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Sunday, November 14, 2010

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

Hopi Girls Husking Corn, 1899 (N03777)
Throughout the month of November, the National Museum of the American Indian will be hosting a variety of free public programs, including lectures, theatrical performances, art demonstrations, films, and more in celebration of American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The museum kicked of the celebration the first of week of November with a weekend-long festival exploring how Native communities throughout the Americas celebrate the harvest.  In honor of the harvest, the NMAI Archive Center is highlighting photographs and photo collections in our repository celebrating indigenous ancestry, cultural heritage, and time-honored traditions. American Indian and Alaska Natives take great pride and honor in the harvest and the bounty that the earth provides to tribal communities. The harvest also brings those communities closer together in celebration and in daily life. For example, Sumner W. Matteson, Jr. captured this image (right) of three Hopi girls husking corn in 1899. Since women took on this role in many tribal cultures, it also provided them with camaraderie and reprieve from everyday life. Between 1898 and 1909, Matteson, an agent of the Overman Wheel Company, a manufacturer of bicycles and seller of Kodak cameras and supplies, carried his camera with him as he traveled throughout the West and Mexico documenting the people and places he saw.  

Group of women shelling corn, 1936 (N24111)
A similar image was also captured by Edward Davis in 1936.  The image to the left shows women shelling corn together from the Seri tribe in Sonora, Mexico. In 1916, Davis  became an official field collector for the Museum of the American Indian in New York. Sporadically, from 1917 to 1930, Heye contracted Davis to conduct field trips to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Mexico, and Tiburon Island, visiting over two dozen different Indian peoples in the course of his travels. Wherever he went, Davis continued to photograph the Native peoples he encountered, particularly their daily life and cultural traditions. 

Woman (Maria Luisa Curo [or Cura]) winnowing corn, 1907 (N24265)

Davis also captured the image of the women to the left, Maria Luisa Curo, winnowing corn on the Mesa Grande reservation in San Diego, California. These images depict the the significant role women undertook in the harvest and traditional preparation of food for the tribal community. As the museum celebrates American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, we also honor the harvest and our deep respect for the bounty that the earth has provided and continues to provide for native people across the Western Hemisphere.

Click here to see additional images from the Edward Davis photograph collection.

Jennifer R. O'Neal, Head Archivist, National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center,

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