Courtesy National Museum of the American Indian

Women’s History Month: 5 NMAI Events Highlighting Indigenous Contributions


March is Women’s History Month, and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is in on it with events in both Washington D.C. and New York City. From Native Hawaiian poetry and music, to film, to art and more, here are five events that highlight different facets of indigenous women’s lives. A few of them will also be livecast on the NMAI website. The full calendar of Women’s History events in both cities can be found at the Smithsonian.

Curator's Talk: "Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains"
Thursday, March 10, 2016, 6 p.m.–7 p.m.

The exhibit of the same name opens Saturday, March 12, at the NMAI’s Heye Center in New York. In this free lecture at the Diker Pavilion, Curator Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota) will hold forth on what it was like to develop the exhibit. Himself an award-winning artist, Her Many Horses is known for his beadwork and dolls. He will appear with several of the featured artists, and they’ll gather in the gallery after his talk.

Three of the featured contemporary artists in the “Unbound” exhibition are Native women: Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree), Juanita Growing-Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux) and Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa/Pima).

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Dallin Maybee (Arapaho), Conductors of Our Own Destiny, 2013. On view in “Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains,” opening March 12, 2016, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York. (Photo: Ernest Amoroso, Courtesy National Museum of the American Indian)

Crossing Lines: Women and Ledger Art
Saturday, March 12, 2016, 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree), A Warrior's Story, Honoring Grandpa Blue Bird, 2012. Muslin, wool cloth, dye, brass, cotton thread, brass beads, satin ribbon, imitation sinew. (Photo: R.A. Whiteside, NMAI)

Though this art form was originally dominated by men, many women also create ledger art, and several of them will give insight into their work at a free, unique program at NMAI New York. Participants are Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree), Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux) and Wakeah Jhane (Comanche/Blackfeet/Kiowa). This one will be livecast.

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Women's History Month Concert: The Lili'u Project
Saturday, March 12, 2016, 2 p.m.–3 p.m.

Starr Kalāhiki (Photo: Courtesy National Museum of the American Indian)

Starr Kalāhiki and Queen Lili’uokalani were “both committed to building awareness and recognition to Hawaiian self-determination” and remain “a testament to the strength and power of the legacy of the Hawaiian Nation,” the NMAI says of this pair. The concert’s music “is about love, healing, forgiveness, loss, beauty and gratitude,” the NMAI says, and is part of the Lili’u Project, Kalāhiki’s attempt to draw attention to the music and poetry of Queen Lili’uokalani. This free concert will take place in the Potomac Auditorium of the NMAI in Washington and will also be livecast online.



Film: My Legacy
Thursday, March 17, 2016, 6 p.m.–8:30 p.m.

My Legacy is an hourlong documentary by Tsilhqot'in director Helen Haig-Brown. Set in Canada, the film follows the director’s inquiry into why she does not possess relationship skills or the ability to commit, and the effect that the residential school system might have had on that.

My Legacy explores the often tenuous relationship between a mother and daughter made more complex by the legacy of residential school,” the NMAI says. “Through understanding her mother’s experience of trauma and disconnection, which shaped her approach to motherhood, Helen finds forgiveness and healing when confronting her own childhood with her mother.”

Although the film depicts hardship, “Helen’s story is ultimately one of love and forgiveness as she highlights the strength and beauty that has defined her family,” NMAI says.

A short will be shown beforehand, the 15-minute-long Clouds of Autumn, released in 2015, also from Canada and by another Tsilhqot'in director, Trevor Mack. This one is set in the 1970s and it too deals with the fallout from residential schools, this time through the lens of the relationship between a brother and sister.

“The film explores the impact Canadian residential schools had on the relationships of First Nations children with themselves, their heritage, and nature itself,” NMAI says.

Haig-Brown will lead a discussion after the screenings.

Helen Haig-Brown, My Legacy (Photo: Courtesy NMAI)

Strong Women/Strong Nations: Native American Women & Leadership
Friday, March 18, 2016, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Moving into the political arena, the NMAI in D.C. offers a symposium that addresses Native women’s traditional leadership roles, their rupture under colonialism and their contemporary reconnection with their original spiritual, economic and political power. The NMAI promises “lively, insightful discussion by elected tribal leaders, activists, artists, and business leaders about contemporary challenges, obstacles, and opportunities” in this forum at the Rasmuson Theater, which will also be webcast.

Speakers at what the NMAI called its “signature event” for the month regarding indigenous women include Karen Diver (Chippewa), special assistant to the President of the United States for Native American affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council; Jody Wilson-Raybould (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw), minister of justice and attorney general of Canada; Joy Harjo (Muscogee [Creek]) playwright, poet and musician; activist Ashley Callingbull Burnham (Cree), Mrs. Universe 2015 and a “tireless advocate to end violence against Native American women,” and 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom Award honoree Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee), who is also being honored this month by the National Women’s History Project, the nonprofit group that helped create and legislate Women’s History Month.

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National Women's History Month (Photo: Courtesy NMAI)

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