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Smithsonian exhibit tells Indians' 'Identity'

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.postcrescent.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070324/APC0101/703 240645/1003/APC01 Smithsonian exhibit tells Indians Identity By Faith Bremner
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2007

      Smithsonian exhibit tells Indians' 'Identity'

      By Faith Bremner
      Gannett News Service March 24, 2007

      WASHINGTON — Each dress in a new exhibit at the Smithsonian's National
      Museum of the American Indian has its own unique story to tell.

      The dress that Montana resident Joyce Growing Thunder created for the show,
      which opens today, tells the story of how her grandparents Ben and
      Josephine Gray Hawk gave away horses to honor their grandchildren.

      In Indian Country, people give away horses, blankets, star quilts and other
      gifts to fellow tribal members during special occasions to honor relatives,
      such as family members who are serving in the military or who have died.

      The intricate beadwork on Growing Thunder's white and blue dress depicts
      the horses, outfitted with war bonnets, that were given away, mountains
      traversed by buffalo, thunderclouds with hail and the square drums that
      members of her Assiniboine-Sioux tribe play at community events on the Fort
      Peck Indian Reservation.

      It took Growing Thunder seven months to make the elk hide dress, with some
      help from her daughter Juanita and granddaughter Jessica.

      "It was a very generous act because the horse represents ... wealth,
      because it meant a lot to have horses," said Jessica Growing Thunder during
      a recent sneak preview of the exhibit with her grandmother. "And the war
      bonnet is a great honor because ..."

      "...it's just one of the highest prize things that people have is a war
      bonnet," her grandmother, Joyce, added. "It's sacred."

      In all, 55 dresses from 35 Indian nations will be on display through Jan.
      2. After that, the exhibit travels to the museum's George Gustav Heye
      Center in New York City where it will open in fall 2008.

      Each dress is unique but at the same time identifiable by its design and
      construction. The colorful dresses are decorated with millions of tiny
      beads, porcupine quills, animal teeth, hair and other ornaments.

      "One of the reasons why the show is called 'Identity by Design' is the fact
      that as these different tribal groups develop their different styles,
      (you're) able to look at these dresses and identify what groups they come
      from," said Emil Her Many Horses, co-curator of the exhibit and a member of
      South Dakota's Oglala Lakota Tribe. "For example, if I went to a
      contemporary powwow today, I would be able to say, 'Oh, that's a Southern
      lady' by the style of her dress."

      Most of the dresses come from a collection of 800,000 Indian objects that
      Heye, a New Yorker and heir to an oil fortune, collected before his death
      in 1957. Heye drove around the country, visiting Indian reservations,
      buying up everything he could. Five of the dresses, including Growing
      Thunder's, were commissioned for the exhibit.

      The oldest dress on display is a Lakota side-fold dress from South Dakota
      that dates back to the early 1800s.

      It's called a side-fold dress because it's a single piece of buffalo hide,
      that's folded on one side and seamed on the other with a wide, folded yoke
      on top. There are only 11 of these dresses that are known to be in
      existence, Her Many Horses said. It's decorated with tiny blue and white
      glass pony beads that were introduced into the northern plains by traders
      on horseback. The beads are so brittle that the dress is being displayed
      flat instead of on a form like the others.
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