Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Century Ago They Came as Sovereign Leaders

Where: National Museum of the American Indian

When: through February 25, 2013

There's something terribly sad about this exhibit.  It's concerned with  the participation of six Native American chiefs in Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 inaugural parade.   The chiefs came with the intention of bringing the hopes and grievances of their people to the attention of the United States government, in order to negotiate government to government, but those planning the parade asked them to participate only in order to add a "picturesque touch of color" to the proceedings.  A Washington Post reporter described them as "like Remington's pictures, only endowed with life and motion."  The concerns and problems of Native Americans were of little interest to Washington's elite.

Theodore Roosevelt had a complicated relationship with Native Americans.  Although there were many individual Native people with whom he was friendly, he felt that the persistence in a tribal identity was futile.  Tribes should become integrated with mainstream American society.  Of course, not everyone is interested in giving up their entire way of life to fit in better with those they blame (with good reason) for making that way of life untenable.

Each of the six chiefs had a particular reason for traveling to Washington, and this exhibit highlights each one.  Geronimo (the only one of the chiefs I'd heard of before) came to advocate for the release of his people, the Chiricahua Apache from captivity following numerous battles with the U.S. Army.  His people were finally released from Fort Sill, in Oklahoma, in 1912, three years after Geronimo's death.

Verdict: This small show is very interesting, and sheds light on a part of American history that I, for one, knew little about.

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