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Friday, December 21, 2012

Dolly at Standing Rock

Characteristic of archival collections, in October the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center acquired a family photograph album. The gift of NMAI members Don Kritsch and Barbara Baker, the album was compiled by Mr. Kritsch’s great aunt Lizzie (1882-1977), formerly of Indianapolis, and contains photographs made from about 1918 to 1929 by her and various members of her immediate and extended family. The content of NMAI’s new album is in many ways typical of the genre—it includes depictions of men and women hard at work, enjoying their leisure, or fashionably appointed in a matching coat and hat and posed in the front gardens of their homes, and of their robust and (presumably) rosy cheeked children. In short, the photographs document a burgeoning German-American family. Why would NMAI accept an album of a German-American family into its collections? Simply stated, the Canisius family photograph album is as exceptional as it is typical.

Dolly's Students at Standing Rock Agency, Fort Yates, North Dakota. NMAI.AC.026.
A good number of the photographs naturally document the young adulthood of Aunt Lizzie and her husband Gus’s only child, Kathryn “Dolly” Canisius (1906-1943). Around 1926, Dolly apparently left her comfortable urban home to serve as an itinerant teacher-in-training in, what must have been for her, remote and distant places. Most significantly for NMAI, Standing Rock Agency in Fort Yates, North Dakota, was one of her posts. Dolly made photographs of her female and male Native students, both posed in groups and on picnics, non-student Natives congregated in town, street scenes, landscape views presumably made just outside of Fort Yates, Agency buildings, and the campus of the newly established Saint Bernard Mission School. On the versos of more than one hundred of the photographs she made, she conscientiously jotted down the names of her pupils or noted a place or building name. These she mailed home to Indianapolis, where her mother dutifully pasted them down onto eleven leaves of the family album. With this, Aunt Lizzie unconsciously but powerfully interleaved into her family’s history what was and remains for many Native Americans the trauma of U.S. Indian education policy.

The NMAI Archive Center and Don Kritsch look forward to scanning and sharing Dolly’s photographs with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Heather A. Shannon
Photo Archivist
NMAI Archive Center

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