Self-Representation of Native Americans - Essay Example

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On the North American continent, relations between indigenous populations and European settlers have been rocky and tumultuous at the best of times. Much of that tumult is invariably due to the logic of domination and oppression imposed by European colonization played out through strategies of annihilation and then secondarily forced relocation…
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Self-Representation of Native Americans
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Download file to see previous pages Current conceptions and representations of Native American culture sometimes suppose they are lazy, casino owning alcoholics who ignorantly refuse to assimilate into modern society. One artist of the 19th century attempted to re-categorize the representations of Native Americans, George Caitlin. In his works, one sees an obvious and intentional desire to portray Native Americans as noble and civilized, some works going as far as to suggest that it is European civilization that is the problem as it is a corrupting and destructive influence on the indigenous populations of the Americas.
Self-representation of oppressed and minority populations has proven an effective way to create a voice in the public discourse and to question the validity of particular suppositions which underlie the dominant paradigms of understanding. Unfortunately, there has been limited access to Native American self-representations in the public space until very recently. An exhibition of a rare sketchbook, A Kiowa's Odyssey, is traveling around the country showing the drawings of an autodidact, Etahdleuh Doanmoe, whose sketches depict the capture and relocation of 72 Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne and members of other tribes from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to St. Augustine, Florida. Though these Doanmoe sketches lack the formal compositional techniques of Caitlin's oeuvre the contrast between representation and self-representation of Native American populations is well manifested in the juxtaposition of these two bodies of work. This paper will focus on the context and intention as embodied by and through the sketches and paintings.
The drawings that appear in the Sketchbook of Doanmoe were originally collected by Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, a strong advocate of Indian assimilation and the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.1 Pratt believed that the Indians needed to reject their primitive ways and become educated in Western language, manners, and religion. To this end after capturing Doanmoe and some 70 other Native Americans he marched them 1,000 miles from Fort Sill in Oklahoma to Fort Marion where they received "training" for three years. The sketchbook catalogued the events that took place there, and their titles once assembled were type-written on the top by Pratt himself.2 One feature of the sketches that is immediately noticeable is the unusual perspective that Doanmoe utilizes, namely a rather panoramic perspective as illustrated in his Prisoners Entering Fort Sill.3 This perspective intimates a fundamental disconnect with the subject matter.
This fundament disconnection lies in stark contrast to many of the paintings of George Caitlin. Caitlin painted over 35 portraits of tribal chiefs and most of them such as Shonkakihega, Horse Chief, Grand Pawnee Head Chief 4have a very close and intensely intimate impression, with the subject dominating a rather contrived background that only serves to highlight and foreground the features of the subject as the colors in the background seem only chosen to compliment the various colors used for the subject. Caitlin was determined to attach a sense of nobility and austerity to the indigenous subjects of his works. This distinction in perspective reveals something about the relative positions of the two artists ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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