Connected \\ October 8, 2020

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

This past June, protestors beheaded the Christopher Columbus statue in Boston’s North End, ultimately resulting in its removal. Statues of our nation’s founding fathers in other cities are also under scrutiny, because even as those founders helped establish a nation conceived in liberty, they held people in chattel slavery, while also creating genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples. Beyond America, citizens across the globe have targeted statues and monuments of explorers and political leaders of exploitative regimes, including Edward Colston and Winston Churchill in Britain, and King Leopold II in Antwerp, Belgium.

In 2015, the Columbus statue in Boston’s North End was tagged with “Black Lives Matter!” and red paint was poured over his head, evoking blood spilled (left). The same statue was beheaded on June 10, 2020, and ultimately removed from the park (right) Photo at left via NorthEndWaterfront.com; photo at right courtesy of REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo.



It is momentous that the Peabody Essex Museum will, for the first time, formally honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day through virtual programming, on social media, and even on our employee time cards. Hundreds of towns, cities (Salem just passed a resolution on September 24, 2020), counties, states, school districts and institutions across America are now recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the federal holiday that is Columbus Day. This shift in recognition and perspective provides an opportunity to bring more awareness to the rich and storied histories of this land that is inextricably tied to the first peoples of this continent and predates the voyage of Christopher Columbus by millennia. The museum's decision to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day stems from long-held commitments to honor and cultivate Native American art and culture.

Though this movement has been building for many years, there’s a renewed sense of urgency amid the wave of more recent protests against the nation’s legacy of racism, particularly sparked by the killing of George Floyd by police. Renaming the day reminds Americans to demand, confront and embrace a more accurate and complete picture of the founding of our country. It invites us to ask ourselves, why are we content with only part of the story? Columbus did not discover what is currently known as North America. He and other European explorers and settler-colonists who came after him, enslaved, mutilated, raped, massacred and colonized the Indigenous people in the Americas, laying the foundation for even more waves of destruction that continue today. This is not a cause for a day of national celebration.

As PEM considers the role of arts in community-building and how our institution and staff can better serve and respond to marginalized communities, we have been working to center Indigenous voices and celebrate the ongoing vitality and resilience of Indigenous people. Under Director Brian Kennedy’s leadership, we have been working diligently to implement increased accessibility, equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and furthering action through our renowned Native American Fellowship Program, currently funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Fostering the next generation of Native professionals in the cultural heritage sector through leadership training and practical work experience is an imperative responsibility to housing a collection of Native cultural heritage. In other words, our responsibilities to our collections do not end with exhibitions, programming, object stewardship and community outreach.

The 2019 Welcome blessing in PEM’s Atrium, a highlight among our PEM staff and Fellows alike. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Mel Taing


Since 2010, PEM has greeted Fellows with a welcome blessing led by regional Indigenous community members. The goal is to set a shared intention for the time ahead with a spirit of togetherness while also recognizing the brutal legacies of colonization that museums have with Native people. PEM staff are invited to join our circle, to come together in acknowledging our Fellows who are leaving their families and communities for the summer, to help PEM shape a path forward filled with their multiple perspectives and contributions to projects.

Jennifer Himmelreich (Diné), Native American Fellowship Program Manager (center) looks at objects in collection storage with 2019 summer Fellows Neebinnaukzhik (Neebin) Southall (Chippewa of the Rama First Nation) at left, and Kamuela Werner (Kanaka Maoli) © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum.

Jennifer Himmelreich (Diné), Native American Fellowship Program Manager (center) looks at objects in collection storage with 2019 summer Fellows Neebinnaukzhik (Neebin) Southall (Chippewa of the Rama First Nation) at left, and Kamuela Werner (Kanaka Maoli) © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum.


Fellows have contributed to several major projects at PEM, including Shapeshiftng: Transformations in Native American Art (2010), Native Fashion Now (2015–17), and T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America (2018–19). They helped me think through not only individual artworks and thematic ideas, but also through broader issues, systemic and systematic, embedded within the museum field that have prohibited authentic dialogue. This has shaped my curatorial practice as well as other PEM curators in deeply significant ways. Through workshops, research, interpretation and this kind of open dialogue, Fellows also helped us realize our forthcoming Putnam Gallery of Native and American art, which I am co-curating with PEM curators Sarah Chasse and Dean Lahikainen.

