, and a passionate advocate for the sovereignty of her Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

She served on the first Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and served as the secretary to the board for two terms. She joined the museum’s staff in 2000, serving as assistant director for public programs and as senior adviser for museum programs and scholarly research before her retirement in 2007. Her greatest contribution may have been the people for whom she held a door open throughout a lifetime of public service.

The Washington Post, in her Dec. 25, 2010, obituary, quoted her from 2007, when she said, “The country needs to understand the struggle of Indians to be Indians. Every tribe had a trail of tears.”

As a young woman Scheirbeck witnessed her father, Judge Lacy Maynor, make international headlines in 1958 when he sent the Klan packing from Robeson County, N.C., the historic cradle of the Lumbee. A decade later Scheirbeck, then a congressional staffer, persuaded Senator Sam Ervin to convene the hearings that led to passage of the 1968 act, which extended many rights contained in the Bill of Rights to American Indians.

Scheirbeck had a hand in every major initiative in Indian education for 40 years, crafting reforms that would help tribal colleges, advocating for the passage of the Indian Education act, leading the Indian Headstart program and calling for the establishment of a museum of living cultures that would become the National Museum of the American Indian.

Working in the museum’s leadership she advocated for the ways that Native   children are taught within their cultures and how teaching models should be adapted for all children. Her leadership in the formation of the museum’s National Education Initiative will carry her vision to millions of school children across the U.S.

In  2009, only weeks before she suffered stroke that would take her life, she recalled to Rev. Desmond Tutu a letter that she wrote him in 1962 comparing the struggles of American Indians to struggles of blacks in South Africa. At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where she met Tutu, and where they both received honorary degrees two years ago, these elder leaders laughed about the long ago letter, and the long journeys of both their peoples to justice.

The Washington Post quoted Scheirbeck from a 2001 interview, when she said, “I’m just a little old Indian woman, who is working hard for Indian people.”


By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

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MUSIC: Power source behind Link Wray’s chords: his family Fri, 14 Jan 2011 23:30:48 +0000 Link Wray and his Ray Men broke into American pop music in 1958 with a loud guitar riff later characterized as the power chord, and a song that made some radio disc jockeys fearful of violence.

Courtesy of Sherry Wray - Doug Wray (left), Vernon Wray (center) and Link Wray in his Army uniform (right).

But the Wrays, Vernon, Link and Doug, were no 1950s-era gang members. They were three brothers who were journeymen musicians by the time they reached their early 20s. As babies, they learned to sing along with their Shawnee Indian mother while she picked cotton and they picked up the guitar one afternoon from a worker in a traveling carnival who spied the three boys in a North Carolina yard trying to play the instrument.

In the mid-1940s the brothers played country and western before slipping into a 1950s-Perry Como-styled pop. Then Link Wray cut loose on a demo, a recording that was headed for the wastebasket when a record executive’s daughter chanced to play it. The song “Rumble” that she deemed to be right out of “West Side Story” has captivated generations of rock stars, movie directors and music lovers. Its signature power chord is credited as a progenitor of classic rock, punk and heavy metal.

Link Wray and his Ray Men were featured in the 2010 exhibition “Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Pop Culture” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Recently, Sherry Wray, Link’s niece and the manager of the family music business that Link’s older brother, Vernon, started in the 1950s, talked with American Indian News Service editor Kara Briggs.

Courtesy of Sherry Wray - Doug Wray, movie actor Wild Bill Elliott, Link Wray and Vernon Wray in the 1950s.

The story of Link Wray and his brothers is like a movie, or a song with three parts. Sherry Wray said that the brothers were close, working together in the studio and on stage even as Link Wray rose as a headliner. Vernon Wray worked to make music the family business as early as the 1940s when he first formed an orchestra and later a band featuring Link Wray on guitar. The family music company has held the licenses to the music of Link Wray and his Ray Men, which has allowed the family to direct its use, primarily in major motion pictures in the last 20 years.

Many rock superstars credit Link Wray and his distorted guitar with inspiring them, including Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, the Kinks, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. Sherry Wray is most excited about a new generation of Native American artists, including 36-year-old Mohawk rock musician Derek Miller, who reminds her of her uncle Link as a young man. Sherry Wray met Miller at the opening of “Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture.”

During an outdoor concert last summer at the museum, Miller told the audience, “Without Doug, “Rumble” would not have happened. It’s his stroll beat that sparked the whole thing. The Wray brothers shaped the voice of America!”

Briggs: For the last 30 years you have run the music company that holds the licenses to Link Wray’s hits. It’s the business your dad, Vernon Wray, started with his brothers, Link and Doug, in the 1950s.

Wray: Several people have said, “Do you know you are probably one of six to 10 independent private publishing companies in the world?” I do now.

Briggs: Your family, who would become Link Wray and his Ray Men, started out as kids playing music together.

Wray: My father, Vernon Wray, was the first of the three to get a record deal. Through that deal and the ensuing session, is how my uncle, Link Wray got to do the demo that became “Rumble.” My father’s youngest brother, Doug Wray, was the drummer. You don’t realize what a wonderful drummer Doug Wray had to be to keep time with Link Wray’s guitar rhythm. They started playing together as kids. There are a lot of families who were in business together, but I can’t think of a single one who is as close as mine was. It was like having three fathers. They were in the studio every spare minute, and they toured together all the time.

