When the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians held its 10th annual Indian Market last June, the event coincided with another milestone. This one had broader cultural implications for Indiana: the opening of Mihtohseenionki: The People"s Place.
Work exhibited in the Eiteljorg"s new gallery, "Mihtohseenionki": The People"s Place, is both art and history.
This permanent, interactive gallery space documents Indiana"s and the surrounding area"s Native American art and culture through the display of cultural objects, works of art, interactive DVD displays and informational placards. Native Americans in Indiana, like those all over the continent, have a sad story to tell. Mihtohseenionki: The People"s Place is part of a larger effort to remember and preserve the cultures of all Native Americans and focuses on our area"s indigenous people. Ray Gonyea (Onondaga), curator of Native American art and culture at the museum, says that Indiana was given its name by the Native Americans who lived here. "The first settlers, Native Americans, called it by many names, including myaamionki and mihtohseenionki, which means roughly the same thing: Land of the Indians. This was their place long before it was Indiana." Indiana"s Indians do not conform to stereotypes, and the gallery is a striking reminder of this. Scott Shoemaker, who has sandy brown hair and pale-colored eyes, crafts moccasins and other traditional pieces, adorning them with traditional Miami ribbonwork. Viewers can see him at work by clicking a mouse and viewing a large screen. Click again, and watch John Pigeon (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi) weave a basket from black ash trees; after he cuts down the tree, he plants another in its place. The Indians of this region were known for their intricate, patterned work with fabric and ribbonwork, and floral motifs are frequently employed. The garments are distinguished from Native cultures farther west through use of different symbols. The tulip tree, for example, which is a native species to this area, informs the pattern in some traditional dress. The Miami Nation of Indiana, of which Shoemaker is a member, occupied portions of what are now Indiana and Ohio, when buffalo and trees blanketed the landscape. Wetlands and prairie grasses were also prevalent in the Midwest, as were bears, wolves and mountain lions. By the early 1700s, the tribe had established its principal settlement at the site of present-day Fort Wayne, where Miami women cultivated corn, beans, rice and squash, while men hunted buffalo, elk, deer and bear. When white settlers began to move onto Miami lands, there was a period of adaptation: Trade with the settlers provided fabrics and brightly-colored ribbon. But as happened all over the continent, the indigenous people were displaced; and as they left their native lands, many of their traditions were lost as well. Shoemaker, and other members of his tribe, have recaptured some of these traditions. This is part of the story told in Mihtohseenionki: The People"s Place. Equal parts art and history, the space is an important piece of our heritage. For more information, visit the Eiteljorg in White River State Park, 500 W. Washington St., http://www.eiteljorg.org or call 636-9378.