Published: September 19, 2013

Beyond the Labels: Bunky Echo-Hawk Modern Warrior

It has been an amazing experience to work on the Bunky Echo-Hawk: Modern Warrior exhibit with my co-curator, Bunky Echo-Hawk, and The Field Museum’s exhibit staff.  Our intent was to let Bunky’s artistic and activist vision guide the exhibit content.  He selected the objects and much of the label copy, as those of you who have seen this exhibit know, consist of his thoughts on the themes we selected to feature.  As we wrote the labels, however, we realized that we were raising issues that needed more explanation than the label length allows.  We want you, our public audiences, to deepen your knowledge of these issues if you so desire.  To that end,  I have written this blog and compiled the attached annotated bibliography (with the help of my very capable research assistant, Andrew Wagner) to give you a way into learning more about historical events that are deeply important to Bunky and other Native Americans and about anthropological concepts that inform my research on these topics.  The blog is formatted as answers to Anticipated Questions.  Attached you will find an annotated bibliography with more information.  Comments welcome!


What is the size and types of objects in the Pawnee collections of the FM?

During the period between 1890 and 1910, with a few exceptions, The Field Museum collected a plethora of objects from Plains tribes, including the Pawnee. These objects were acquired in a variety of ways, although most were purchased by anthropologists during expeditions to tribal areas. In total there are around 600 Pawnee objects in the Museum’s collections. These objects represent a diverse set that gives us insight into Pawnee life, ranging from clothing to game pieces to sacred items. Probably the most common category in the collection is game pieces, such as die and counting sticks. Considering the importance and popularity of some games to the Pawnee, the amount of gaming pieces in our collection is not overly surprising. Another commonly collected type of item is clothing, which can be further divided into ceremonial and secular types. Ceremonial clothing is represented by such items as dance bustles and bandoliers made of grass while secular includes items such as moccasins and leggings. Other common types include household items, such as buffalo horn spoons, and musical instruments, such as drums. However, the Museum also has a number of sacred objects, especially “bundles”, among this collection. Due to the fact that these items are central to the traditional religious beliefs of the Pawnee, they are stored behind curtains and remain undisturbed. About 10 years ago, as part of an agreement on repatriation, the Pawnee chiefs’ council decided that the bundles and other sacred objects should remain at The Field Museum for the time being.   Regardless of whether secular or sacred, all items are treated with respect and care. If an object is to be displayed or loaned out and there is a question of its status, the tribe is always consulted for accuracy and as a means of respect for Pawnee authority over their culture.

What is the history of Pawnee Relocation and Relationships with the U.S. Government?

In one of the labels, Bunky mentions the fact that the Pawnee never fought the U.S. government.  Indeed, historical accounts tell us that the relationship between the Pawnee and the United States Government was generally friendly. The government signed treaties with each of the Pawnee bands (there were four) in 1818 for the purpose of establishing peaceful relations with the tribe and having their authority recognized above all others. The second treaty signed in 1825 regulated trade as well as matters of law. The final three treaties, signed in 1833, 1848, and 1857, ceded traditional lands to the United States and established the first Pawnee reservation in Nebraska.

Despite promises of protection in the treaties it was the Pawnee who contributed more to the defense of the government than vice versa. Beginning in the 1860s the United States Army enlisted Pawnee warriors as scouts in the U.S. cavalry. Until the late 1870s these scouts participated in campaigns against the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho as well as protected the workers constructing the Union Pacific Railroad. In particular, their performance in the campaigns against the Lakota earned them a distinguished reputation in the Army. This service of the scouts established a tradition among the Pawnee, with men and women participating in every major American war after the Civil War.

From 1857 to 1875, conditions among the tribe deteriorated as result of such factors as fewer buffalo to hunt and disease. Finally in 1875, after a survey of the area by members of the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Agent, the Pawnee Agency in Oklahoma was established and the tribe moved to this land.  Leaving Nebraska was painful for many Pawnee, and the memories of displacement continue to this day. 

What is the story of radiation release from the Hanford plant and the effect on the Yakama?

