Radio Smithsonian; 38; American Indians Their Lives Their Art Yesterday and Tomorrow Part 1
Conversation Today we begin a two part series on the American Indian his life and his culture. First we talk with Jon your knowledge of anthropology here at the Smithsonian which has been a major center of Indian studies since the mid 19th century. He was one of the earliest paintings of Indians painted. Well the first paintings that we really know of were ones that were made by a Swiss artist James Cook on his trip through the North Pacific coast in 778 Cook took him along because he felt that their written descriptions of what they saw would not be adequate and they needed pictures to help preserve the more complete record of what they saw in their world travels.
These must have been rather brave artists that went west at that time to paint the Indians as they were then. Yes I think they were people of considerable courage. How did the artist come in contact with Indians in a in a friendly enough way at this time to be able to paint them. Well many of the early artists were a man who accompanied expeditions military expeditions for training expeditions and had an opportunity to meet the exploring in trading groups moved into the West. During the period of the eighteen hundred thirty thousand for sometime there are after the largest deferred trading company on the Upper Missouri River encouraged artists and scientists and they often offered them free transportation on their
boats up river and had them stay at their forts so that they could have an opportunity to meet in two. It is a place to stay and try to make them as comfortable as you possibly could which is not too good. Recall that one of the artists who spent a winter at one of the Fords remarked that it got so cold colors for he couldn't use them for a while. Would we have such good records of the buffaloes as the Indians in their own living their own life if the artist had not gone there. One example of how these records have been of help to me when I was working on the Blackfeet reservation nearly 30 years ago I had to opportunity to talk to
a number of people who were still living who had grown up. How did Buffalo participate in the Intertribal wars and live the traditional life with pre reservation days. But their memories only went back to about the 1860s. Now they tell me that when they were children they used to play games in winter and one of the games that the men play tops they had wooden tops tops that they kept going by hitting them with a whip and they also taught me that they used to ride down here in the winter time on sleds that were made out of small pieces of skin stretched over a buffalo rib Bronner's. Well since then and only in recent years some of the paintings by the first priest to work on money and years
back in 1846 have been published and they actually illustrate these things 25 years before the memories of my old Indians and I show them up so I'm writing down here on these strange little sleds. So in a way it helps to verify what helps to push this type of activity back 25 or more years so that you can be sure of that. This was something that the memories of my older people who were in the leftmost Peel I suppose did a great deal better known Charles Weston 18 19 and 20 and travelled and on the Great Plains up the Missouri River as far as Omaha then westward through the Rocky Mountains
and made a few pictures and there's not too many more of wildlife and scenery. The earliest drawings that we know of the appearance of the Rocky Mountains. Did they find many Indians who were painting them so. Yeah this painting was certainly a very old art among the Indians. So we find some examples of their work on painted rocks in the West. They're rather difficult to date most of them but it's believed that some of them go back several thousands of years. Your particular field is the plains. That's right. How did they live that this time around 1830. Well they were primarily right now and of course I do as a buffalo buffalo was the largest big game in North America.
They'd already acquired from Europeans horses so they hunted primarily on horseback. Many of the more nomadic lived in teepees do they have any permanent housing. Some of some of the tribes did there were some of them lived along the river valley who lived in more permanent shelters. A number of them were made of earth and were were quite large and they were permanent to the extent that they were used over a few years anyway. But they also apart from hunting buffalo I suppose they were hunter gatherers to a degree where they did that whether some berries and things that they were feeding on at that time. Yes they generally made use of roots and berries in season with sure. They are
predominantly meat some of the carbohydrates that dieticians seem to think we need. What was that clothes made their clothes were largely made of the skins around the most Manhattan women cold weather or were made out of the hides of Buffalo and with their hair still on it the hair was inside keep warm but the man primarily waar Yes most men were warriors Yes and the greatest way for a man to obtain success and recognition of the position of leadership was through those accomplishments in war and they were course very proud of their individual prowess. And there were numerous occasions when they had opportunities to more or less
compete with each other to try to prove who had the best world record. We think of them as a proud looking people. Do you think that this is correct or do we have a mythical idea of how they look. No I don't think so I have always been impressed with their dignity. Showing a lot of people particularly when they pose for pictures when they're when they're posing for photographs or paintings appear to have a great amount of dignity. Some of the early artists made observations that famous John Trumbull
remarked that some of these senators are supposed to put this in perspective between the time of discovery and the time that they became a more structured peaceful community really was relatively short for some tribes yes there was a great. Differential time differential in the exploration of the American West for example you know the coroner was out on the plane as early as 15 41 and that's long before the founding of James there. Yeah. Well they're growing ever in the northeast may not have met white people until they do you know what I'm not totally certain tribes that have that seems to me that you see them more in the Pacific Northwest than you do in other areas.
