Museums Art on Slavery | Transformation Mask | Ahasteen Comics 2018 | All White All Male History and more


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Removing a person’s name was a means of erasing their identity and imposing a “social death” that transformed enslaved persons into property rather than living individuals. Both historians and museum professionals have begun to realize the need for revising the way we frame and label the past, and to support this movement within museums.

…White people in every part of early America directly or indirectly benefitted from the “peculiar institution” of slavery. It created wealth for white families and oppressed the African-Americans forced to perform labor in service to them. This labor allowed wealthy men and women the luxury of free time and money to get their portraits painted at a hefty price by a well-known artist. As Athens notes, museums have the power to engage with an underscore this part of American history: “I think museums can play a part in social justice movements through honest, clear-eyed reassessments of the stories they tell, what those stories privilege, and what they obscure.” Restoring people of color to American museums isn’t just about editing collections or artwork on display, it must also address the labels we have attached to them for hundreds of years.

READ: Can Art Museums Help Illuminate Early American Connections To Slavery?

What took so long??? Massachusetts museums, thank you!





“Transformation Mask” does not simulate a specific Indigenous ceremony, but its digital transformation of the gallery is meant to emulate the experience of dancing and wearing a transformation mask. “The mask is about bridging, and my intent really was to bring the non-Indigenous viewer into that cultural world,” Hunt told Hyperallergic.  “When you go look at our masks you are generally going to a gallery or museum, and in that context the masks are not masks but rather sculptures, not something you can wear or interact with.”

The Audain Museum calls “Transformation Mask” a “hybrid between the physicality of a transformation mask and the ephemeral experience of being part of the transformation.” But the installation, and transformation masks in general, might better be understood as an interface. “They are an interface with the unseen, whether it be the spirit world or the internet,” Hunt said. Through his creation, the viewer briefly inhabits another experience, another world and culture.

READ: An Indigenous Artist’s Futuristic Vision of Traditional Transformation Masks


BRILLIANT Navajo Times editorial cartoonist Jack Ahasteen’s latest comic.  Source: Ahasteen Comics 2018 – Navajo Times

Yet, the recent all white male history conference held at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University seems to suggest a return to history’s dark age as a gentlemen’s protection society. Happily, the strong and growing presence of and disciplinary focus on women in history as well as the sharp criticism and condemnation (and rightly so) of the exclusive conference make clear that a return to great white men history and historians is a fantasy. Even so, the holding of this conference and others of its kind reflect the ongoing challenges women historians and women history face. The CCWH strongly condemns the choice of holding an all-white, all-male conference at Stanford University, and expresses concern regarding its implications for the historical profession and for its treatment of women in history.

READ: On Stanford’s All White Male History Conference – AAIHS  Why am I not surprised by this??? (shaking my head)


Thanks to Pete for this shock:  Report on United States human rights abuses in 2017


Ruth Hopkins: “Native Tribes Could Lose Federal Recognition of Tribal Sovereignty Under Trump”

From Teen Vogue, here.


When the news about the protest at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline burst into the spotlight in 2016, Tristan Ahtone welcomed the chance for greater coverage of Native American issues.

GOOD READ: Nieman Fellow battles media stereotypes of Native Americans – Harvard Gazette


By LT (your intrepid reporter)

Hello Everyone! I think we will have spring here in western Massachusetts eventually. Not soon but someday.  The MA state government is now addressing our urgent need to address climate change. Good thinking! Last month, a Massachusetts judge found 13 activists who were arrested for sitting in holes dug for a pipeline to block construction “not responsible by reason of necessity” because the action was taken to avoid serious climate damage. See the “Valve Turners” video here.  (States step up better than the feds.)

I saved up some good reads that I hope you enjoy.

As much as I want to believe we are making progress on rewriting history with a more balanced view on the invasion and conquest of North American, I am reminded (by the story above) that the history industry is still a white male occupation, mostly. If you really think about this, this is really human rights abuse with creating a one-sided less-dreadful history for schoolkids. Museums in Massachusetts and other cities are finally waking up.

We have a long way to go but a new journey has begun.

Good news:  My brilliant colleague Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock) has joined the Indian Country Today newspaper as editor and they are up and running and publishing again! Thanks to the National Congress of American Indians who bought the national Native newspaper from the Oneidas in New York. Here’s a great OP-ED by Associate Editor Vincent Schilling (Mohawk) on rewriting history.

I contributed an OP-ED to Indian Country Today on the Baby Veronica case a few years ago. Mainstream media wasn’t interested in publishing me or my views, despite the fact I’d studied adoption history, the Indian Adoption Projects (and this case) and published relevant anthologies (more than one!).

Expect great things from Mark and Vince on their new publication! Go take a read!