Briggs: Where did the Wray family come from? And I’ve read in interviews that Link Wray gave before his death in 2005 that part of the answer is poverty, they came from poverty. Link told one reporter, “We weren’t dirt poor like a white family. We were Shawnee dirt poor.”

Courtesy of Sherry Wray - Link Wray, his brothers and another musician shortly before they recorded the 1971 self titled album, “Link Wray.”

Wray: Dunn, N.C., was where my grandfather was born, and my grandfather didn’t move the family to Portsmouth, Va., until 1942. They were absolutely dirt poor. He was mustard-gassed in World War I, [and] when he got out of the Army they had to do share-cropping. My grandmother was Shawnee. She was crippled at 11. There were kids who teased her. The nutrition wasn’t as good as it became later. When one of the girls put her knee in Lilly’s back, it broke her back. The Indians were the ones who built a brace out of buckskin and bone for her, so when she stood her body could be supported. She kept all her body functions and her spine wasn’t injured. She had three children. All three [babies] weighed over 10 pounds. I don’t know how she did it. She would take the children on a picnic blanket and sing to them all day long while she picked cotton, to keep their focus on her, and as they got older they sang with her. They were church-going—everyone was in those days—so they sang in church.

Briggs: Music was simply part of their lives, and maybe in that time between the world wars, it was a part of country life. Entertainment was singing in family, or if you were really gifted, obtaining and playing an instrument. You were saying there was a special story about when Link got his first guitar.

Wray: Link got a hold of a guitar. I don’t know how he did, but he did. There was this black man, the only name I ever had was Hambone, and he saw the boys trying to play the guitar. So he came over and showed Link how to play a few chords and how to tune his guitar. He showed Link how to use the bottle-neck slide. He taught him for one afternoon, total. My mother is 83 and still alive. Once I asked her, “Why do you think they made it?” She said “Because they were so determined.”

Briggs: By World War II, the family moved to Portsmouth, Va., where your grandfather got work in the war industries. The bigger town gave your dad and uncles the chance to move up into the ranks of professional musicians.

Wray: As soon as my dad was old enough, he started running around and playing in any group that would let him. In those days, there was a club or some venue on every corner where you could go and hear live music and dance, and surprisingly that didn’t go away until the 1970s. So he got work in the Starlight Room. My dad, Vernon, founded an orchestra, and he played drums. It was the Vernon Wray Orchestra. He also started the first taxi-cab franchise in Portsmouth, and later Link would drive the cab for his brother. Vernon waxed bowling alleys for 2 cents a lane. When Link hit 16, well, people who were underage couldn’t go into bars and drink, but they could go in and play in bars. My father left the orchestra and they put together a band with Link on guitar, Vernon moved to the rhythm guitar, and Doug played the drums.

Briggs:  Rock and roll is what Link Wray and his Ray Men are known to play. But this was 1946; it was way before the birth of rock and roll. Link Wray was the kid brother to Vernon, who was the front man. Vernon, your dad, sang and led the band, which consisted mostly by now of Link and Doug.

Wray:   They also hired Shorty Horton, who was the bass player on all the Link Wray early hits.  Back then, unless you were playing big band or country you weren’t playing. They went to work playing country and western music. They had all the western regalia.  They were playing all the local venues and getting plenty of work. As the 1950s approached there was a place [Fernwood Farms near South Norfolk] in Virginia owned by Norman, Willie and Earl Phelps [the group the Virginia Rounders]. It was a combination of a stable, and there was a dance hall. They held dances there every weekend. Virginia had a lot of blue laws so people would show up with their “hard drinks” in paper bags and the dance hall would have ice and soft drinks as mixers. We kept our horses there, and my dad struck up a friendship with the Phelps’ and they started to play there, billing themselves as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. There was another guy, Sheriff Tex Davis, and when they played at his place, The Lazy Pine Ranch, they were Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers. Link was always extremely innovative. He kept experimenting around. By the early 1950s he was giving the music a little more of an edge. What Link said was when he saw how the kids reacted he immediately started playing around with things. They were able to set up a portable four-trac and begin recording in the kitchen at home.

Briggs: The Wray brothers started sending out demos. The record labels weren’t all very good. One they used never distributed their records and made them pay for the privilege of having the records pressed.  This is a story that could only be told in the post-war era, when national affluence and large, young populations of consumers contributed to a booming recording industry.

Wray: The Wray brothers were trying to play things more popish, like Patti Page and the Chordettes. The record industry recognized only country music and that whole generic pop thing. They came to D.C. My dad hired an agent. Link and Doug were in the hospital in 1956 with TB.  Dad’s agent was in one club and my dad was singing at another club. In those days they sent out talent scouts. The scout came into the club and sat down on the bar stool next to Dad’s agent who told him, you have to go hear Vernon Wray. Vernon signed with Cameo Records in Philadelphia, which had also signed Andy Williams and Pat Boone.  Vernon asked if he could have his brothers play with him. Link got a medical pass to get out of the hospital to go play on the session. They were so impressed with Link that they decided they decided to get Archie Bleyer of Cadence to hear Link. Archie Bleyer came down to Fredericksburg, Virginia to listen to Link and stayed the whole evening at a record hop. But he hated the studio version of Rumble until his daughter heard it and said it reminded her of “West Side Story.” They release it as “Oddball.”

