WASHINGTON – In recognition of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the National Museum of the American Indian has created an exhibition honoring six chiefs who took part in the second inaugural procession of President Theodore Roosevelt.
The exhibition, titled “A Century Ago…They Came as Sovereign Leaders,” officially opened to the public Jan. 14 and is expected to run through Feb. 17 in the institution’s Sealaska Gallery.
The display focuses on Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade and the six chiefs who participated in the procession wearing traditional regalia and riding borrowed horses.
The chiefs included Buckskin Charlie, of Ute descent; American Horse, Oglala Sioux; Quanah Parker, Comanche; Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache; Hollow Horn Bear, Brule Sioux; and Little Plume, Piegan Blackfeet.
According to museum organizers, the forces compelling the Indian leaders to attend went far beyond the intent of Roosevelt’s inaugural committee, whose members largely wanted the Natives to add color to the president’s inaugural festivities.
“They each came with a serious thought in mind,” José Barreiro, assistant director for research at the museum, explained in a museum newsletter.
“Going behind the faces in the pictures, we know they came to talk about issues of allotment, mineral rights, tribal government, education and other concerns of their people.”
Geronimo, for instance, wanted 300 imprisoned Chiricahua Apaches set free, while Quanah Parker sought $500,000 that the government had promised the Comanche.
Hollow Horn Bear was concerned about the poor quality of the Yankton Sioux reservation, and American Horse was an advocate for Native self-government.
Little Plume discussed the poverty brought upon the Blackfeet due to allotment policies, while Buckskin Charlie had concerns about what would happen when white settlers moved into former Ute lands.
Despite their varied concerns, Native leaders were given little opportunity to raise their issues with the administration during the inauguration – a development that is perhaps not surprising given Roosevelt’s stance on Indian issues.
“While friendly with individual Indians,” Barreiro said in the newsletter, “President Roosevelt was adamantly against the survival of Native people as tribal entities.”
The museum’s exhibition fully details that the Native leaders had much more in mind than adding color to the inaugural ceremony – that they, above all, wanted to represent the needs of their people.
NMAI’s ongoing photo display was just one part of the museum’s larger inauguration-focused offerings, which included an event called “Out of Many: A Multicultural Festival of Music, Dance and Story” from Jan. 17 through Jan. 19.
The festival, aimed at commemorating Obama’s inauguration, will feature daily performances of live music, dancing and storytelling in the museum from a variety of cultural traditions.
Forty groups in all were invited to appear, including? Gayle Ross, a Cherokee storyteller; ?Halau O ‘Aulani, a Native Hawaiian musician and dancer; the Plateros, a Navajo blues and rock band; and the Yaaw Tei Yi Dancers, a Tlingit group from Juneau, Alaska.
“It has often been said that America’s greatest strength lies in its diversity,” Kevin Gover, the Pawnee/Comanche director of the museum, said in a statement regarding the event. “The National Museum of the American Indian echoes this belief.
“We and our partners from across the Smithsonian Institution welcome visitors from throughout the country and around the world who are here to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.”
“You would be hard-pressed to find such quality and diversity anywhere else,” G. Wayne Clough, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, added in a statement.
Gover said tribal leaders were invited to gather on the museum’s upper floors for a bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol steps, located 400 yards away from where the 44th President of the United States will be sworn in.
In order to carry out the event, the NMAI coordinated with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian Latino Center, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, with assistance from the National Council for the Traditional Arts.
In terms of financing the special offerings, Obama’s inaugural committee donated $700,000 to the Smithsonian Institution, which oversees NMAI, to fund security, maintenance and special programs on Inauguration Day.
The NMAI also received $60,000 from the Seminole Tribe of Florida to help pay for the inauguration festival.
For more information, visit www.nmai.si.edu/outofmany.