Friday, January 28, 2011

Red/Black: Related Through History

Sure, February is Black History month -- and we're inundated with all the usual suspects.

The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, 500 West Washington Street, Indianapolis, has come up with a new viewpoint on that history.

Since the first arrival of African slaves in North America, the interactions between people of African- and Native American heritage has been a combined story of conflict, cooperation, cultural growth, destruction and survival. Since 2001, the Eiteljorg has pioneered research on this subject, and has drawn together important art and artifacts that demonstrate shared traditions found in history, genealogy, food, dress, music and occupation.

Some American Indians held black slaves and others helped them escape. Sometimes there was intermarriage and a blending of traditions. Red/Black: Related Through History includes an object-based exhibition on the subject, created by the Eiteljorg Museum, and the Smithsonian’s traveling panel show, Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas.

History is filled with stories of individuals who have lived their lives with struggle and triumph with shared heritage. Slaves who traveled the Trail of Tears with their native owners. Slaves who intermarried into tribes to escape the bondage of slavery. There are stories of people with biracial heritage today who struggle with identity and who gets to say who they are.

For example, the story of Radmilla Cody is explored in this exhibit. In 1997, she was the first biracial woman to be crowned Miss Navajo Nation. She recalls her time on the reservation being called names for looking "too black to be Navajo". She remembers letters being sent to local papers saying she should not be Miss Navajo because she doesn’t look “Indian” enough. Yet, she has prevailed. She recently was named one of NPR’s 50 Great Voices.

(Photo of Robert Banks © Peggy Fontenot, courtesy of Eiteljorg Museum)

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