Briggs: “Rumble” is released in 1958. Link was 28 years old, and Vernon 33, but the record company’s promotional department made them younger. “Rumble” was the game changer that among other things brought Link to the front of the band.

Wray: I rely on what my dad said. He was an amazing historian. He said it got airplay, but not in every city. In Boston the DJ took it off the record player and broke it and said “It will never get played on this station again.” But the next week it did because it was climbing the Billboard chart. Gang activity was a big deal, people were afraid, but that wasn’t what they [the Wrays] were doing. They were just trying to be innovative with their sound.

Briggs: Other things were changing in music that would change the dynamics of this literal band of brothers.

Wray: No one got filthy rich back then, even though the money was nice, the touring was nice. They still played the club circuit around D.C. They all performed and all sang. The record companies were working with all of them. The record company reversed my dad’s name from Vernon Wray to Ray Vernon. My dad’s record career was still going. But he understood supply and demand. There was Perry Como, Pat Boone, Andy Williams and Bing Crosby. There were so many guys singing in the pop venue. He moved into a businessman position, and let his contract go and opened a recording studio. After “Rumble,” they would release Link Wray and the Ray Men’s “Rawhide” in 1959 and “Jack the Ripper” in [1961].

Briggs: Link Wray’s sound was one part his innovative guitar playing, but it was also the recording, and the backup, notably by your uncle Doug on the drums for all of the hits.

Wray: There was a ton of musical talent that came shooting out in the late 1950s, but the engineering from those big studios was you get what you get. My father was a genius as a recording engineer. All you have to do is listen to anything Link Wray and then listen to the recording by the other early rock instrumentalists. When you listen to Link Wray music there is a top, middle and bottom. My dad did all manner of things to get the kind of sound out of things that he wanted. I can remember the first time I saw him pull the front off a bass drum and stuff it full of blankets. I am almost positive Link invented the power chord because I can remember all the experimenting they did.

Briggs: Rock music is full of outsized egos. A lot of family bands eventually split because of all kinds of differences. But the Wray brothers never did.

Wray: They fought more about the creative process; they didn’t fight about not liking and loving each other. They would argue over “I want to do it this way,” and then they would do it.

Briggs:  So what happened as music changed in the 1960s?

Wray: In the early 1960s their releases did great regionally, and they were touring like mad, doing television, and playing the college circuit. But when the Beatles came, it got tough. They kept playing and working together. In 1969 they did an album, “Yesterday-Today.” They did old hits on one side, and new songs like “Genocide.” “Genocide’s” very ominous sounding, and would later be used in this year’s Ray Liotta movie called “Street Kings of Motor City.”

Briggs: The whole folk-rock genre took hold in 1970. But there was still a fan base for Link Wray, and his Ray Men had by now established a fan base internationally.

Wray: There was a small house in back of our house, as a joke my dad spray-painted on it, “Wray’s Shack, 3 Tracks” and moved the studio into it. In 1971 Polydor issued “Link Wray,” recorded at the Shack and engineered by my Dad; and re-established him as a viable musician, and brought the Wray family back again into the popular music scene.  On the album cover was Link’s profile, wearing an Indian headband. “Fire and Brimstone” was a hit and was later covered by the Neville Brothers on their album “Yellow Moon.” “Fallin’ Rain” was another hit that the Neville Brothers covered later. Rolling Stone did a big spread on the family. At the time they played the Troubadour with Kris Kristofferson, and that was a love fest. That was when the Wray family moved back into the public eye. Link Wray had been so distinctive for so many years, and people must have thought my, gosh, there’s a whole family.

Briggs: Link Wray is credited with inventing the power chord and the Ray Men are known for not only playing, but expertly recording this music. It was a lot rockabilly, but it was also on the leading edge of the classic generation of rock and roll. So Link Wray and the Ray Men are in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and many people think Link Wray should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Wray: The story is how [a young] Bob Dylan took some of his last money to see a Link Wray concert in Minnesota. When Link died in 2005, Jimmy McDonough, who did the biography of Neil Young, called me for information. I’d been hearing that Neil Young said, if I could go back in time I would want to see Link Wray and the Ray Men perform. Jimmy said that was true. When what he played affected people like Pete Townshend, who said he used to sit with his ear to the speakers trying to pick out Link’s chord progressions and Jimmy Page, and they acknowledge that they were inspired by Link, then maybe he ought to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Briggs: Vernon Wray died in 1979, and Doug Wray in 1984. The business that your dad built remains one of a handful of independent music companies left in the world. Owning the rights to all the music of Link Wray and his Ray Men has allowed you to control the music and allow it to only be brought out for prime opportunities.

