Thursday, December 31, 2009

Indian Boarding Schools

"You can take all the photographs you want, but you can't take flash photos and you can't use tripods or monopods," was the response to my question about the Heard Museum's (Phoenix, AZ) policy on taking pictures of the exhibits.

While neither unexpected nor inappropriate, the policy, nevertheless, forces the photographer to create some unusual ways to brace the camera for a photo in the low lighting.

This photograph of baskets made by Indians of the Southwest was taken while I was braced against another display case.

We have seen many clay seed pots, but these were the first sterling silver ones.

The Museum featured several works by Harry Fonseca. His interest in rock art led him to develop the Stone Poems, an extensive series of works exploring the imagery of petroglyphs. Shown here is "Stone Poem #2."

Fonseca was introduced to his Maidu heritage at age 25 by his uncle Henry Azbill, a Konkow Maidu: “I was taking a class on Native American art, and for my final, I asked my uncle if he knew a creation story and if he would give me the story. He did, and it was a tremendous, tremendous gift.” In the "Scene from the Maidu Creation Story" (right), Kodoyampeh (Earthmaker) is seated on a raft wih Helinmaideh (Big Spirit or Creator) who holds Turtle.

But Fonseca is probably best known for his work with Coyote and Rose. The Coyote’s role in traditional Maidu culture was as one responsible for “the existence of work, suffering and death.” More than a trickster, he assumes many disguises and teaches by his unacceptable behavior how one should not behave. In many stories, Coyote’s greed and impulsive behavior lead to grave injuries or even death, but then he returns in another adventure.

Over the years, beginning in the mid-1970s, Fonseca depicted Coyote in many non-traditional settings, reflecting his ability to insert himself into many urban roles in a variety of cultures. He created a girl friend named Rose for Coyote, and they are shown here in the Garden of Eden.

But it was the exhibit "Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience" that was both informative and disturbing. In the late 1800's, a group of reform-minded people, calling themselves the Friends of the Indians set out to solve the "Indian Problem" (how to assimilate and Americanize the Indians) by ridding the Indian of his culture. Originally established to “civilize” American Indians into mainstream society, Indian boarding schools became a shaping force of a national American Indian identity.

The boarding school experience thrust Native children into an unfamiliar environment. Children were abruptly taken from their families and homes and placed in government-run boarding schools around the country. Conversing in one’s Native language was strictly forbidden, and students were required to wear standard-issue Euro-American clothing.

As we walked through the exhibit we heard recordings of adults recounting their experiences in these schools. In this exhibit, the poster above the barber's chair read, in part: "The first thing they did was cut our hair. While we were bathing, our breechclouts were taken and we were ordered to put on trousers. We'd lost our hair, and we'd lost our clothes; with the two we'd lost our identity as Indians."

Becoming assimilated extended to sports. Children were encouraged to "learn to play a sport and become controlled and civilized" and "learn to obey a strong, fatherly authority--your coach!"

The Indian Problem would no longer exist because there would be no more "Indians." Education would be the tool to "civilize" the "savage."

And the thinking behind the desire to educate the Indians: "At the very least," U.S. Indian Commissioner Thomas Morgan said, "it was cheaper to educate Indians than to kill them." A predecessor, Carl Schurz, had done the math, calculating in 1882 that it cost nearly $1 million to kill an Indian in battle, but $1,200 for eight years of schooling.

1 comment:

anthonydavis said...

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