Major exhibition presents a Native-activated space, explores legacy of Edward S. Curtis


By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson (on display from June 14 – September 9). Featuring iconic early 20th-century photographs by photographer Edward S. Curtis alongside contemporary works – including photography, video, and installations – by Indigenous artists Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson. Their powerful portrayals of Native identity offer a compelling counter narrative to the stereotypes present in Curtis’s images.

Edward S. Curtis is one of the most well-known photographers of Native people and the American West. Double Exposure features over 150 of his photographs. Threaded throughout the galleries of his works are multimedia installations by Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson. Their work provides a crucial framework for a critical reassessment and understanding of Curtis’s representations of Native peoples, while shedding light on the complex responses Natives and others have to those representations today.*

“The historical significance of Curtis’s project is well-established,” says Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “In many cases, his photographs and texts provide important records of Native culture. However, it’s time for a reevaluation of his work. His methodology perpetuated the problematic myth of Native people as a ‘vanishing race.’ This exhibition reflects a collaboration among SAM, the artists, and an advisory committee comprising Native leaders to make a space for a reckoning with Curtis’s legacy.”

Three contemporary Indigenous artists in Double Exposure challenge assumptions about Native art and illustrate how Native communities continue to creatively define their identity and cultures for themselves. First Nation artist Marianne Nicolson created an immersive sculptural light installation that casts moving shadows to address the impact of the 1964 Columbia River Treaty on Native communities. 

Seminole and Choctaw filmmaker/artists Tracy Rector empowers Indigenous communities by capturing the activism, defiance, and reclaimed traditions of Native tribes through her new video work of short stories derived from environmental awareness and life experiences of Natives today.

“All of my work is centered in Indigenous story: for, by, and about Indigenous people,” says Rector, whose video will welcome viewers inside a “Native-activated space” surrounded by related art.

Will Wilson’s large-scale tintype portraits feature Native lawmakers, artists, educators, and community members from the Seattle area. Artist Tracy Rector, Senator John McCoy, and others will speak through “talking” tintypes created using augmented reality. Wilson, a Navajo/Diné photographer, aims to counter stereotypes that Curtis’s work propagated.

“I want to supplant Curtis’s ‘settler’ gaze and the remarkable body of ethnographic material he compiled with a contemporary vision of Native North America,” states Wilson.

Double Exposure is a chance to see art of Native Americans in all its complexity through each of these artists’ perspectives on culture and identity.*

In honor of Double Exposure’s opening, the Seattle Art Museum invited any individuals with tribal affiliations to be the first visitors to view the exhibit. Dubbed ‘the Indigenous Peoples opening’, held the evening of June 11, representatives from many Coast Salish tribes gathered at SAM for the free event which included admission to the exhibit, performances by the Suquamish canoe family, and songs shared by Lummi violinist Swil Kanim.

“This Indigenous-only celebration was inspired by Miranda Belarde-Lewis (Tlingit/Zuni),” explains artist Tracy Rector. “She suggested the idea of decolonizing curation and what it means to indigenize museum spaces. Having a Native-centered exhibit opening is a way we could be in community experiencing artwork together.”

*source: Seattle Art Museum press releases, exhibition literature

Image credits: Kalamath Lake Marshes, 1923, Edward S. Curtis, goldstone. Mussel Gatherer, 1900, Edward S. Curtis, photogravure. John McCoy (Tulalip) – Talking Tintype, 2018, Will Wilson, exhibition print. Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot) – Talking Tintype, 2018, Will Wilson, exhibition print.

Indigenous foods summit showcases traditional foods and discussion around food sovereignty

By Chetanya Robinson, The Daily

If you had wandered into the UW wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House on Saturday, you would have gotten a taste, quite literally, of ancient tradition. Seal oil, berries, Douglas fir tea, and numerous other plant and animal foods that have nourished traditional Native cultures for millennia were on offer to taste.

The occasion was the third annual summit around indigenous foods held by the UW American Indian Studies department. Panelists invited from across Native North America shared stories, teachings, and insights from their cultures and professional lives.

Michelle Daigle, a coordinator of the summit and Ph.D. candidate in geography at the UW, touched on the sacred place that food holds in indigenous cultures, and how traditional food practices have been threatened historically by logging, mining, the fur trade, and most recently, resource extraction.

Lawrence Curley, a UW master’s student who studies water quality, talked about how in traditional cultures, there is no concept of natural resources; it’s more accurate to talk about natural relationships.