Wray:  After my dad died, I did a lot of work for many years making sure the rights were what they should be. In the beginning all the interest I would get was reissues, but in 1983, I got my first call for a movie, “Breathless,” that starred Richard Gere, and they used “Jack the Ripper” in the pinnacle scene. In 1993 I was sitting in my living room, and a woman called and said she was putting together music for a Quentin Tarantino movie, “Pulp Fiction,” and they wanted “Rumble” and “Ace of Spades.”  The 1994 TV movie, “Roadracers,” starring David Arquette as a rebellious guy and Salma Hayek, was next. She was just a kid. There are so many references to Link Wray, at one point there is one of Link’s albums taped to the door of his apartment. She asks, “Who do you like?” And he said, “Link Wray’s cool.” She said, “Is he famous?” And he said, “No, that’s why he’s cool.”

Briggs: In the 1996 blockbuster “Independence Day,” Link Wray’s song is the only music other than the score.

Wray: When 20th Century called, the man said “We spent so much money on the effects that we had to compose our own music, but we have a scene where “Rumble” would fit.” It’s in the bar scene where the men are taunting Randy Quaid’s character about being abducted by aliens, when the ground starts to shake, that’s when you hear “Rumble.”

Briggs: The movies have once again brought Link Wray and his Ray Men to international attention.

Wray: It has been a wonderful experience. It helped me feel worthy of continuing the work my dad and his brothers did. Link Wray got to tour more and have his music introduced to a whole new generation because of these movies.  He appeared on Conan O’Brien and was featured on the MTV Guitar Greats Special. He toured heavily in Europe and a couple times in the U.S. until he died in 2005.

What I am left with is our family history, father to son, father to son, and in my case, father to daughter; and what my dad said, “Family is sacred, sacred, and sacred.”


American Indian News Service

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MUSEUM: “Infinity of Nations” reveals true spectrum of Native America Tue, 28 Dec 2010 20:35:50 +0000 New York—The National Museum of the American Indian has opened a landmark exhibition of 700 objects—which span the Americas and more than 13,000 years—in its museum in Lower Manhattan.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian - “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian” is available in book stores.

The exhibition is named “Infinity of Nations,” an expression drawn from the letters of a Jesuit among the Ojibwe near the Great Lakes, who in exasperation wrote of the infinity of Indian nations that confounded his ideas of organization. So the exhibition by this name shows how Indian art ranges widely from nation to nation, from geography to geography, confounding simple definition, and standing the idea of the simplicity of pre-contact Native America on its head.

“This exhibition represents a homecoming of the collection to the George Gustav Heye Center,” said John Haworth, Cherokee, who is director of the George Gustav Heye Center in New York, a branch of the National Museum of the American Indian.

In a review of the exhibition in the New York Times (Nov. 5, 2010), titled “Grace and Culture Intertwined,” art critic Holland Cotter observed, “Boundless multiplicity is the rule.”

Heye was a New York industrialist who amassed most of this 825,000-item collection, funding anthropologists to collect objects from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic. When he died in 1957, he owned the largest private collection of American Indian arts and artifacts in the world. His Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan was an annual field trip for generations of New York school children.

In 1989 the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., acquired the collection for what would become the National Museum of the American Indian. But it promised to always keep a presence in New York, opening the museum in the United States Custom House in Lower Manhattan in 1994. And some at the October opening of “Infinity of Nations” observed that this exhibition fulfilled the intent of the promise.

“Lower Manhattan was the place through which most people entered the New World, and now to have a world-class exhibition of the First Peoples in Lower Manhattan is extraordinary,” Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) told a crowd of elected officials and business leaders who came to the early morning official opening.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian - A Crow buffalo robe is a featured object in the National Museum of the American Indian’s “Infinity of Nations” exhibition at the museum in New York.

On one of several tours associate curator Cécile R. Ganteaume has given of the exhibition that she spent five years planning, she said, “This is a collection survey. It is not intended to present only the great quality, but also depth and diversity. It is also intended to explore the historical significance of objects.”

Sixty Native advisers from cultures across the hemisphere helped to guide the selections, and shared stories on the origins of pieces. Each display, encased in sheets of floor-to-ceiling Italian glass that make the objects viewable from different angles, is a microcosm of Native America, Ganteaume observed. Smaller pieces are displayed on barely visible metal arms, but many large-scale pieces made from wood and stone stand in their cases.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian - This carved and painted gourd by Mariano Flores Kananga, Quechua, from the village of San Mateo in Tayacaja Province, Peru, is a featured objected in the National Museum of the American Indian’s “Infinity of Nations” exhibition at the museum in New York.

Each region is represented by a signature piece of unique artistry. Among these is a Mapuche ceremonial drum (ca. 1920) from central Chile. It is circular, representing the “world infinitum,” and a cross painted on its surface marks the divides in the world between spiritual and natural, and among the directions north, south, east and west. Nearby a Yámana bark mask (ca. 1910) from the Tierra del Fuego province of Argentina is displayed. Placed together, the two nations represent both the survival and decimation of Native peoples, Ganteaume observed.

“The Yámana were hunted down by sheep ranchers in the early 20th century and are nearly extinct,” Ganteaume said. “But the Mapuche number nearly a million today.”

A Quechua-speaking artist from the village of San Mateo in Tayacaja Province, Peru, told the story of Native participation in the 1880 war between Peruvian and Chilean forces on an intricately carved gourd (ca. 1925). Mariano Flores Kananga would have been about 30 at the time of the war, old enough to remember and perhaps participate with the Indigenous troops defending a mountain village. His art is thought to be the only documentation of their participation in the war, she said.

