New Exhibit “Americans” Focuses On American Indians, African Americans & Slavery

Finding Common Ground focuses on the complex, sometimes fraught, history of African Americans and Native Americans, and how these intertwined stories have become an essential part of our American identity. In this segment, Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, speaks on the commonalities of and differences between Native American and African American social and political struggles.

Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche) is an author, essayist, and associate curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. His work focuses on the contemporary landscape of American Indian politics and culture. His exhibitions include James Luna’s Emendatio at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian and Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort at the National Museum of the American Indian. He is also lead curator of NMAI’s new exhibition, Americans.

Ryan P. Smith writing for SMITHSONIAN.COM about the new exhibit “Americans”,

When you think of the Trail of Tears, you likely imagine a long procession of suffering Cherokee Indians forced westward by a villainous Andrew Jackson. Perhaps you envision unscrupulous white slaveholders, whose interest in growing a plantation economy underlay the decision to expel the Cherokee, flooding in to take their place east of the Mississippi River.

What you probably don’t picture are Cherokee slaveholders, foremost among them Cherokee chief John Ross. What you probably don’t picture are the numerous African-American slaves, Cherokee-owned, who made the brutal march themselves, or else were shipped en masse to what is now Oklahoma aboard cramped boats by their wealthy Indian masters. And what you may not know is that the federal policy of Indian removal, which ranged far beyond the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee, was not simply the vindictive scheme of Andrew Jackson, but rather a popularly endorsed, congressionally sanctioned campaign spanning the administrations of nine separate presidents. Read more

Smith is also the author (with Robert Warrior) of Like a Hurricane: the Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee and Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong. In 2005, Art Papers named Smith one of the 25 most respected contemporary art curators working today. In 2017, he was selected to deliver the Eleventh Distinguished Critic Lecture by the Association of International Art Critics—USA.

Finding Common Ground is a collaboration between the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was webcast and recorded in the Rasumson Theater of the National Museum of the American Indian on February 15, 2018.

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