2018–19 Long-term Interpretation and Curatorial Fellow Frank Redner (Upper Sioux) (left) and 2018 Summer Fellow Tess Lukey (Aquinnah Wampanoag) in Putnam Gallery workshop discussion in 2018 © 2018 Peabody Essex Museum.

2018–19 Long-term Interpretation and Curatorial Fellow Frank Redner (Upper Sioux) (left) and 2018 Summer Fellow Tess Lukey (Aquinnah Wampanoag) in Putnam Gallery workshop discussion in 2018 © 2018 Peabody Essex Museum.

This captures our work in motion (and sticky notes) on what America means to our 2019 summer Fellows during our Putnam Gallery workshop. Photo by author.

This captures our work in motion (and sticky notes) on what America means to our 2019 summer Fellows during our Putnam Gallery workshop. Photo by author.


The Putnam Gallery, slated to open November 2021, will explore how artistic expression has the power to define and redefine our concept of America. For the first time, we will bring together Native and American art in this robust way to tell more complex stories from broader perspectives across time, space and worldviews. Artists and artworks can help us grapple with the links, continuities and ruptures in our shared histories on this land, to shape a more connected and empathetic future.

Hanödaga:yas, or Town Destroyer, 2018 by Alan Michelson

Hanödaga:yas, or Town Destroyer, 2018 by Alan Michelson (Mohawk member of the Six Nations of the Grand River) investigates the legacies of President George Washington in Haudenosaunee communities, and will be included in our 2021 Putnam Gallery installation. Photo courtesy of the artist.


For artists like Jared Yazzie and hundreds of thousands of others, the fallout from Columbus is personal. In 2012, he designed a T-shirt for his OXDX brand. In four deftly deployed words, Native Americans Discovered Columbus, Yazzie reclaims America as Indigenous country, decrying the cultural oppression and loss of land and languages that were among the many repercussions of Columbus’ arrival. This shirt remains emblematic of the work PEM and our staff will continue doing as we move forward to tell underrepresented histories and lift up voices from this country’s First Americans. A recent Instagram post on @oxdxclothing speaks to this. Yazzie writes: “Let’s rewrite every inaccuracy taught and come swinging this October.” Here, here.

Man wearing a black t-shirt that says, Native Americans Discovered Columbus

Photo courtesy Jared Yazzie.


On that spirited note, please join us @peabodyessex on October 12 for our virtual programming in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Also, I offer an open invitation to join me in celebrating Native Americans, today and every day.

Monday, October 12

VIRTUAL CELEBRATION

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Free; register at pem.org/events/indigenous-peoples-day

Join us in acknowledging Indigenous people from the many nations who have lived on and moved through this place we now call the Americas, and those who still live and work in this region. Take part in honoring these communities, their elders past and present, as well as future generations, through our first Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration.

Holiday Monday PEM Pals

10:30 am | Free
Virtual; bit.ly/PEM-Pals
Follow us @peabodyessex

Sing along with Miss Bethany, then enjoy a reading of We Are Water Protectors by author Carole Lindstrom (Anishinabe/Metis), who is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.

Harvest Season Makers Workshop

11 am | Free
Zoom

Elizabeth James-Perry leads us through a workshop exploring sustainable art inspired by native corn husk weaving, celebrating the harvest season. James-Perry is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head-Aquinnah. She has a long association with PEM and was a featured artist in the Native Fashion Now exhibition in 2015. She also completed a welcome blessing for our Native American Fellows one summer. The artist’s wampum jewelry (necklaces and earrings) are available in the Museum Shop.

Instagram Live Conversation

4 pm | Free
Follow to join @peabodyessex

Tune in to Instagram for a live conversation with Heather Fleming, Executive Director of Change Labs, and Jennifer Himmelreich (Diné), PEM’s Native American Fellowship Program Manager. Watch the two discuss the creation and vision of Change Labs and how it is helping the Navajo and Hopi Nations meet the present moment by providing Indigneous-based resources and solutions.

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