In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we’re celebrating Native arts and cultures.
Today, we’re featuring an exhibit in Santa Fe, N.M. exploring the art of parka making.
“To Keep Them Warm” at the Museum of International Folk Art explores the art of the Alaska Native parka.
“The parka is so much more than just its final product, you know, the final parka. It’s a whole outlook on the world.”
Melissa Shaginoff is co-curator of the exhibit.
“It’s about having relationship with the land and the animals and with each other. The spirit of Ghhúunayúkata, or to keep them warm, is really this gift of love, you know, and wanting to warm our family. But also to honor the land and the animals.”
The exhibit features 20 parkas from the mid-19th century to more contemporary ones.
“This exhibit is really about the whole story of parka making and really about…how we relate to each other, from the hunter to the parka maker to the person who is gifted a parka. It’s really a whole story, and it’s so much more than just a garment. It really represents our whole culture and how everything is interrelated through kinship and through a deep respect and love for each other.”
The traditional garments were made for survival in harsh environments.
The collection here represents Yup’ik, Inupiaq, Unangan, Dena’ina, Koyukon, and St. Lawrence Island Yup’ik.
“So you have everything from you know caribou to bear guts to fish skin…to bird skins. We have we try to represent as much as animal material is used in Alaska as we could…So, as parka making continues to change and adjust just as our traditions are fluid and changes and adjusts, you see this transition from sinew into sort of modern uses of thread, and then contemporary parkas from neon shoes strings, to velveteen and beadwork as well.”
A rich selection of drawings, photographic portraits, dolls, and other art are shown through the space – all by Indigenous people.
Shaginoff says there’s a deep connection between people in the North and the Southwest.
“I think that, you know, as we continue to show who we are and tell our stories, we’re only going to strengthen the interconnectedness that, you know, our ancestors knew that we needed to survive.”
The exhibit is showing through April 2024 and is of no cost to Alaska Native and Pueblo people.
The National Endowment for the Humanities, which provides funding for humanities projects across the country, is working with the Interior Department on the agency’s Indian boarding school initiative.
Shelly Lowe (Diné), chair of NEH, says part of the work is to support projects that bring people together and tell stories in history not often taught in school.
“One of the things that we have been doing is supporting the work that they’ve been doing in the archives to pull out records of federal Indian boarding schools to digitize that material, and to eventually make that material available to the public so that we can have an understanding of this experience of this history in the United States. And that we can create materials to teach this history so that everybody knows that this happened, and the effects of the boarding schools, on tribes and communities in the United States.”
Lowe says next steps includes finding ways to support tribes and communities that have shared their stories.
“One of the ways that we want to do that is to help really support language revitalization, language programs for tribes and cultural revitalization, those two things that were really kind of stripped away from tribes and communities through the boarding school experience. And that’s just one example of some of the work that we want to continue moving forward.”
Lowe talked about the initiative during a recent visit to Alaska.
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