I visited a reception for indigenous artist Alyssa Hinton (Tuscarora-Osage) yesterday, at the C X Silver Gallery in West Brattleboro, VT. We had a cheerful conversation about her artistic journey of discovery, first through intuition and then traditional knowledge – her focus being on her southeastern roots, but finding commonality with other native, earth-based cultures. One thing was clear through our exchange: the truth that traditional understandings are not destroyed, missing, or lost. All of this knowledge, these relationships, “ways of seeing,” are still here and still accessible to those who seek them. A Chadwick Allen quote from the exhibit program (using indigenous earthworks as its particular reference point) makes the point well:
“…like other Indigenous writing systems, they assert, earthworks and their encoded knowledge have been ‘asleep’ rather than ‘dead.’ Dormant but alive, they have waited to be awakened by descendants of their makers finally free to re-approach and even to remake them, finally freed of the psychological fetters of an internalized colonialism that has undervalued Indigenous technologies and ways of knowing. Earthworks have been waiting, they assert, for old scripts to be reactivated, for new scripts to be written and performed. A time of waiting appears near an end, near the beginning of a new cycle. That time of new beginning is now.” Chadwick Allen, University of Washington
The significance of this reality here in N’dakinna becomes more clear, and more affirming, each day.
In May 2012, then Vermont governor Peter Shumlin signed into law the state recognition of four of Vermont’s Abenaki tribes: the Elnu, Nulhegan, Koasek and Missisquoi. The victory had more than symbolic significance: Formal recognition meant that many of Vermont’s contemporary indigenous artists could begin legally to label their work as “American Indian.” According to Elnu Abenaki member Vera Longtoe Sheehan, access to this designation has opened many new doors — including, at least indirectly, doors to galleries.
Such fraught politics of visibility and authenticity are very much at the heart of “Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage,” now on view at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery in Burlington. The show offers a chronological survey of Abenaki fashion and adornment, from the pre-Champlain era to the present day, accompanied by both modern and historical photographs.
There’s a twist, though: Almost all of the objects on view are contemporary, regardless of the era they were created to represent. While reproductions are often considered to be lesser facsimiles, in this case, the absence of “traditional” artifacts speaks to the 20-plus artists’ ongoing commitment to making their history and heritage come alive.
Read the full article by Rachel Elizabeth Jones in Seven Days.
The Art Encompassed blog takes a look at the cultural and material treasures carefully maintained and displayed at this singular regional institution, with special emphasis on Abenaki basketmaking. The panoply of exhibits honor not only the heritage of the past but the creation of the future by contemporary Native American artists.