The MAC Goes Big

The MAC Goes Big

Jack McNeel

Spokane, Washington—The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) has reached into its archives for "Lasting Heritage," exhibit its largest Native American exhibit ever, which will continue through 2014. Two large galleries are filled with items ranging from the stone tools of early times to contemporary items but most date from about 1875 till 1910 and focus on the Plateau and Great Basin regions.

Miles Miller, an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation, was the guest curator responsible for the selection and display of this exhibit. Miller is well qualified with a master’s degree in museology and extensive experience at museums nationwide. Indian Country Today Media Network talked with Miller, questioning him about selection and particularly important aspects of the exhibit.

Why were the Plateau and Great Basin regions featured?

This exhibition was based on the chapter, The Great Basin and Plateau, I wrote in National Geographic’s Indian Nations of North America.

Will you describe differences in the two regions in terms of the exhibit?

The greatest differences in objects are baskets and baby boards. The materials for baskets are very different. Baskets made in the Plateau region primarily use split cedar root, bear grass, Indian hemp, and corn husk and are highly decorated. Great Basin baskets have little or no decoration and are made of sumac, rabbit brush and other materials more available there. The Great Basin also has baskets that were for winnowing. The baby boards selected are from the northern part of the Plateau region in the Fraser River area. They are beautifully coiled baskets of cedar root, sort of elongated with sides coming up and highly decorated. The baby board from the Great Basin has a beautifully hood with a plaiting technique coming over to shade the baby.

How does the MAC collection compare with others?

I think the MAC has one of the largest collections of cornhusk bags. The age range covers a large period for those bags.

Do certain items stand out in your mind?

Yes, two Nez Perce bags. One is a tall root bag, the other a small cornhusk pouch, both very striking bags. Found somewhere along the Nez Perce Trail, the twined root bag is made of Indian hemp, buckskin, unraveled wool of a soldier’s uniform, and buffalo hair and mostly likely older than 1877. The small, finely woven cornhusk bag’s history dates to Nez Perce imprisonment at Eeikishpah, (Hot Place) in Oklahoma Territory. Museum records show it was collected by a Browning, MT man and later a Nez Perce man identified it as being made by a woman from the Moses family while they were in prison.

How does the environment of the two regions shape their cultural traditions?

The lives and cultural traditions of these people are shaped by the natural resources available to them in food and shelter. They have tribal and familial oral histories that teach them how landmarks were formed, how animals received their markings, and help them to understand their past. The people of both regions comprise a modern indigenous aesthetic that will connect the people to their culture, history, and environment.

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