An Apsáalooke warrior’s exploit robe (ca. 1850) is laid flat under glass, allowing visitors to view its drawing depicting vignettes of personal warfare. The robe was acquired by a collector from a Blackfoot, which seems unusual because the robe is from the Blackfoot’s enemy, the   Apsáalooke or the Crow. But to Ganteaume, the provenance of the robe illustrates the movement of goods through trade and other exchanges among Indian nations, and along trade routes that stretch across whole regions of the continent.

It also raises another idea about Indian scouts, who are reviled by history and by their enemies for their support of the U.S. Army, but who may have been making difficult decisions, Ganteaume said, to protect the survival of their own people.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian - An Inuit parka is a featured objected in the National Museum of the American Indian’s “Infinity of Nations” exhibition at the museum in New York.

A colorfully beaded and fringed Inuit woman’s parka called a tuilli (ca. 1890-1925) shows the innovation that occurred in styles of clothing after contact with whalers in the central Canadian Arctic, but also through the creativity of one Inuit woman. Nearly 160,000 beads were used to decorate this parka, including a beaded panel from an earlier tuilli. It has big roomy shoulders so the wearer can lay her nursing baby flat with feet in either shoulder.

Some objects are included for their historic significance. They include Tecumseh’s pipe tomahawk, presented to him in 1812, a year before he died in battle, by British Colonel Henry Proctor. Also, woven wool garters that likely belonged to Osceola, the Seminole leader whom George Catlin painted wearing these or similar garters; and the silk, satin and lace wedding dress worn by Susette La Flesche, an Omaha woman who advocated for the release of imprisoned Ponca leaders, including Standing Bear.

Tim Johnson, associate director for museum programs, called the work that generated this exhibition a “world-leading experience.”

“Five years ago we set out on a course to establish an exhibition practice and methodology that projected the full power, beauty, and meaning of American Indian expression while strengthening the purpose, substance, and veracity of Native interpretation of a collection largely assembled by George Gustav Heye,” said Johnson, who is Mohawk.

“Infinity of Nations” will be a permanent exhibition at the museum in New York, though over time some pieces will be exchanged for others. The volume, “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian” ($29.99, HarperCollins), is a coffee-table book filled with essays by exhibition curators and advisers. Parts of the exhibition can be viewed online at


By Kara Briggs, American Indian News Service

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The collector behind most of objects in the Infinity of Nations exhibition

American Indian News Service

George Gustav Heye (1874-1957) was the wealthy industrialist who amassed most of this 825,000-item collection, buying and funding anthropologists to collect objects from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic. When he died, Heye owned the largest private collection of American Indian arts and artifacts in the world. It was housed for decades at the Museum of the American Indian at Broadway and 155th Street in Manhattan. In those cramped quarters objects were crowded together, and yet visitors, including generations of New York schoolchildren, came to the museum because of the wonder of its collection. It was acquired in 1989 by the Smithsonian Institution for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., with the promise that the museum would always maintain a presence in New York. Its current home, the George Gustav Heye Center, opened in the U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan in 1994.


American Indian News Service

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PEOPLE: Martha Redbone charts her own distinctive course, marches to her own beat Tue, 28 Dec 2010 20:35:50 +0000 New York—Recording artist Martha Redbone’s Native American-infused soul is all her own.

By Craig Bailey, Perspective Photos - Martha Redbone in performance at Hopestock: Music to bail out your soul, a 2009 concert series.

Redbone is an independent artist who is as likely to include a powwow drum as she is jazz riffs in her highly danceable music. Her second album, “Skintalk,” is a sophisticated blend that is powered not by electronics but by a funk-rock band of veteran musicians. Released in 2005, she has toured behind it for five years—pausing only to have a son in 2008—bringing her songs to the indie-music scene in New York City and to festivals on reservations and across the U.S.

“Because we released it independently, it gave people more chance to discover it,” she said. “It is like a new album in each new community that we visited.”

In 2011, a new album, continuing in the danceable soul style of “Skintalk” and recorded with all live instruments, is planned for release.

“Martha has two sides to her, on her father’s side a lot of R&B and soul,” said her husband Aaron Whitby. “We are trying to put that together with some relevant messages and ethical messages, and with her mother’s heritage.”

Redbone, who grew up in Brooklyn and calls herself a mixed blood, Cherokee, Shawnee and Choctaw on her mother’s side, and African American on her father’s. She was in art school, drawing cartoons for George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars’ Mothership Reconnection project, when she was coaxed in front of a microphone and, as she says, “fell into singing.” She went on to sing background vocals on Clinton’s 1996 album, “T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership).”

Her British-born husband has been her friend and her producing and song-writing partner since they were in their early 20s. That was when the music industry first took notice of their talent.

As a young artist rooted in Otis Redding, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the stomp dance songs of her mother’s tribes, Redbone already had this vision for blending musical traditions. Whitby, a jazz pianist who toured Europe in jazz bands, brought the third ingredient into their musical gumbo. The sheer talent she and Whitby displayed on a demo drew the attention of the recording industry.

