August 5, 2010
Each year, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation come together to host the Young Native Writers Essay Contest, a writing competition for Native Americans of high school age. It is designed to encourage young Native Americans to think about the crucial issues impacting their tribal communities today. I spoke with one of the winners, Julian Brave Noisecat (Shuswap) from Oakland, California (second from left in the photograph.) His tribe, the Tsq’escen Band of Shuswap, are based in Canim Lake, British Columbia. His winning essay is available to read here. (PDF)
What was your reaction when you heard you were a winner of the Young Native Writers Essay Contest?
I was ecstatic. I mean it was obviously something I didn’t expect to happen. I worked really hard on my essay. When they called me I was actually at school. It was really exciting for me.
What inspired you to write about your tribe’s dependency on the timber industry?
I considered a number of different topics, including the loss of language and alcoholism, but I studied economics this year and half of last year so I thought that economics was something that most people would not have a grasp on or be able to write about. And I thought it was probably the heart of the issue on the reservation that all the other issues are stemming from.
In your essay, you describe a youth that is more concerned with popular culture than the culture of your tribe. How do you personally avoid that trap?
I honestly can’t say that I do avoid that trap very well. I try to participate in as many traditional things as possible, for example I do powwow dancing which is not really from our people, it’s more of a pan-Indian tradition. But I can’t really say that I do avoid the (popular) culture, it’s the reality for all cultures that all people are influenced by popular media.
What do you cherish the most about your tribe’s culture?
Our family values are very, very, very high. I’m totally treated like part of the family whenever we go back and visit. I’d say that’s one of the biggest things. I don’t think you really can say that you value a particular aspect of the culture most, though.
In your essay, you said that you want to go to college to study economics. Do you know which colleges you want to apply for?
I was going to look at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth and Brown.
What kind of project would you like to pursue with an economics degree, to help wean your tribe off of their dependency on timber?
My tribe is in Canada, first of all. But I actually had an internship with the Native American Contractors Association, and they work through the AA Program, which is federal contracting that’s preferential to Native tribes. Through that, I realized that there are very few tribes, out of the many tribes that are in the country, that are actually pursuing the business route towards economic independence and economic diversity. And I think that that’s really unfortunate because through the AA Program, even in the United States, there are a lot of opportunities for tribes. In Canada, I’m not as familiar with what opportunities they have. I don’t believe they have a similar program for first nations tribes. I honestly think that going beyond just natural resources, and timber obviously, and all these other different, almost, economic traps and economically diversifying and getting jobs and pursuing fields where a degree beyond a trades degree is really, really important. And I think that that opportunity that is given in the United States is actually very, very good for Native people.
July 27, 2010
All good things must come to an end and this week, we must bid adieu to several exhibits closing in early August. Be sure to see them before they close and are gone forever!
Black Box: Chris Chong Chan Fui — Closing August 1, 2010
The Hirshhorn’s Black Box theater showcases exhibitions of contemporary artists who use film or video as their creative medium. Chris Chong Chan Fui’s short film Block B captures dramas that unfold night and day on the various floors of a huge apartment complex, that houses Indian expatriates working on temporary contracts. The artist contrasts the static cinematography with vivid unpredictable narrative. Block B suggests issues related to surveillance and voyeurism, but also evokes the dramatic elements that are part of the fabric of daily life.
A Rare Encounter: Hope Diamond and Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond — Closing August 1, 2010
In this exhibit at the Natural History Musem, the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond and the Hope Diamond are displayed together for the first time. The Wittelsbach-Graff’s deep blue color, flawless clarity, and royal history make it one of the most celebrated gemstones known. Its story goes back over 340 years, and the diamond has not appeared in public for more than 50 years. Both diamonds come from India and share the same rare blue color. Could they have come from the same mine? Smithsonian scientists compare the properties of both gems and explore this intriguing possibility. While the exhibit closes August 1, the Hope Diamond will continue to be on view on the second floor of the museum.
HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor: Part 1 — Closing August 1, 2010
The featured artists selected for this exhibition at the American Indian Museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York draw upon this rich subject in multifaceted ways, using both the material and concept of skin as a metaphor for widespread issues surrounding race, representation, as well as personal, historical and environmental trauma and perseverance. Part I includes solo installations by Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Inupiaq/Athabascan) and works by Nadia Myre (Anishinaabe).
Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort – Closing August 8, 2010
Brian Jungen is widely regarded as the foremost Native artist of his generation; his art transforms the familiar and banal into exquisite objects that reference themes of globalization, pop culture, museums, and the commodification of Indian imagery. He first came to prominence with Prototypes for New Understandings (1998-2005), which fashioned Nike footwear into masks that suggested Northwest Coast iconography. His work has also included a pod of whales made from plastic chairs, totem poles made from golf bags, and a massive basketball court made from 224 sewing tables. This exhibit at the American Indian Museum in D.C. features some of these iconic works as well as some pieces which have, until now, never been shown in the United States.
Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America – Closing August 8, 2010
This exhibition at the Heye Center features rare and archival photographs and film of Native skaters, as well as skatedecks from Native companies and contemporary artists, to celebrate the vibrancy, creativity, and controversy of American Indian skate culture. Skateboarding is one of the most popular sports on Indian reservations and has inspired American Indian and Native Hawaiian communities to host skateboard competitions and build skate parks to encourage their youth. Native entrepreneurs own skateboard companies and sponsor community-based skate teams. Native artists and filmmakers, inspired by their skating experiences, credit the sport with teaching them a successful work ethic.
Graphic Masters III: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum — Closing August 8, 2010
On view are watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1960s to the 1990s, to celebrate the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists’ works on paper. The works on view reveal the central importance of this medium for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Artists represented include such masters as Robert Arneson, Jennifer Bartlett, Philip Guston, Luis Jimenez, and Wayne Thiebaud.
July 22, 2010
This week, the National Zoo once again welcomed several new habitants. Four Japanese giant salamanders have arrived as a gift from the City of Hiroshima Asa Zoological Park, and join the lone Japanese giant salamander who already lives on the Asia Trail.
Japanese giant salamanders, or oosanshouo (pronounced OOH-sahn-show-uuh-ooh), can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh up to 55 pounds. The natural home of the reptiles is the cold mountain streams and rivers of northern Kyushu and western Honshu in Japan. Their brown and black skin helps them to blend in with the mud, stones and plants of the streambeds, and their broad, flattened bodies are streamlined for swimming at the bottom of the fast-flowing water.
Although the Japanese giant salamander has no natural predators, they are hunted by local populations for food and much of their habitat is lost to deforestation. As such, the species is listed as ‘near threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and are protected from international trade by the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species.
The Japanese giant salamander has emerged as the flagship species for salamander conservation as scientists and conservationists struggle to combat a global amphibian crisis. According to the Zoo, “nearly one-third of the world’s more than 6,000 amphibian species are in danger of extinction, resulting in the worst extinction event since the time of the dinosaurs.” The arrival of the reptiles has prompted the opening of a breeding center, where the new additions will live.
Scientists at the Zoo will not only study how they reproduce, they will also learn about the chytridiomycosis (“chrytrid”) fungus that is lethal to some amphibian species, but not to the Japanese giant salamander. Studying the fungus will mean that these salamanders may contribute to the survival of their own species and other amphibians around the globe.
This morning, an opening ceremony at the National Zoo introduced the breeding facility to the media and Ichiro Fujisaki, the Japanese ambassador to the United States. Members of the public had the opportunity to see the young Japanese giant salamanders up close, while the were fed by staff at the Zoo, which, according to Ed Bronikowski, senior curator at the Zoo, is a remarkable spectacle.
This species has not been bred outside of Japan in more than 100 years, but the Zoo is now establishing a long-term breeding program in the United States. In the wild, salamanders begin to reproduce in late August, when females lay between 400 and 500 eggs. Males often compete viciously to fertilize the eggs, with many dying due to injuries from fights. Once the eggs are fertilized, they are guarded aggressively by the male salamanders, until they hatch in early spring. And as for the four new 11-year old salamanders at the Zoo. “They are only just coming into sexual maturity. It may be too early for them this year,” explains Ed Bronikowski. But as for next year? “We’ll see,” he says.
July 16, 2010
Ninety-nine years ago today, Virginia Katherine McMath was born in Independence, Missouri. At age 9, her mother married John Logan Rogers, after splitting with her husband shortly after Virginia’s birth. Although she was never formally adopted, Virginia took her step-father’s last name. Her cousin Helen had difficulties pronouncing Virginia’s first name, shortening it to Ginga. The result? Ginger Rogers.
Rogers’ mother’s interest in Hollywood and the theater led to an early exposure to show business. Ginger would often stand in the wings of the Majestic Theater in Forth Worth, Texas, singing and dancing along to the performers on the stage. Her entertainment career was born by chance one night, when Eddie Foy’s traveling vaudeville group came to the theater, needing a stand-in to complete their act. After a taste of the limelight, Rogers entered and won a Charleston dance contest, putting her on tour for six months.
