I was invited in April by the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau to visit the the North Dakota Museum of Art and their newest art exhibit. It was a beautiful, and somber reminder, of how one can find their culture after years of oppression.
“In Our Own Words: Native Impressions”, an exhibit at the North Dakota Museum of Art, is a simple exhibit, yet it speaks volumes; displaying Native history from the perspective of Native Americans and their continued experience with the trickle-down effect of colonization within their culture, all while communicating determination to preserve their ways. This exhibit is the work of Daniel Heyman (printmaker), Kim Fink (printmaker), Lucy Ganje (graphic designer), and Leigh Jeanotte (UND Director of American Indian Student Services; member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa).
Native Impressions is a unique exhibit – each display was crafted on paper medium, encased in bold black frames – aligned in a perfect straight line, encasing the east wing of the museum. Surrounded by clean, crisp white walls, each piece pops with varying shades of colour, bold print, and haunting portraits.
“Once the subjects had been chosen, Hayman quickly drew their images and then carved them into wood to produce large-scale, reduction color woodcut portraits of Native people: one for each subject, three from each reservation, all 25.5 x 19.5 inches. While Heyman made the drawings, Lucy Ganje interviewed the sitters, collecting their oral histories which she transcribed, edited, designed and typeset into accompanying broadsides.” – NDMOA handout.
As I viewed this exhibit, I could not help but recall my own Native History. I am Metis – part Native, part European (Scottish), including ancestry of full-blooded Cree and Ojibway. Growing up, my mother shared stories she had heard as a child about the effects of colonization experienced by her paternal grandparents and great-grandparents. Canada was not, and is not, immune to the effects of colonization – Residential Schools (coined Boarding School in America), creation of reserves and the enforcement of First Nations moving to reserves; assimilation into the European way of living, and the on-going poor treatment for simply looking Native.
One specific creation echoed the same words that I have heard many, many times: “Nothing good can come from our Indian ways”. I paused for several minutes, recalling the memories, and thinking of my own history. There was one point where my family members felt it was better to assimilate and not “act or be Indian” for the sake of their safety, integration, and acceptance into “white” society – “It’s just how it is,” was the common response. Now, as an educator, I try my best to incorporate Native history in my classroom, and discussing with my students how we can positively change the future for our First Nations people.
I highly recommend stopping by NDMOA and viewing the exhibit. It’s honest, chilling, and thought provoking, with the words and feelings expressed straight from Native peoples. Art can sometimes be confusing – what is the true intention of this piece; however, this exhibit allows the viewer to think – what can be done to heal wounds of the past and become an inclusive society for all?
“In Their Own Words: Native Impressions” runs through July 10, 2016. Visit http://www.ndmoa.com/ for hours of operation.