“I’ll tell you what happened, we had a really powerful manager at the time,” she said.  “He didn’t like the fact that I wanted to include my culture into my music. He didn’t understand. ‘You sing soul music, you sing R&B,’ he said. ‘No one cares about that kind of thing.’”

Whitby says he was probably the biggest manager in America then, but things ground to a halt.

“When he said, ‘Drop the Indian (influences)’ we decided to go on our own. We said, ‘We’ve already written our record and we write for other people too,’” Whitby said. “We have the right talent, but I don’t think we were the right personalities for that world.”

As songwriters and studio musicians they joined Warner/Chappell Music, writing songs including chart topper “Don’t Push” in both Canada and France sung by Jazmin and “Love is the Deepest Hurt” recorded by British Grammy winner Shola Ama. They turned down a year-and-a-half long tour with the band Simply Red, choosing to continue on as artists and writer/producers.

In 2000, Redbone released the solo album, “Home of the Brave” on Blackfeet Productions, a record label which she and Whitby co-founded. The album won her the Best Debut Artist award at the Native American Music Awards and Indian Summer Music Award for Best Pop Album. Backed by a tight funk and pop band of veteran New York musicians, Redbone’s powerful Native-infused soul delivery and social commentary won her accolades in the indie music world. The Village Voice called her an “heiress to such luminaries as Sly, Philippe Wynne and Roberta Flack.” Billboard’s Larry Flick wrote that, “She sounds the kind of artist who sets trends, a true original.”

“It’s really important that there are people like me representing and telling our stories to the world,” Redbone said, “regardless of MTV. Not that I would turn my nose up to a No. 1 or Top 10 song, but not at any cost. I am not prepared to put a headdress on and dance.”

“Sharing the Dream: A Multicultural Celebration of Love & Justice” will be held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on Jan. 15 and 16. It is a celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The festival is an event of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Latino Center and National Museum of the American Indian. Martha Redbone is one of the many artists invited because of their expressions of love and justice through their music, spoken-word and storytelling performances.

Redbone’s heritage guides her life.

When after a performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival she met Brenda DardarRobichaux, then the principle chief of the United Houma Nation, and heard about the tribe’s efforts to share culture with their youth. Redbone offered to help, and for the last four summers she has traveled to this bayou nation where she shares songs that are culturally relevant to Houma’s six to 12-year-olds. Some songs are Choctaw, some in Houma French, and others are just beautiful when sung with a hand drum, Robichaux said.

“She is so gifted and talented, and she uses her gift not for self promotion, but to give to others,” Robichaux said. “It is evident in her coming to Louisiana and teaching our kids, she is not about promoting Martha Redbone. When she comes to camp she is out there, whether it’s serving food or cleaning up. It is not uncommon for me to receive phone calls from her. She is constantly brainstorming how she can help not only the Houma but youth across Indian Country.”

Redbone remembers where her name came from; it was a derogatory word from her youth for someone of mixed black and Native ancestry. As an adult, she embraced being mixed race, interpreting her father’s love of soul music and her mother’s Native heritage into who she is.

The “Skintalk” album’s “Children of Love” starts with a powwow drum led by Dennis Banks, Ojibwe, and a rap by Gyasi Ross, Blackfeet, that dissolves into a mid-tempo groove, but runs underneath and rises to the surface between verses. The purpose, she said, was to draw people into Native culture and music. The effect was provocative, even political. The song became a soul hit in Europe and England, where, she said, “they don’t even know that Indian people are still here.” Most people liked the powwow drum, but some didn’t. Still Whitby and Redbone stand by their vision of blending musical traditions.

Redbone’s hybridization of soul, R&B and Native music is in the tradition of contemporary artists like Keith Secola and Bill Miller, and it is a vision shared by Whitby.  He likes to quote legendary producer Quincy Jones, who said there are only 12 notes in a scale, or only so far that each style of music can go before it runs out of fresh material.  “The only way forward,” Whitby said, “is to make new hybridizations.”

“I think the Native American perspective is different,” Whitby said, “more interesting. As another way of putting it, it is real folk music, made for the people by the people without the help of corporations. It is really from the community, and that gives it some real legs.”

Still in Redbone’s hands it is also pop music in the best sense of that expression. Redbone credits the work ethic that has kept her and Whitby creating for 17 years, and making choices that were anti-intuitive. It’s work that she plans to expand with more albums, with more styles of music, more types of writing.

“You can turn on the television and see people who want to be famous for nothing,” she said. “People do something ridiculous and then they are on Oprah and writing a book about it. I look at it that this way, how is this going to look 20 years from now. I live my life that way.”


By Kara Briggs, American Indian News Service

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CULTURE: Rights of Indigenous Peoples Gained International Attention, Support in 2010 Tue, 28 Dec 2010 20:35:50 +0000 The year 2010 saw the Iroquois lacrosse team capture hearts around the world in its quest to travel on its Haudenosaunee passports, and ended with the U.S. and Canada uplifting hearts by endorsing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Courtesy of White House photographer Pete Souza - President Barack Obama meets with Earl J. Barbry, Sr., chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana; Cedric Black Eagle, chairman of the Crow Nation; Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; Brenda Edwards, chairwoman of the Caddo Nation; Tex G. Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation; Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; John Red Eagle, principal chief of the Osage Nation; Joe Shirley, Jr., president of the Navajo Nation; Robert H. Smith, chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians; Edward K. Thomas, president of the Tlingit & Haida Central Council; and Mervin Wright, Jr., chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada.

