Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Native American Culture: America Before the European Invasions


This week in the course we moved into the Native American culture.  Between the members of the group we talked about the culture, the arts, the land use, and the conflict of colonization of the Western Indians and its lasting effects.


Buffalo Robe, c. 1890

Native American art is rich in spirituality and using the earth. This is apparent in the culture of the Great Plains tribes. From their traditional clothing made from buffalo hide to the natural paints and dyes, hair, feathers, amongst other earthy materials. The Native Americans of the West are traditionally not wasteful people. Everything they can use from the killing of a buffalo they use. From the hide they wear and make tipis with, to the meat to feed their tribe, down to the bones that they use for tools and weaponry. Southwestern Native Americans built their homes into the land and used the movement of the sun to their best advantage. With the settling of the West by the Europeans, all of the Native Americans of the West were affected with a culture clash.


Arapaho Artist, Ghost Dance Dress, 1890s

The European settlers traveled west, moving the Native Americans from their sacred homelands. Not only that, but they hunted the buffalo nearly to extinction, taking away the Great Plains Indian’s main source of food and livelihood. The European settlers forced the Native Americans onto reservations, where their lifestyles changed dramatically. This time in Native American history came to be known as the Reservation Era. This era is characterized by the living a sedentary life and moving to areas and into homes much unlike the tipis they were used to. The change was strange and new, but it did not stop them from creating a lot of their traditional art. The era actually allowed them to adopt modern European ideas and tools, so they were able to create with new mediums as well. Women still wove baskets in the far West tribes and used feathers, beads and quills to adorn clothing and objects. Men and women alike created totem poles, painted their histories, made pottery, and now they created collages, amongst other modern art forms. They were resilient people to everything they faced.


Louisa Keyser, Washoe Polychrome Basket (Collected on 20 March 1913)

The Reservation Era was further discussed and we looked into how Native American traditions of the Southwest have evolved, influenced today’s artists and still thrives in the art world today. David W. Penny, author of the Chapter 4:The Southwest reading explains how Santa Fe still has an art market selling Native American’s work today. He points out several traditional forms of work such as, painted pottery, Kachinas, textiles and jewelry. Pottery was created with lots of symbolism and used similarly to how the Great Plains tries recorded histories on tipis. They used similar geometric designs and told stories though this art form. Even through the changes that the Europeans left on their culture, it is still apparent that they hold onto their traditions by the art they continue to make. All the beautiful hand-crafted objects that Native Americans create are a great art form, but it is also important to understand their history and how they are today. 


Acoma Pueblo, Sky City, New Mexico

The articles* each gave a descriptive background to the areas of tribes in the West. For example, the colonization leads to one of the biggest revolts by Native Americans called the Pueblo Revolt. This revolt leads to the Pueblo War of Independence ending in a twelve-year liberation from Spanish rule. There are some reservations in use today, drastically less than were created then. Some of the Southwestern Native American reservation settlements of the West are considered to be fantastic marvels today. Acoma Pueblo, as one example, which is also called Sky City, is a tourist destination today. 


Arthur Amiotte, The Visit, 1995 (collage)

It was important to include the class’s general knowledge of the Native American culture. During discussion we encouraged the sharing of personal encounters with the art, peoples, and the culture because it can be difficult to relate to something that happened centuries ago.  We believed this created an overall better understanding of the lifestyle Native Americans live then and today. It also gave the class the opportunity to talk about things that have happen more recently, after the articles’ publications. This kept the conversation interesting and recent. Overall, the reading, planning, presentation and discussion were all a part of a great learning experience. 

Ashley Vandervelde, Mikayla Carpenter, and Trevor Campbell 

* Janet C. Berlo and Ruth B. Phillips, "The West," in Native North American Art; David W. Penney, "The Southwest" in North American Indian Art; Colin G. Calloway, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History; and Akim D. Reinhardt, "Native America: The Indigenous," in Western Places, American Myths: How We Think about the West

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