Since the dawn of the atomic age, there has been a lot of concern about the effect of nuclear radiation.  The Hanford Nuclear Site, established in 1943,  in Washington State is one example of how the race to achieve nuclear dominance had negative consequences for those living in this country. The Hanford Plant, located on land traditionally used for subsistence and livelihood activities by tribes such as the Yakama, produced plutonium that was to be used in atomic and nuclear weapons. However, the rather careless methods of disposal have had an effect on the local communities. For one, early in its operation Iodine 131 released from the plant was carried by the wind into nearby communities. This has resulted in serious health problems, such as cancer, centered in the thyroid glands. Secondly, water from the Columbia River was used to cool the reactors and then was expelled without being completely filtered. This exposed plants, drinking water, and fish, an important source of food to the Yakama, to potential contamination. The recent attempt to begin a cleanup of the site has also brought light further health concerns. First, the proposed cleanup does not include the contaminated soil, meaning that even after the process is finished there is still the potential for the contamination of flora and fauna used by tribes in the area. Secondly, it has come to light that a number of storage vessels buried under the ground are leaking highly toxic material. Although it is moving slowly, this material has the potential to contaminate the Columbia River, affecting the health and well being of thousands of people in the region.

Are there other instances of nuclear contamination?

The Yakama were not the only tribe negatively affected by the nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War. Probably the most harshly affected tribe was the Navajo. In the early 1940s uranium was discovered on the lands of the Navajo Nation, leading to an extensive mining operation to exploit the resource. Between 1944 and 1986 various companies spearheaded the vast operation and employed many Navajo. These companies, however, failed to take into consideration the potential health effects on the local populace. The workers often went into the mines unaware of the radioactivity and hazards of working with uranium and were not provided with adequate protective materials, such as facemasks. The problems were further compounded when the mining operation ended because the mines were left abandoned without proper decontamination. This meant that radioactive dust was left free to reach populated areas and contaminate sources of drinking water with the result being serious health issues for those living near former mines. With the release of a documentary film, The Return of Navajo Boy and the efforts of Navajo activists, the U.S. Congress finally began a project in 2008 meant to clean up contaminated areas in the Navajo Nation and seal up abandoned mines.

Southern Nevada is also a victim of the Cold War. During the 1950s and 1960s, the area North of Las Vegas was a popular site for nuclear weapons tests. It was also part of the traditional lands of the Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone, both of which still had communities living in fairly close proximity to the test site. For a period of about 10 years, weapons were detonated in the atmosphere in this region spreading radioactive material over the immediate area. The consequences of the tests became almost immediately apparent, with cases of cancer and leukemia being reported by those living near the test site as early as the mid-1950s. The lawsuits of these “Downwinders”, along with the Navajo mine workers, eventually forced the United States government to pass the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990. The potential for further problems arose with a proposed government plan to store highly radioactive material in Yucca Mountain; however, this has been stifled by strong opposition.

What is so awful about the Boarding School experience and forced assimilation?

The boarding school system is a tragic part of the history of the relationship between Native Americans and the United States government. Efforts to assimilate (become more like European-Americans in behavior) Native Americans began in the 1830s, when the US government paid religious missions to establish schools on reservations.   It was not until the 1870s, however, that this process would be put into full force.  Day and boarding schools were set up on reservations to not only teach English, European farming methods and domestic crafts such as sewing so as to encourage them to adopt a “civilized” lifestyle. These types of schools, however, were quickly taken to be inefficient by the government due to the close proximity in which children still lived to their parents. There was constantly the “threat” of children reverting to traditional ways when not in school.

In stepped Captain Richard Pratt of the US army, whose quote “Kill the Indian and save the man” succinctly embodies the goal of Native American education from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century. Pratt believed that Indians could be “civilized”—made to adopt European-American beliefs, customs and way of life.  In 1879 Pratt opened the Carlisle Indian School, starting a trend in which off reservation boarding schools became the dominant means of education. When children arrived at these schools, often after being taken from their families at a fairly young age, their hair was cut and they were forced to wear American style uniforms. They were prohibited from speaking their own languages. Those who attended these schools have reported that severe punishments, including beatings and being locked in a closet, were handed out to anyone who expressed their native culture. The systematic attempt to erase essential aspects of cultural identity (language, religious beliefs, family ties), traumatized Native youth and caused psychological scarring and ruptured social and familial relationships.  Some of these effects continue to haunt people today.

Anthropologists and psychologists who study forced assimilation have documented its negative impact.  Contrary to the intent (to create “civilized” people or lay the foundation for success in the wider society), forced assimilation strips people of their self-esteem and capacity to cope with external crises.  In contract, think about “voluntary” assimilation: as what occurred when immigrants from Europe arrived in America in the early 20th century.  They were able to choose what aspects of American life they wanted to incorporate into their own cultural practices, and what they wanted to retain from their countries of origin.  As a result, America became a vibrant mix of cultural life-ways. 