That's right. The only North west coast which is from the Columbia River northward Do you still you know there's still people who can come out of these now or is this more or less died out more or less. Yes I think there may be one or two. And when you speak of the Indians as primitive people what exactly do we mean. Well and have been in the Americas before with whites and blacks appeared on the scene certainly. And you can't necessarily say that. They were primitive because they were unsophisticated students of Indian languages for example and ask them pointed out that the
more distinct terms for different types of snow that we have you know our language finds many different terms for different kinds of horses. The things that they were familiar with gave very great insight into. I don't think we can call them primitive in the sense that they were inferior you know anyway. This is why I feel it's come to me rather time it shouldn't mean that it should if we are doing OK. The meaning of it have in place. Yes we have parted primarily through people didn't live in the Mediterranean area or in Europe before the great explorations in the beginning of the fifteenth century. John you're the senior ethnologist for the Department of Anthropology at the
Smithsonian and a prominent author and scholar on the subject of the American Indian. How is Indian life being carried forward today. Many of the traditions being lost are on systems and similar questions. We talk with Mrs. Claudia now works it does not work. Are you a Cherokee Indian. Yes I'm from Oklahoma from a small Indian community in the hills of northeastern Oklahoma. How long did you spend in the Indian community did you grow up there. Yes I did grew up there and finally finished high school in a town nearby and went on to a junior college which is an Indian College in that same area. You're married to another and my husband is from the southwestern part of Oklahoma. And do you are you boast loyalty or try this cause any dissent. Well I would say that we are although in my husband's tribe
the man is the head of the family and so our children are growing up. We hope as Comanches with a very close association with that culture. And what happens when you marry from one tribe to the other. Is this permitted by the elders or do you have to get permission. Or is this tradition changing. Well it has changed considerably. Now we marry outside our tribe outside the Indian community although when my husband and I were to be married it was a source of great concern to my grandfather who not having met my husband said Is your husband is the fellow you're going to marry. Cherokee and I said no and his next question was is he Indian and I said to guess and he said well what tribe is he. At that time in Oklahoma the only other tribe that some of us in the hills knew about were the Creeks who were neighbors and said he's committed you he said. One of those wild Indians. So we misunderstand one another also.
Tell me what it was like growing up in an Indian community did you go to school in the community. Yes there were non Indian people white people in the community but the Indian people were the majority. We went to a little public school in the country and when we finished the sixth grade we went on to a consolidated school in the larger community. This is without actually a reservation. I know in Oklahoma we don't have reservations. We have communities who are large groups of Indian our Indian people are congregating. Why is this that it is different in Oklahoma has this to do with it is the way that Indian people were originally settled in what is now the home. Are the reservations in most of the states or is this the set up in some of the other states other states that have Indian populations Indian populations outside the urban community do have reservations.
What is happening now on the reservations do you feel the reservation population has changed considerably. A lot of the people are moving to the cities on the reservations the outlook is considerably different from that of ten or even five years ago. We see ourselves in a better position of making decisions determining what will affect us than we ever have before I believe we see a lot more hope in determining our own future. We are becoming aware that we are capable of making decisions and we're becoming more formally educated in order to help ourselves to do that. This is true in the communities as well as the reservations it is that much alike is a much differentiation there. This is true to a great extent concerning both situations. How are the reservations Ron are they so by the particular tribes
on the reservations are governed. Are the tribes on reservations are governed by bodies that are called the tribal council which have a tribal council chairman elected by the people in the community are elected by other council members. What do the males do for instance. An Indian reservation or community population. The men in that community do a variety of types of work. Of course the younger people have college educations usually will work in the periphery of the community as teachers and women as nurses perhaps these are two of the larger professions. On the reservation more and more young people who have college training are hard are hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for instance to run the Bureau of Indian Affairs agencies to work in the education
programs there to work in the Indian Health Service programs there. The older people very often are farmers they're ranchers they're day laborers. And I'm sorry to say that for a lot of the people there is no work on the reservation are in the community adjacent to the reservation. Therefore we're either without work. We have seasonal work are very often we move into the city in order to find a livelihood. What about the children's education or young people's education other schools on the reservations or do they have to go into the local communities. In some instances there are schools on the reservations and very many instances and this is becoming corrected and I say corrected because I think it was a deplorable situation. The schools are coming to the Indians at one time. Indian people in Alaska and Arizona from South Carolina
