American Indian Representation in D.C.

Guest blogger: Sara Beyer, Loyola Catholic School (Mankato)

I honestly had no idea what I should write about for this blog and questioned if I could make something worth reading. But when I traveled to Washington, D.C., with my students this March I found my muse. I fell in love with the research that I found so it got long but I couldn’t help myself. Hope you enjoy…

As my students and I traveled around the strategically planned nation’s capital I wondered if I would find a presence of the Native Americans who we stole this country from. I had already gone to D.C. when I was 16 and don’t remember any memorials or museums for Native Americans. This time the presence of our Native people overwhelmingly stood out. I wondered if it was due to my naïve age or if we are just becoming progressive in this time.

Before arriving in D.C., I learned there was the National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian located in the national mall. This newer Smithsonian opened in September 2004 through an Act of Congress that was passed in 1989. It was the first museum in the nation to solely represent Native Americans and present the exhibitions from Natives’ viewpoint. (Smithsonian Newsdesk, 2015)

It was very different from the other Smithsonian museums in D.C. I went to the Lelawi Theater and watched the 13-minute video that projected images on a canvas with glowing rocks below and a 360-degree sky of imagery as if you were outside. Viewers all sat in a circle as if we were hearing a story over a bonfire. The video was named “Who We Are” and showed Natives of today from all around the country. It seemed very fitting and was a great experience. There was so much to go see but my time was limited, (sneaking away from the students) so I made sure to visit the treaties exhibit. It focused on six major treaties of the United States and put them in chronological order. The information that was provided to the onlooker was from two perspectives: the Native Americans and the Europeans/U.S. government. I think it did a great job of showing the issue as being multi-dimensional and having multiple consequences from each major case presented in the museum. I encourage all to go if they get the chance!

 

On this trip I was able to bring my students to the Capitol. This place struck me with awe. It also blew my mind how much Native American remembrance and appreciation sits in this building. To make it even better, Native Americans are honored in forms of art! When we were on our tour on the inside I learned that each state gets to send two statues of anyone they choose to represent their state’s history. I was surprised by the number of states that were represented by Native Americans in the Capitol (7 of 100). So here are the names with their history I found on my scavenger hunt of statues in the Capitol:

Kamehameha I – Hawaii: In 1758, the future king of Hawaii was born. He was said to have superhuman strengths and was a great warrior. When he became king he organized his districts and placed great leaders to help regulate trade and peace among his native people and the new comers to their island. With such success as king, today he is known as Kamehameha the Great. You can see him honored on the Big Island today with a statue in his honor.

Po’Pay – New Mexico: The sculpture of the Pueblo Native American Po’Pay was dedicated to the Capitol in 2005. He was a well-known religious leader of his people who in 1675 organized the Pueblo Revolt again the Spanish. With his efforts, he helped save his culture and people from the Spanish conquerors.

Sakakawea – North Dakota: We all know the famous story of this Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark complete their task in the West to prepare for Manifest Destiny. She stands tall in Emancipation Hall with her baby on her back, honoring the state of North Dakota since 2003.

(Sarah) Winnemucca – Nevada: Sarah was a native of the Paiute tribe. Her native name was Thocmetony and later called herself Sarah. She is famous in her state for being a spokesperson for her people to the U.S. government, to address issues they were facing. She later wrote her autobiography, becoming the first Native woman to publish a book.

Washakie – Washington: Washakie was a Shoshone leader in the late 1800s who knew many languages, which helped him negotiate with the U.S .army to preserve over three million acres located near Wind River in Wyoming for his people to keep. He also set up schools to educate his people to prepare them for the future. He is the only known Native American to be given a full military funeral. He now has sat in our nation’s Capitol in the Emancipation Hall since 2000.

Will Rogers – Oklahoma: This statue is hard to realize by just the eye that it honors the Native Americans of our nation. Will Rogers grew up in Indian Territory on a ranch. Knowing very little of this famous Cherokee, I found out “he began his stage career in 1905 with a vaudeville act. In 1914 he joined the Ziegfield Follies, where his commentary during his rope act gave him a start as a humorist. He went on to become a movie star, radio broadcaster, syndicated newspaper columnist, and author.”

Sequoyah – Oklahoma: Sequoyah was the first Native American to be honored in this collection in 1917. He is famous for being the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet.

Discovering these pieces of art in the Capitol lead to a lot of curiosity for my students and myself. We wanted to know why of all the people famous in a state, were these people chosen to represent their state at one of our nations most important buildings?! It led me to this inquiry of knowledge that I am passing down to you. I think this would be a great way to integrate art, maybe that isn’t created by American Indians, but represent them in our country today to tell their story that we have ignored for so many years.

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