In 2007, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which recognizes the rights of Native peoples everywhere to have autonomy to maintain their cultural practices, speak their own languages, and safeguard their homelands.  The Declaration is a testament to the struggles of Native people to hold on to their cultural identity.

What is the mystery behind the Ghost Dance dress?

When researching the objects used in the exhibit, one of the most important tasks we had was to verify their origin and use. This proved to be particularly difficult when it came to the Ghost Dance dress that is in the exhibit. The Ghost Dance was a popular movement on the Great Plains during the 1880s and 1890s. The Ghost Dance was what anthropologists have called a “revitalization movement”—it was a way for Indians to struggle against the massive displacement and forced assimilation they were experiencing.  Among the most ardent followers of this movement were the Arapaho and Pawnee tribes. The dress in our exhibit was collected by George A. Dorsey sometime between 1897 and 1903 on expedition that included both the Arapaho and Pawnee. When it was accessioned in 1903 the dress was listed as being Arapaho. However, in the 1930s an anthropologist at the museum named Ralph Linton relabeled the dress as Pawnee, a tribe he had some familiarity with. Unfortunately, Dorsey did not record who he bought the dress from and Linton did not record why he thought the dress was Pawnee. Secondary evidence was therefore used to solve the issue. The symbols on the dress (the turtle, for example) were of no use because they were common in the Ghost Dance and not tribe specific. However, the style of the dress gave us a clue. We found old photos of Arapaho women wearing buckskin dress with tasseled fringes, giving us a stylistic link between this dress and the tribe. Secondly, there are photos of confirmed Arapaho individuals wearing Ghost Dance clothing featuring designs very similar to our dress. Thirdly, in the accession file there is mention that the dress was collected in Darlington, Oklahoma, the then agency center of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation. Aside from a very clear link to the Arapaho, Darlington is over 100 miles from what was the Pawnee Reservation. It is highly unlikely, especially in the era before cars that a Pawnee dress would end up in the agency center of the Arapaho Reservation. With that evidence, albeit circumstantial, we Museum staff decided that the dress was more likely Arapaho. However, Bunky felt a strong association with the dress and identified it with the Pawnee.

Later, however, the issue of the dress’s use came to the forefront. The problem arose when an alternative theory presented by an outside scholar was brought to our attention. This theory argued that it was not used for the Ghost Dance, but instead in a separate ceremony, the Sun Dance. His first piece of evidence is that James Mooney, an expert on the Ghost Dance contemporary to that time, stated that the Arapaho did not have Ghost Shirts. However, Mooney was probably referring to a particular kind of shirt, made out of white cloth and obtained from the Mormons, that was popular during the early Ghost Dance. Furthermore, in the very next sentence Mooney mentions that Arapaho Ghost Dance clothing included painted buckskin dresses. The second piece of evidence are photos taken by Mooney during the Crow Dance, which the scholar claims was being performed as part of the Sun Dance. The problem is that there are three different contexts in which the Crow Dance seems to have been performed. Mooney states in his book that the dance originated among the Arapaho as a part of the Ghost Dance. Dorsey notes the dance being done as part of the Sun Dance in the early 20th century. Finally, Alfred Kroeber implies that it may have, at some point, become its own separate ceremony. What is clear, however, is that even if the photos depict what the scholar says, it does not mean that the dress wasn’t used in the Ghost Dance. The last pieces of evidence are photos taken by Dorsey of participants of the Sun Dance and an interpretation of the symbols from a Dorsey interview with a Sun Dance leader. The photos feature individuals wearing painted garments, which the scholar suggests is proof that painted clothing was at the very least not confined to the Ghost Dance. Although this was likely, there is the possibility of reuse. It was not uncommon among Native American tribes to reuse materials after their previous application was no longer needed. What good would throwing a perfectly good dress away do after the Ghost Dance ended?   

These kinds of puzzles and disputes among scholars about interpretation enrich our understanding of the collections.  Now, in addition to contemporary scholars and the anthropologists of the late 19th, early 20th centuries, we can include the voices of the Pawnee and the Arapaho and how they interpret their heritage.   Through this kind of debate and dialogue, the collections come to life.

How can corporations be more socially responsible?