“In our languages, we don’t have a word for resource, or rather, that word is given to relations,” Curley said. If people were to treat natural resources as if they were relatives, it would be a relationship based on love.

Valerie Segrest, Muckleshoot tribal member who works with the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project, drew a connection between food sovereignty and the health problems facing modern society and Native Americans in particular. She said that though food sovereignty is something of a trendy concept, and one that can mean any number of things, the basic ideas are ancient.

“When I look back at our treaties and how they were negotiated here and how my ancestors thought was top priority, it was about access to food, having access to all of the elk, the deer, the salmon, the shellfish, the berries, the roots, medicines and the cedar tree,” Segrest said. “Because we know that when these things cease to exist, then so do we as a people. When we eat our foods, we maintain our identity.”

Hokulani Aikau, professor at the University of Hawai‘i, touched on the inseparable relationship between indigenous self-determination and food in Hawaii, which, in turn, is connected to water quality necessary to support traditional plants.

Aikau brought up taro (kalo in Hawaiian), which in Hawaiian culture is considered the child of the creator of the stars. With rising temperatures, less rainfall and poorer water quality, taro can’t be grown the same way it was.

“We have to restore the water in order to restore our food in order to restore our people,” Aikau said.

Jonathan Betz-Zall, an attendee, said he has heard from many Native Americans about the issues presented at the panel through his work with the American Friends Services Committee, a Quaker organization. He came to the summit to hear more about the issues and sample great food.

“The natives in our area especially have been pioneers, really, in showing people a way to live in harmony with the land that enables you to keep on going through time,” he said.

In the back of the room, attendees could not only learn about indigenous foods, but taste them too, starting with cold Douglas fir tea to drink. One table featured samples of sea life — Northwest fish and shellfish, sea cucumber and seal oil — while on another sat bowls of traditional plants like bitterroot, chokeberry, huckleberry, nettles and sea beans.

Spokane tribal member and traditional foods educator Elizabeth Campbell managed an informational table that displayed examples of Native Northwest foods, many of which she had helped gather. Among them were camas bulbs her grandmother had roasted more than 50 years ago.

Campbell, who teaches at Northwest Indian College, grew up harvesting traditional Native plants, and has extensive knowledge about the nutritional, culinary, and traditional practices surrounding them. For the summit, Campbell had prepared a foam made of bitter soapberries, as well as a chocolate pudding thickened with two local seaweeds.

“One of the things that we talk about a lot is how you don’t need a lot of our traditional foods to build our strength and our spirit,” Campbell said. “They’re pretty nutrient-dense, and so even just getting a small amount of these foods in us can really feed not only our bodies but our spirits as well.”

A lunch of elk and salmon — more indigenous foods — was provided to attendees, many of whom took in the afternoon sun outside while sitting on the wooden benches of the Intellectual House.

Tribal Journeys: Canoe Trips to Our Native Past, and Future

Gyasi Ross, Indian Country Today Media Network

Television, Edward Curtis photographs and romance novel covers have collectively painted the accepted images of Native people.

As a result of these images, a lot of peoples’ image of a Native person is that of a person who rides horses, comes from one of the Dakotas or Montana, and dances with wolves at pow-wows.  Heck, even many Native people have the Dances With Wolves image embedded in our own heads (thus why the Hollywood Indian-complex consists of guys walking around LA and Santa Fe with their hair flying about, John Redcorn-style, because presumably that’s what casting agents/hippie chicks are looking for.  NOTE: Skins on the Plains do not wear their hair like that!! It’s too damn windy!), and so the default “Native” image is that of a pow-wow dancer, Plains Indian-style.

I grew up at pow-wows; they are beautiful, important and fun (oh the stories I could tell!).

Yet, if you don’t have that look or participate in those pow-wows, folks question your credibility as a Native person.  And pow-wow dancing/Plains-style phenotype is definitely a very valid expression of pan-Native culture (I submit that almost every Skin who was raised in a Native family has been to a pow-wow at some point!), yet it is not the only expression of pan-Native culture.

Random White Guy At Pow-wow to His Wife: “Gee honey, that doesn’t look like any Indian I’ve ever seen.”

Random White Guy’s Wife: *thinking* Yes, you’re right.  Because if he looked like any of the ones that I’ve seen on my romance novels, he would be big and brown and muscular and on a big ol’ horse…and he’d pull me away and hold me captive!  “No, he doesn’t honey.”