President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would endorse the U.N. Declaration during the White House Tribal Nations Conference in mid-December, making the United States the last of four nations that voted against the declaration during the U.N. General Assembly in 2007 to eventually embrace the international law, which condemns the policies of colonialism and assimilation and asserts self-determination as the right of Indigenous peoples.

“The aspirations it affirms—including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples—are ones we must always seek to fulfill,” Obama told the leaders of 565 federally-recognized Indian tribes. “…But I want to be clear; What matters far more than words—what matters far more than any resolution or declaration—are actions to match those words.”

The endorsement of the declaration by the U.S., following Canada in November and New Zealand in July, is only one reason 2010 was a year of note for Indigenous peoples around the world. It was also a year in which the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team was barred from traveling to the world championships in Great Britain on their Haudenosaunee passports; a consortium of Northwest Indian nations from both sides of the Canada-U.S. border was recognized for its leadership on environmental issues; and President Obama signed an apology to Indian nations. At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, more than 200 flags from Indigenous nations in the U.S., Canada and Latin American countries adorned the museum’s Potomac Atrium during November, which is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

Recently, Director Kevin Gover of the National Museum of the American Indian, in giving a keynote address at the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians, explained that because the museum has so many visitors in November, he decided “that we should take pains that Native American communities, Native nations, are not mere cultural collectives, but they are instead governments with cultural authorities and responsibilities. And these flags are a reminder to our visitors of that.”

Gover also spoke of the importance of the U.N. declaration, as well as the significance of last year’s passage of an apology to Native America from the U.S. president and Congress for the country’s historical conduct.

Gover said of the apology, “It is the first time, in a rather comprehensive way, the Congress of the United States and the President of the United States have acknowledged that our version of events is the correct one; our version of the removal era, our version of warfare, our version of the assimilation period, our version of termination, is the correct one. And that is something momentous to me.”

He noted that the apology, as well as the endorsement of the U.N. Declaration that followed, result from years of advocacy by the leaders of Indian nations. Gover also stated that the U.S., although it officially stopped making treaties with Indian nations in 1871, had returned to treaty making, based on an idea of treaty making as a “promise between two governments.”

Gover said that contemporary treaties between tribes and the U.S. have been made in the last 50 years through such means as self-governance contracts, gaming compacts and institutionalized consultation by federal and state governments with Indian nations, which has been a priority in the past year for the Obama administration.

Treaty making is something Indian nations were doing long before U.S. contact. And they have continued among themselves, as two other newsmakers in Indian Country demonstrated in 2010.

In November 16, 2010, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Development’s Honoring Nations Program recognized the governance model of the Coast Salish Gathering, a consortium of First Nations and Tribes from the Salish Sea, which spans British Columbia and Washington state, for its leadership on environmental concerns. The Coast Salish Gathering defines its territory as running from the white caps of the Salish Sea to the white caps of the mountain ranges that surround that sea.

The sea is shown on most maps as the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia, but last year the Coast Salish Gathering successfully added their name for the sea, which is one ecosystem, to the geographical place names in Washington and British Columbia.

“The Coast Salish Gathering is a powerful example of how Native Nations can significantly impact environmental policy across international borders and across multiple jurisdictions to restore the health of their homeland and waterways,” said Megan Minoka Hill, director of Harvard’s Honoring Nations Program.

Photo by Percy Abrams of the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse - The Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team assembled by New York Harbor with Oren Lyons, 80, Faith Keeper, Turtle Clan, Onondaga Nation. Lyons was also an All-American goalkeeper who played on the 1957 national championship Syracuse University lacrosse team with NFL legend Jim Brown.

On July 17, 2010, the Iroquois Nationals, a lacrosse team made up of 23 players from the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, was not permitted to travel to the FIL World Lacrosse Championships in Great Britain on their traditional Haudenosaunee passports. The Nationals had placed fourth in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Lacrosse Championships, traveling each time internationally on Haudenosaunee passports, used by their people for decades.

Suddenly, the sovereign status of the governments of Indian nations—as indicated in passports, flags and identity cards—was made known to a world-wide audience.

“You are asking us to denounce our citizenship for a game,” Percy Abrams, the Nationals’ executive director, said last summer. “When you come back from the game, guess what? We have denounced our citizenship. Is that what they would do?”

Tim Johnson, Mohawk, associate director for museum programs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, said, “What’s difficult for the average American to understand, and what kids don’t get in their education, is that these documents are each a symbol of functioning American Indian governments that meet regularly and govern all the time.”

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, spanning land in both present-day New York and Ontario, is a formal government established a thousand years ago. As such, it is the oldest continually operating democracy in North America, stated Oren Lyons, Faith Keeper, Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, on the lacrosse team’s website.