Bunky states that he is happy to work with Nike to create designs for their N-7 line because they respect him and other Native artists, while other corporations have appropriated native designs without consultation.  Corporations are debating about the extent and nature of their social responsibility role while still making a profit and satisfying shareholders. The record is mixed--even for the same corporation! Nike, for example, should be lauded for its programs for Native health and well-being, but at the same time we need to remember the struggles of the 1990s, when we learned of the poor working conditions for employees of Nike subcontractors in the developing countries.  The issues are very complicated and there are many gray areas.  Anthropologists are starting to research the ways in which the global flows of commodities (goods and artifacts bought and sold in the market) are having an impact on wage, employment, and social life across the world.  Anthropologists do not stay in one village or one community as they used to, in conducting their research.  Now, we work across multiple sites, documenting how all our lives are intertwined and affected by wider global forces.

What is co-curation?

Recently, The Field Museum began piloting several projects that involve co-curation of our collections.  Although the form and specific protocols for co-curation can vary, the basic intent is to incorporate “first voice”—the direct voice of the people’s whose heritage is represented in the collections into the curation and care-taking of the artifacts.  The interpretation, knowledge, and wisdom that heritage-bearers bring to the collection provide unique, invaluable perspective of immeasurable value.  Paired with the curation by the anthropologists, museum staff and other scholars, this process is bringing new insights into the value and meaning of the objects.  Co-curation requires a deep level of collaboration and a serious commitment from all parties to honor each others’ perspectives. 

What is the FM doing today to build a contemporary collection?

There is no question that despite the sometimes problematic ways in which our collections were made in the early days of the Museum, they serve as an invaluable resource for the Native people whose heritage they represent, and for all of us as we learn about the ingenuity and creativity that underlies the making of these artifacts and the cultural context that gives them meaning.  But, if museum collections are to remain relevant and of value, we have to be able to strategically add to the collection and provide the opportunity for future generations to research and to appreciate our contribution to shaping both material culture and diverse life-ways.  For that reason, the anthropology department has been carefully growing the collections, adding contemporary material that builds on current strengths and expands to encompass new areas for research and cultural heritage appreciation.  In the North American collection, I have focused on continuing to build the collection of Native people’s art and everyday objects.  For that reason, I visited the Pawnee Nation in Oklahoma and purchased art and everyday objects, such as a beaded lighter, pow-wow regalia, and paintings and sculpture.  Bunky’s shoes and tee-shirt designed for Nike represent the potential to understand how Native artists are in dialogue with the commercial world and how art and commodity might be intersecting.  I am also making a collection of Pow-wow regalia made by Indian artisans right here in Chicago!  Chicago’s American Indian Center just celebrated, in September 2013, its 60th annual pow-wow!  The American Indian Center is the oldest urban center for Native Americans in the country and its pow-wow is regularly attended by thousands of people.  Understanding the meaning of a modern ritual and festival like the Pow-wow is critical to understanding how cultural diversity enriches urban life. 

What is the concept of resilience and how does it help us understand Indian “thriving” today?

Most of my career as an anthropologist has involved working on understanding what happens to societies affected by displacement, loss of resources, and other social traumas.  Although I documented the negative impact of these processes, I was also struck by the creative ingenuity of people to re-organize, find ways to cope, and draw on deep wells of knowledge to sustain life and livelihood.   This capacity to bounce back from adversity (such as natural disasters, forced uprooting from your homelands, war and violence) is what we call resilience.  Anthropologists, psychologists and even ecologists are more and more interested in understanding the sources of resilience—in societies or cultures, in individuals, and in eco-systems.  If we can identify what makes people or nature resilient, we can cultivate those qualities and design systems to mitigate the impact of social and natural crises (for example the increasing pace of severe weather events caused by climate change).  Indian people—both in North America and South America, where I have done research, have, as Bunky states, not only survived, but thrived.  They have done so by continuing to transmit knowledge about their belief systems, their forms of livelihood (e.g. how to cultivate crops, how to hunt or fish), the local ecology, and art-making from generation to generation.   When Bunky walked through the collections, he told us so much about the objects, their use and their meaning.  His understandings of the objects came from the stories told to him by his parents, grandparents and other elders.   He sees himself as both a contemporary artist, who has his own unique style, but also as a story-teller and painter following in the footsteps of past Pawnee artists.  Anthropologists, such as me, try to understand the process by which cultural practices endure and continue while others change and how the relationship between continuity and change builds the capacity for resilience.    Anthropologists argue, based on the overwhelming evidence from their research, that when cultural diversity flourishes, when we learn from each other, our species can solve problems and continue to innovate.