Thanks to everyone for reading this long post! XOX



Who Decides Who’s an Indian?

canoeRuth Hopkins

Who decides who is Indian? In pre-colonial times, it was obvious. Indigenous individuals were part of a whole tribal society. They were simply one of the People. They lived in the village, performed daily work, spoke the language, participated in ceremonies, hunted and gathered with the rest, intermarried, and had children within that group.

Enter the federal government, wielding it’s militarily enforced termination and assimilation policies against Natives. From a western legal standpoint, the government now says who is Indian. Suits in D.C. decide whether or not to federally recognize Tribes, and then delegate Tribal enrollment authority to those Tribes. Blood quantum was invented and utilized in the first Tribal rolls. Whether or not you’re ‘Indian’ became a matter of paperwork. One could completely assimilate—cut their hair, convert to Christianity (or any other religion), move away from the Reservation and their people, never speak a word of their language, and know absolutely nothing about their tribal heritage, lineage, or culture, and still be deemed ‘Indian’, with enough blood quantum.

Post-boarding school era, we now find ourselves in the midst of a Native awakening. Lucky for us, traditional holdouts kept Native languages, ceremonies, and cultural teachings alive. They passed them onto us, and others who returned to the ways. There is no doubt in my mind that these individuals, ones who keep the language and the ways, are Native; enrollment records be damned.

So what of the rest? I see academics, bloggers and keyboard philosophers, both Native and non-Native, attempting to design Litmus Tests for who is ‘Indian’. While we can argue about intention, the results are still the same.

An individual may meet the test of one, and not another. Here: let me use myself as an example. I was born and raised on the rez, and I still live here. I’m enrolled in a federally recognized Tribe. I go to ceremony, know my heritage, and do my best to keep our sacred ways. I’ve dedicated my life to the service of the Oyate (the People). Heck, I even make bomb taniga and frybread and I’ve never dated a non-Native man in my life. But…I am not fluent in my Native language (although I’m trying). I have degrees from western institutions of higher education. I wear western clothes most of the time and have a penchant for designer shoes and handbags (like ones that will set off my Russell Means T-shirt, dentalium and beadwork nicely). Also, my mother is white (despite her thick Rez accent) and in the middle of winter, wow, I’m pale. Despite identifying as Native and having many witnesses testifying to such, there are a few who would say I don’t meet the test.

Today, Natives lie all along this continuum, positioned at various levels on the ‘Indian-ness’ scale.

What of those who don’t meet particular litmus tests of what someone has deemed a true Indian? If someone has blonde highlights, watches Bad Girls Club, or shops at Victoria’s Secret, are we supposed to pull their card? Some Natives have lost their way through no fault of their own. Assimilation swept through Indian country like a plague. Urban relocation programs and military service moved entire Native family groups away from their homelands. Others were adopted out to non-Native homes. Do we reject the survivors who only want to come home?

If someone identifies as Native and has ties to prove it, what purpose does alienating them serve? So we can say we’re “better” via “more Indian-er than you” contests? Is that what our ancestors would want? Just because someone doesn’t look like, talk like, or act like the stereotypical Hollywood ‘Indian’ standard we’ve all been spoon-fed doesn’t mean they aren’t necessarily Native, nor does it mean they don’t have a place within Native society and an ability to contribute to our causes. Sure, there are fakes (pretendians) and it’s our way to call them out, but real recognizes real (and Rez cred is another matter). Look to their words and actions.

I don’t decide who is Indian. I am not the Creator. All I’m saying is perhaps instead of focusing on exclusion, we should work on changing hearts and minds. Decolonize the world, starting with you. Let people’s spirits remind them of who they are. We’ve all got some unlearning to do, even yours truly.

If someone comes to me in a good way with sincere questions about my culture, I will do my best, in a humble way, to answer. Sometimes our hands are clenched fists, fighting against the system- but other times our hands should be open, willing to offer assistance, and teach. This is our responsibility, as the seventh generation. The sacred fire is still there, beneath the haze of mainstream society. Seek and ye shall find. This is how we will remain strong and keep our ways alive for the next millennia.

Remember, if we go back far enough, we are all Indigenous. If we want to save Mother Earth, we need support. No man is an island, and we cannot complete these tasks alone. This is how we make the world over, Indigenous style.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton, Mdewakanton, Hunkpapa) is a writer, blogger, administrator, and the Chief Judge of the Spirit Lake Nation. She’s a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, a founding writer for, and a contributor to,,, and Her work has been featured in dozens of other places online and in print. She’s also a published horror author.

This is such a great post. Ruth is one of the publishers of Last Real Indians website where I contribute sometimes…Trace/Lara (I was very grateful to read this since I am an adoptee and outsider in many respects.)