One such pan-Native event that has been growing in popularity and is redefining what it means to be, look, and celebrate being Native is something called “Tribal Journeys” on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Like pow-wows, Tribal Journeys blends many Northwest coastal, New Zealand, Canadian and Alaska Native tribes, tribal practices, songs, dances and foods into a pretty amazing stew and makes something beautiful out of it.  The Journey began in 1989 as equal parts political protest, but also an attempt to recapture parts of the Coastal Native way of life that have been overlooked and/or forgotten for a long time.  Also, like pow-wows, Tribal Journeys had very modest beginnings, and has steadily gotten bigger and more structured every single year; the host Tribe incurs a lot of expense putting this huge event together that attracts over 15,000 people a day to the host community.  Whereas the original “Paddle to Seattle” had 18 canoes, now there are over 100 canoes that make the trek.

It’s grown.  And is growing.

Like most truly unique events, words don’t do Tribal Journeys justice.  Yet, here’s the basic idea behind it: Tribal Journeys retraces the paths, practices, and protocols of those that went before us, seeing through the eyes of our ancestors.  As Chief Si’ahl (commonly referred to as “Seattle”) said, “Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors.”  This happens by individual families canoeing from one Native homeland to the next, asking permission to enter those homelands.  Historically, it was very important to ask permission and to state whether you were friend or foe—if not, there could be very serious consequences.  There are many canoe families on Tribal Journeys—this is historically correct since one tribe could have many different canoe families, since many Native communities were not simply one community.  Instead, most “tribes” had many villages and smaller sub-groups that usually spoke a common language.

There are many stops during this Journey.  The travelling time of the journey is anywhere from a week to two-and-a-half weeks.  Every single tribal homeland you pass, you ask permission and come ashore.  Once ashore, that particular Native community takes care of you, feeds you and gives you someplace to sleep (camping style!!).  That night, there’s an exchange of songs, dances and stories in a time called “protocol.”  Of course, this isn’t the traditional name for this time or practice, yet this English name is appropriate because it implies a time of order, to pay attention and give thanks.  While the Tribal Journeys itself was created in 1989, the protocol portion of the event is a variation of the ancient coastal tradition of potlatching.

There is a goal, a final destination.  Ultimately, all the canoe families will gather at a place (the host Tribe) where a whole bunch of Natives gather together and party (in a safe, respectful and drug and alcohol free way) for a week or so…exchange songs, dances, speeches, and generally have a good time.  During the immediately past Tribal Journey, the host Tribe—the Quinault—took the Journey back to its potlatch roots and let the protocol go around the clock.  Also, like the ancient potlatches, the Quinault gifted individuals with some pretty spectacular gifts—tons of stuff, but they also gave away ten hand-carved canoes, which took about 9 months to carve.

Pretty powerful stuff.

Speaking for myself, honestly after two weeks of camping, I’m pretty darn happy to get back to the conveniences of home and watch some River Monsters or Ancient Aliens.  Our ancestors lived a life with a lot less distractions.  Still, it’s a beautiful event…and not only because of the songs and the dances and the opportunity to see through the eyes of our ancestors.  While those reasons are certainly important and are surely enough to attend Tribal Journeys all by themselves, there is more to it than that.  That is, I think it’s also important for folks—non-Natives AND Natives alike—to understand that not all Natives look alike, or have the same stories or practices.

That’s only in Hollywood.

Please check out this link for information on the next Tribal Journey, the Paddle to Bella Bella (Canada):

Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis
Photo by Miranda Belarde-Lewis



Save the Dates: Traditional Native Games Conference & Competitions

Jack McNeel, Indian Country Today Media Network

The International Traditional Games Society was organized in 1997 but will hold its first Traditional Native Games Conference & Competitions from June 26-28 at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana. This will bring together many of the leading minds throughout Indian country and elsewhere to discuss the value of these games, the preservation of spiritual ties as shown through joy and play and the restoration of traditional games within tribes from both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

This conference will advance those basic philosophies and procedures through three disciplines. Traditionalists will speak of how the games were used in the old culture. Academics will speak about historic trauma and how that has affected succeeding generations in their ability to survive. Neuroscientists will discuss their work pertaining to the emotional center of the brain and the implications of how joy and play were part of the survival picture for all traditional people.