Why is Native American Art and Culture missing from our Education system?
History is always written by the winners.
It is a fairly well-known fact that to the victor goes the spoils. What many people overlook is that “the spoils” include more than just the immediate material wealth. To the victors also goes the ability to re-write history in their favor. The Native Americans have been at a disadvantage since 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. It is arguable that Native Americans have been the underdog ever since the xenophobic Europeans, armed with ammunition and germs, destroyed the Native Americans in every area that the Europeans sought to inhabit. In Art: A Brief History (3rd Edition) by Marilyn Stokstad, there are twenty-two pages devoted to the art of the Americas. I feel that including the piece Man’s summer Hunting Coat (ca. 1785-1800) can help to address the lack of attention that the book places on Native American art and culture and how it interacts with western culture.
3% of this textbook was used to discuss the history and art that spanned the entire history of mankind of two continents - North and South America.
To put this void into perspective, Art: A Brief Histoy is six hundred and twenty-four pages long. The twenty-two pages that discuss Native American art is a little over three percent of the knowledge presented. They use twenty-two pages to sum up completely separate cultures that span across two continents.
These Native American cultures had unique languages, traditions, cultures, and arts, however somewhere along the history of the United States education system, it was decided that learning about the history of people an ocean away is more important than the history of the land that American students inhabit. The art of Native Americans is not paint on canvas. It is not bronze and marble statues. It is the everyday artifacts that they put their souls into. Those everyday objects that are looked over for more dramatic articles such as the feather headdresses that very few tribes actually wore.
The art of Native Americans is not paint on canvas. It is not bronze and marble statues. They put their heart and souls into these everyday artifacts .
Naskapi Tribe's Man’s Summer Hunting Coat
Man’s Summer Hunting Coat is part of the Thaw collection that is currently on display at the Dallas Museum of Art. The coat is circa 1785-1800, and is from the Naskapi tribe from the modern day area of Quebec, Canada. The coat is beautifully designed. It is cut from tanned Caribou skin and the designs are made from pigments and sinew thread. The artist was a woman, the original coat wearer’s wife. This piece of art was crafted with care, compassion, and pride. There are two main points that make this coat relevant, and they both deal with a similar subject. The first point is the year that the coat was produced. By 1785 there was plenty of contact between European settlers and Native American tribes, and because of this the two cultures where influencing one another. Proof of this is found in my second point. The shape of this coat. This coat was made by Native Americans, and designed with meaningful traditional symbols, however the shape is strikingly European. It represents a time full of turmoil, however it was also a time of learning and adapting. The minority people who adapt the quickest to be the most like the majority group are the ones who face the least difficulties.
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Each Native American culture has distinct cultures and art forms. Thousands of years of history from two continents should not be summarized into such a trivial space, nor should another cultures art form be over look simply because it is foreign to the onlooker. The coat analyzed in this paper would begin to bridge the gap in this book and course in understanding how the underdogs of history help form the present.