“The Iroquois Nationals,” Abrams said, “serve as a declaration of our status as a sovereign nation that exists on the North American continent, which we call the Great Turtle Island.”


By Kara Briggs, American Indian News Service

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PEOPLE: Helen Maynor Scheirbeck (1935-2010) Tue, 28 Dec 2010 20:35:50 +0000 Washington, D.C.—Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, longtime champion of American Indian civil rights, pioneer for Indian control of their own education, and passionate advocate for the sovereignty of her Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, died Sunday night, Dec. 19, 2010. She was 75 years old. In May of 2009, just weeks before the debilitating stroke that led to her death, Scheirbeck’s 40 plus-year odyssey fighting for Indian Self-determination was recognized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By her side also receiving an honorary degree was anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmund Tutu.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian - Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck (1935-2010) receives an honorary degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009.

Scheirbeck was a member of the first Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She served as the Secretary to the Board for two terms and joined the staff at the museum, where she served from 2000-2007 as Senior Advisor for Museum Programs and Scholarly Research and earlier as the Assistant Director for Public Programs.

Prior to joining the museum, Dr. Helen Scheirbeck had a long career working for the development of Indian tribal governments and communities, Indian  control of educational  institutions, and on issues related to Indian children and families.

She began her career as a staff member of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights chaired by former Senator Sam Ervin (D-North Carolina). She helped organize a Capitol Conference on Poverty in 1962, where Indian leaders advocated for Indian participation in the War on Poverty. On her recommendation, Ervin held hearings that culminated in the 1968 Indian Bill of Rights.

That same year she was named director of the Office of Indian Education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where she led efforts to pass the Indian Education Act of 1975. As a member of the American Indian Policy Review Commission, she worked to craft reforms that led to the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978.

“She had a hand in every major initiative in Indian education for the last 40 years,” remarked Kevin Gover, director of the museum. “Her passing is a great loss, and a reminder of what we can achieve when we believe deeply in our cause.”

As Assistant Director in the years immediately before and after the museum’s opening on the National Mall, Dr. Helen Scheirbeck established and set the course for Office of Education and its program in Cultural Arts. “Helen’s vision for education at the museum went beyond providing new perspectives on American history or correcting misconceptions about Native cultures,” says her colleague Clare Cuddy, director of the museum’s education office since 2004. “She deeply believed that the knowledge held by Native peoples, and especially the ways in which communities traditionally pass knowledge on to succeeding generations, can inform teaching models used by educators everywhere. The museum’s National Education Initiative, being launched in collaboration with Native communities, carries on her vision and will reach millions of students.”

Scheirbeck was a graduate of Berea College, Kentucky, with a B.A. in History and Political Science. She also attended Columbia University’s School of International Relations, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of California at Berkeley. She received her Doctorate of Educational Administration with a Public Policy emphasis from VPI-State University at Blacksburg, VA.

She was the first Indian intern to serve with the National Congress of American Indians.

In the area of children’s rights, Scheirbeck served as the program director for the National Commission on the Rights of the Child and the White House Conference on Children, Youth and Families. She also worked in the private sector for the Save the Children Federation as their American Indian Nations Director. Prior to becoming the head of the Indian Head Start Program in 1991, Scheirbeck worked in North Carolina as the founding director of the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center in Lumberton.

She published and spoke extensively throughout the United States relating to American Indian rights issues, language and culture. Helen had a deep interest in cultural regeneration and enhancement and extensive knowledge of Indian cultural institutions, artists and craftsmen as well as spiritual leaders and their practices. As Senior Advisor for the office of Museum Programs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., Dr. Helen Scheirbeck developed the subject matter which was used to plan museum exhibitions, cultural arts programs and educational materials.

Over her long career, Scheirbeck organized cultural festivals and powwows. She curated museum exhibits, conducted cultural symposia with traditional Indian leaders and scholars and organized arts and crafts cooperatives. She encouraged and developed marketing outlets for Indian artists and craftsmen. “Helen’s legacy lives on at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian,” said Howard Bass, director of the Cultural Arts Program at the museum since 2002. “She was an inspiring leader who mixed tough love and compassion. She questioned everything and listened closely, urging us to do our best to serve the interests of Indian Country and our visitors. She knew that with hard work everything was possible.”

What Scheirbeck most enjoyed was visiting Indian people and communities that she got to know through her decades of service. In Alaska she slept on the floor of Head Start centers, met with tribal leaders in their offices trying to solve one challenge or another, and spent hours working with people to found a tribal school, a Head Start program, a relief effort for Indian families stranded by floods on the Navajo Nation, and to help unrecognized tribes in Virginia and throughout the south become recognized. She not only met the movers and shakers in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals, but she worked with everyday people, building one program at a time to create Indian controlled institutions that improved the lives for all Indians.

Scheirbeck’s family is planning a memorial service for a later time and will be establishing a scholarship fund in her name.

Established in 1989, through an Act of Congress, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is an institution of living cultures dedicated to advancing knowledge and understanding of the life, languages, literature, history and arts of the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The museum includes the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall, the George Gustav Heye Center, a permanent exhibition and education facility in New York City, and the Cultural Resources Center, a research and collections facility in Suitland, Md. For more information about the museum, visit


American Indian News Service

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