The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

August 5, 2013

Frankie Meyer: Museums help connect Native Americans to ancestry

JOPLIN, Mo. —

While in Washington D. C. this week, I had a chance to visit the National Museum of the American Indian.

The building has an adobe-colored exterior with a smooth, curved architecture that reminds one of wind-swept hills. The landscape includes large stones, native trees, grasses and wildflowers, along with a flowing spring. Some crop plants are squash, beans, corn and tobacco.

Many artifacts are in wall displays, while other artifacts are in drawers that pull out from the wall. Upon entering the first floor of exhibits, I noticed a display of a wampum belt that was once owned by Silas Armstrong of the Wyandot Tribe. My 6-year-old granddaughters were intrigued by the intricate beadwork of the dolls, cradleboards, shoes and clothing.

Native dancers perform in the Rasmuson Theater. Upstairs, the circular Lelawi Theater has a film presentation that is projected onto woven rugs that hang from the ceiling. A large rock beneath the rugs is a backdrop for running water and other features.

During the show, the ceiling transforms into a changing panorama of majestic scenery, along with seasonal changes. The museum has a restaurant that features Native American foods.

To help family members connect with their Native American ancestry, take them to similar museums. Oklahoma has several. Two of my favorites are Woolaroc and Gilcrease. Check with your tribal leaders to learn about those that feature artifacts related to your ancestry.

Another way to connect with your Native American ancestry is to visit galleries that feature Indian art. If you have artistic talent, attend workshops presented by Indian artists. Two internationally known artists from the Four-State Area are Richard Zane Smith, who has Wyandot heritage, and Margaret Roach Wheeler, who has Chickasaw-Choctaw heritage.

I was fortunate to teach with Margaret for 10 years at Joplin High School. She has since become a textile artist and fashion designer. She uses her unique style of weaving natural fibers to create woven garments known as Mahota Handwovens. Her garments are sold at major Indian markets throughout North America.

For more info, check her website at margaretroachwheeler.com. The site posts her bio and a schedule of her workshops and exhibitions, as well as photos of her work.

Richard Zane Smith lives in northeast Oklahoma and gives workshops for tribal members at his studio. Images of his work can be seen at www.blueraingallery.com. His extraordinary pottery, made with natural clay and pigments, has the appearance of finely woven baskets. His pottery is sold at Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe.        

Does your tribe have gifted authors or storytellers? Have your family read the stories and attend the presentations. A few years ago, a friend Rose Stauber suggested that Jim and I attend a presentation by Choctaw author and storyteller Tim Tingle. Although we're not Choctaw, we were awed by his talent, and we still laugh and reminisce about his powerful program.

Suggestions or queries? Contact: Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168 or e-mail frankiemeyer@yahoo.com

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