A hundred years after it was initially founded, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is thriving. And so are the people, and the resiliency, that that represents.
On May 11 the NMAI will honor six people who embody that spirit based on their “significant impact on Indian country that parallels the museum’s mission to support the continuance of culture, traditional values and transitions in contemporary Native life,” the NMAI said in a statement. The event, “100 Years: Legacies of Learning Gala,” doubles as a “centennial celebration of the museum’s vast collection,” NMAI said, marking as it does 100 years since its first incarnation, when George Gustav Heye first created the museum in 1916.
“This ceremony recognizes the efforts of six exemplary individuals who have brought lasting cultural contributions to Indian country,” said museum director Kevin Gover, Pawnee, in the NMAI statement. “Each honoree reflects the highest values of the National Museum of the American Indian and complements our efforts to underscore the inextricable nature of indigenous cultures from the legacy of the Americas.”
Award-winning author Louise Erdrich, whose novel LaRose (Harper Collins, 2016) hits shelves the day before the gala, will receive the Arts Award. Nusrat Durrani, creator of MTV World’s Rebel Music: Native America, will get the Education and Media Award, shared with his team, co-executive producers David Sable and Shepard Fairey, “for highlighting the efforts of Native youth using music to shed light on issues such as the environment and social justice,” the NMAI said.
Honored with the Innovative Partnership in Repatriation Award will be Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, vice president and director of the Annenberg Foundation, “for his instrumental role in the purchase of 24 sacred American Indian objects from a Parisian auction house with the express purpose of repatriating them to the Hopi and Apache Nations,” the NMAI said. The feat was recounted in The New York Times when it came to light in 2013.
In addition, Native rights leader LaDonna Harris, Comanche, will be given the Public Service Award for advocacy work that spans more than a half century and ranges from serving on advisory boards to Capitol Hill, to helping the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin get federally recognition. She also founded Americans for Indian Opportunity and was instrumental in getting Blue Lake returned to the Taos Pueblo, the NMAI noted.
Who better to introduce this distinguished lineup than Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, ICTMN’s culture editor, who was a lead writer for Rebel Music: Native America’s online content and a story producer for the Native Lives Matter shoot. He will act as master of ceremonies, which will include words from Gover and Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton in a star-studded event at the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. Renowned Yaqui guitarist Gabriel Ayala will perform.
Foremost on Moya-Smith’s mind is the fact that even after centuries of oppression, Indigenous Peoples are still standing strong. This is what he plans to highlight: “the fact that Native Americans are gathering in a big city when it was once illegal in many cities throughout the country to gather in groups of more than five."
Many antiquated laws have been overturned in state legislatures, he said, noting that it wasn’t until 2005 that Boston finally repealed its law forbidding Native gatherings of more than five people. Although such laws aren’t enforced, they’re still on the books.
“This is a rebellion against the early framers of American laws,” he said. “It is important for the sake of decency to repeal these laws, especially if we’re going to hold laws to such high esteem and follow them by the book, and especially as racist as some of them are. After all the campaigns to annihilate us, the fact that we’re still here is profound.”
Thus any such event is a sign of transcendence, he emphasized.
“Not only have we survived, but we’ve also thrived,” Moya-Smith said. “We are doctors, we are lawyers, we are actors, we are curators, writers. We are conscientious objectors. And because of our will to see our children grow up, we are still here.”
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