National Museum of the American Indian Recap

Hi everyone,

As promised, here is the recap of my visit to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.  I have included several pictures taken as well as recordings of accompanying texts. All credit goes to the museum staff and curators who put together a well-researched, culturally correct, and historically important exhibit. Again, just as I was recommended, if you are able to make it to the area you must take the time out to visit.

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National Museum of the American Indian and update from yesterday

Hey everybody,

Today I am writing from Washington D.C. It was a late-minute decision, but at the recommendation of two professors and Oren Lyons himself, it was something I could not pass up.

The National Museum of the American Indian includes George Heye’s anthropological and Joseph Keppler’s personal collection on various Haudenosaunee item “including both objects of aesthetic importance and everyday items.” Additionally, and the most important to my work as of this moment, is the “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations” exhibit. Oren had mentioned this collection, citing it as a fine representation of wampum treaties and their significance, as well as being aware of the influence Haudenosaunee culture had upon our nation’s founding. The exhibit’s own page can be found here. I am extremely lucky to be able to see this exhibition at this moment in my research. Richard Hill, in Indian Roots of American Democracy, has a compelling statement on the role of museums in modern Native American Studies. He explained, “museums are not ancient institutions … As museums redefine their roles and their directions, they have been moving away from being custodians of ‘artifacts’ of dead cultures and becoming supporters of living ones.” This exhibit, and museum as a whole, is dedicated to expanding public knowledge on a cultures that resided here before us and are still alive despite much of post-contact non-Native intention. Furthermore, as Haudenosaunee scholars will tell you, these treaties that were crafted are still alive themselves; it is an arrangement that past and modern American politicians tend to ignore.

Looking into this exhibit, I am becoming more and more excited to visit and experience the work Smithsonian has done. For now, though, I will try to make good on my promise yesterday and share what pictures I was able to take:

20150619_085432Here, Tadodaho Sid Hill is giving his Thanksgiving Address at Onondaga Lake. It was a coordinated event on “National Sacred Places Prayer Day.” Suzan Harjo, who coincidentally wrote the book Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, held a similar event in Washington D.C. The event was made to honor places venerated in American Indian traditions: Onondaga Lake and Ganondagan being the two Haudenosaunee locales specifically. Not pictured is Oren Lyons, who appeared later in the address. He gave his own speech after Tadodaho Sid Hill’s was finished. As I mentioned yesterday, it was extremely moving. When Oren speaks, you begin to understand why he is so valued in the Native community; he is well-spoken, truthful, and easy to understand. I was actually so caught up in speaking with him, that I forgot to take a picture. I am hoping to visit him Monday or Tuesday.

20150619_193045I, uh, am sorry about this picture. As you can tell, I should stick to writing rather than photography. Be that as it may, this is Tom Porter giving his own Thanksgiving Address. It was at a benefit event for Kanatsiohareke Mohawk community. During the speech, Tom explained the importance and significance of saying Thanksgiving everyday. Or, rather, it was as he put it “that which you say before issues of importance.” It was rather moving, as Tom told us to “pile” that which we are thankful and become aware of it all. Then, as tradition states, you give this address to the Creator for making it all happen. Tom then went on to tell stories of his great-grandfather and grandmother, which was met with several bits of laughter and more than a couple moments of deep reflection by the crowd. Mr. Porter had a certain way of drawing in the crowd and delivering his point extremely easily. I had the chance to speak to him alone prior to the address and we exchanged contact information. I am hoping to set up an interview with him on Monday.

Unfortunately, that is all I have prepared. I apologize for these last few days not featuring in-depth scholastic work, but now more than ever, I have been thrown into the research and cultural process of working alongside Haudenosaunee. Plus it was a six hour drive down here and I am just getting set up. I hope to present a lot more in the next few days after getting more interviews in and settling in back home.

All the best,




Hill, Richard. “Oral Memory of the Haudenosaunee: Views of the Two Row Wampum”. Indian Roots of American Democracy. Edited by José Barreiro. Ithaca: Akwe:kon Press, Cornell University, 1992. 149-165.

National Museum of the American Indian. “Collections”. Smithsonian. Accessed on June 20, 2015.

—. “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations”. Smithsonian. Accessed on June 20, 2015.

The Iroquois Indian Museum and Mike Tarbell

Hello everyone,

Today I visited the Iroquois Indian Museum and was able to record my first interview with Cultural Interpreter Mike Tarbell. Mr. Tarbell is Turtle Clan Mohawk and has worked closely with the Iroquois Indian Museum for a number of years. At the museum, Mr. Tarbell presents a Native voice alongside the numerous Haudenosaunee paintings and artifacts, speaking upon their importance within his culture. When not at the museum, Mr. Tarbell, a veteran himself, works with the Wounded Warrior project across the country. Though he does find it hard to pull himself away from the museum, for it has become like his “mother’s home.” After the break, I have included some specific examples pulled from our conversation today.

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Overview of Specific Wampum

Hey everybody,

I wanted to spend today’s post speaking on some of the specific wampum that I will be researching heavily throughout this FUSE project. I want to give you a reason to understand how these were used, how they look, and their applications.

Wampum, as told in yesterday’s post, were shells that, according to tradition, were first gathered by Hiawatha during his wanderings and strung together. The Peacemaker ascribed a certain meaning to these original wampum and used words of condolence to clear Hiawatha’s mind. Historically, wampum belts or strings were made from clam shells, both the whelk (white) and quahog (white and purple.) As the Peacemaker did, each string of wampum belt represented something in the orator’s speech and, in essence, could be considered a mnemonic device. It is beyond that though. Wampum belts were symbolic, representative of treaties, laws, title, and spirituality. The oral and representative tradition of wampum must be taken together to fully understand their importance in Haudenosaunee culture. “The shell,” the Onondaga Nation website told, “is thought of a living record.” The site continued, “wampum strings are used to convey that the speaker’s words are true.”

During colonial contact, the symbolic and political representation of wampum was often perverted by immigrant nations’ misunderstanding. Daniel K. Richter, in The Ordeal of the Longhouse, described a “triangular” system of trade: the Dutch traded European goods to the Algonquin for the shells and in turn the Dutch traded these shells to the Haudenosaunee for furs. These furs were then sent back to the Netherlands and more Europeans goods were sent back. With the introduction of European crafting tools, more refined shells flooded this triangular market, inflating their “value.” While the Haudenosaunee continued to respect the wampum’s symbolic capital, colonial settlers increasingly saw the wampum as currency to be traded. This is not to mean, though, that the Dutch did not enter into wampum-recorded treaties with the Haudenosaunee. The Two Row wampum, one of the most important of its kind, was validated by Dutch traders in 1613 and its meaning was recorded by Dutch observers. The colonial relationship with wampum, then, is strained in this historical context.

The study of wampum is crucial to the study of Haudenosaunee and Haudenosaunee-Colonial relationships. Belts are historical markers within a non-textual society and further validate the oral tradition of Haudenosaunee nationals. Wampum, despite the colonial observation of it, is a binding indication of some scenario or aspect, and that is how Colonial historians should study it as. After the break, there will be pictures and descriptions of some specific wampum belts.

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