were for instance coming to Oklahoma to the Indian schools because there were no schools available on their reservations or in their communities. This was a very harmful thing to the Indian society. I think that many of us will pay for this in various social ills for a lot of years to come. Now for instance on the Navajo more and more Indian schools are coming into existence so that children are able to continue at home and at the same time receive a formal education. Do Indians live much of their life some Indians on reservations and stay there. Yes this is becoming less true. The last 10 to 20 years there was a time when for instance my grandparents and my parents never left the community that they grew up in. This is just an example of what is true in many such situations. Within the last 10 to 20 years ago as more of us go away from home
to get additional training to gain additional job skills we remain away because in this way we're able to. Add to our economic situation. Do you think that Indians would prefer to stay in their communities or do they would they like to assimilate. Speaking from personal experience and a lot of conversation with many Indian people all over the nation I think that we would prefer to stay at home mainly because home is a good feeling is NEWS STREAM all of you secure our rights secure your children grow up with grandparents and what a loss if we don't have those marvelous experiences of growing up with our family and in a culture that is acceptable to us as individuals. So that I think that we would like to remember that. Is it possible do you think to assimilate during the week and then to come
back at weekends by the US to go back I mean more to try I will love you for weekends or to a community life perhaps he would rather I call it. I think it's very possible Cynthia. I think that there are non-Indian people who would disagree with me but those of us who are in the end say yes we can live like this. And if if we must if we have a first choice of living totally in our own community we would prefer to if we're not able to do this well certainly as a second choice we want to spend at least as much time there as possible. This happens in so often in Oklahoma of course this being my home state I'm most familiar with the people living and working in Oklahoma City will spend their time in the hills of eastern Oklahoma down in the Indian communities in southwestern Oklahoma from Friday evening until Sunday night late being very much a part of the Indian activities continue.
You know this is what I can't help feeling with is no excuse that you may go out into into other communities but you must have many traditions that are familiar to you and that you're very attached to. But it would be most attractive to go back to at the weekend. This is very true. I have considered this often and wondered Is this a way of escaping from the broader community. If it is it's a good way of escaping. It permits us to live in two societies and those of us who are Indian and who are happiest as Indians today I believe are those who can adapt to. Do you. I really think this is true. Some of us have the best of both. We probably all do in many ways. We all try to get in here. What do you think is the present feeling amongst Indians to find their identity.
I think that the American Indian today is along the route of seeking this road had a lot of turns. It's been a very confusing road. And to attain what I consider an American American Indian identity today hasn't been an easy thing because it has not always been pleasant. As you well know to be Indian in this nation there have been times when we've been discouraged from following the Indian road. What do you feel happened to create this situation. Well I think the the larger group of people coming into the nation over a period of time. I felt that they would like to help us. I think that certainly the Christian influence. The thing that brought these people to the country to begin with are the earliest people to the country said help these people. And you you help people by making
them like yourself I suppose as much as possible at least that appears to have been the philosophy during that time to some extent. And so we were given a calling to where we were given church training we were given a kind of education that would make us fit into and be acceptable by the culture. Don't you feel that we are more and more beginning to realize that you don't help people necessarily by making them over in your own image. Oh by all means don't you think great strides have been made in this direction. I would hope so and I do think so to some extent. Do you feel that the Indian male lost his place his his heritage of energy and leadership. We certainly have read about and have come to feel with so much of a way of life with the Indian man. Well Cynthia when you asked this question immediately brings to mind a picture of the misconception that
quiets him. Our head during frontier times especially of the American Indian meal he was put on reservations or he was settled into an Indian community and then looked at it from a long point of view as a rather lazy kind of person. For instance I have heard this comment in the years about was growing up Indian men are lazy they're they're not polite they're not this they're not that simply because the man might be walking out in front of his wife away from the Trading Post or other community store and she came along behind lugging articles that had been purchased. These people worked for a moment I'm sure considering the fact that traditionally the man did walk in front of the woman to protect her and he had to be free of this burden of things to carry in order to accomplish that. So that I think that for a very long time Indian men lost their place they lost pride in
doing it I think. That women could fit more easily into the white culture. They could work for instance as domestics. They could continue the household chores. The men had one time had at one time been hunters and warriors and once they were on reservations are in Indian communities. This was no longer possible. There were no more Buffalo to it. There were no more wars to be won. This is not a is a director of the Indian awareness program for the Smithsonian's division of Performing Arts. Radio Smithsonian is presented weekly at this time produced by Dan McLean the Office of Public Affairs Frederick M. Phillips director. This is Cynthia.
- Radio Smithsonian
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 70-17-38 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Radio Smithsonian; 38; American Indians Their Lives Their Art Yesterday and Tomorrow Part 1.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-vd6p462g>.
- APA: Radio Smithsonian; 38; American Indians Their Lives Their Art Yesterday and Tomorrow Part 1. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-vd6p462g