Rogers moved to New York City when she was 17 years old, earning several singing jobs on the radio and landing her Broadway theater debut in the musical Top Speed in 1929. Two weeks after the opening of Top Speed, she was chosen to star in Girl Crazy, a new musical by George and Ira Gershwin. At the tender age of 19, her appearance in this show made her an overnight star.
Following her stint in Girl Crazy, Rogers moved to Hollywood, where she made a series of films with several motion picture companies such as Universal, Paramount and RKO Pictures, the last of which paired her with Fred Astaire for the first time. Astaire and Rogers went on to make nine musical films together at RKO, including Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935) and Follow the Fleet (1936).
In early 1942, Rogers commissioned the Japanese-American artist, Isamu Noguchi, to create a sculpture of her. Shortly after Noguchi made the initial sketches, he was forced to relocate by the United States government. But Noguchi took his work with him, even having the pink marble he used to create the piece sent from Georgia to his internment camp in Poston, Arizona. Ginger kept the sculpture in her home until her death in 1995, when it was bought by the National Portrait Gallery, where it is still on view today. Amy Henderson, a cultural historian at the gallery says that it is wonderful to have the sculpture on display: ‘We’re very proud to have it, because it was such a favorite of this iconic figure,’ she explains.
During Roger’s long career, she made a total of 73 films and in 1941, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Kitty Foyle. But it is for her partnership with Fred Astaire and the glamor they brought to Depression-era America that she is best known. To celebrate her life, head to the Portrait Gallery to see the Noguchi bust and watch the clip below of Astaire and Rogers at their best.
July 13, 2010
Twenty-five years ago today, on July 13, 1985, more than 170,000 music fans descended on Wembley Stadium in the UK, and the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, PA., to experience Live Aid – a 16 hour-long, multi-venue concert, organized to raise money for relief of the 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia.
The brain-child of musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, Live Aid was conceived as a follow-on project to the successful charity single of the previous year – ”Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which was performed by a group of British and Irish music acts, collectively billed as Band Aid. The song went straight to the No.1 spot of the UK Singles Chart and stayed there for five weeks, ultimately selling more than 3 million copies. To this date, it is the second best selling single of all time.
The UK concert of Live Aid featured monumental performances from Queen, U2, Elvis Costello and The Who while the audience in Philadelphia were treated to appearances from Bob Dylan, Madonna, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
The sister concerts were shown live in 110 countries to an estimated 2 billion viewers. Using 13 satellites and 22 transponders, it was the most ambitious international satellite television venture that had ever been attempted and it remains one of the largest television broadcasts of all time. Hal Uplinger was the producer for the television broadcast in the United States and was responsible for the international satellite transmission and distribution around the world. In 1989, he was awarded a Smithsonian Computerworld Award in the Media, Arts and Entertainment category for his role in Live Aid. During an interview with Smithsonian Oral Histories in 1993, Uplinger explained how he initially got involved in the groundbreaking broadcast:
When Los Angeles received the games in 1984 I met a man named Mike Mitchell. Mike was the number three man on the games behind Peter Ueberroth and Harry Uscher. He was really the financial person in charge. I got to know and like Mike and we became friends. … Mitchell, through his business contact, met Bob Geldof in New York. Geldof told Mitchell that he wanted to do sister concerts, a worldwide television show to raise a lot of money. Mike then called me from New York and and asked if I could meet him at his house the next morning. At the meeting, Mitchell said “Here’s what he wants to do and your job will be to produce the American portion. BBC will produce Wembley, and they will own the English rights, but you have to distribute the broadcast to the whole world”. And I thought “That’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever heard of, of course that’s wonderful”. That day was May 1, 1985. Then Mike said he wants to do this on July 13, which was ten weeks exactly from that day. I said “That’s terrific, let’s go get it, let’s do it.” And, that’s how it all came about. I’ll never forget the day I met Bob Geldof. I didn’t know who Bob Geldof was, My son knew, but I didn’t.
Even 25 years later, money is still being raised to aid famine relief throughout Africa, all thanks to Bob Geldof’s initial idea. In November 2004, an official four-disc DVD of the Live Aid concerts was released. On July 2, 2005, a series of music events, entitled Live 8, were held in London, Edinburgh, Cornwall, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Philadelphia, Barrie, Moscow, Chiba and Johannesburg – to coincide with the G8 summit of that year and the 25th anniversary of the original concerts. And in 1989 and 2004, the charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was re-recorded by popular artists of the time and released, reaching the No.1 spot both times.
More than £150 million ($283.6 million) has been donated as a direct result of the landmark event, far exceeding the initial target of £1 million.