A sample of photos by Matika Wilbur, via Project 562.

A sample of photos by Matika Wilbur, via Project 562.

If you’re fortunate enough to have today off for Indigenous People’s Day, I’ve got a suggestion for the best place to spend it: The Heard Museum in Phoenix, which has a series of events to commemorate the day.

Here is a list of the events, which begin at 12:30 p.m.

You may have heard that the Phoenix City Council voted that the city would celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. That makes it the largest U.S. city to celebrate the annual event.

As the news story reported:

The proposal to create Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Phoenix emerged in May, when residents Jeff Malkoon and Carlos Bravo submitted to the city an application for a historical commemoration.

“The city of Phoenix is built on what was the Hohokam civilization,” Malkoon told council members. “We just think this is a significant statement for a city like Phoenix, being such a center point in the Southwest.”

And this is part of a growing national trend, as CNN reports.

In what was a great preview of Monday’s Heard events, audience members at the Heard Sunday afternoon heard from two artists and two lawyers on the intersection of art, Indian identity and law. (I wrote about the event here.)

That gathering included insights from artists Matika Wilbur and Gregg Deal.

Deal’s film “The Last American Indian on Earth” was screened. It shows, in surprising and occasionally humorous ways, the complicated relationship mainstream American society has with Native culture.

Wearing a faux historic Indian costume (manufactured in China, for good measure), Deal strode about Washington DC. The reactions he got were troubling and laden with meaning.

As Deal says in the voiceover, “When you let the cameras roll, Americans, they don’t disappoint.”

As one hand-written sign he holds tells passersby, “My spirit animal is white guilt.”

L to R at the Heard Museum panel on Indian identity, art, and law, Oct. 9, 2016: Matika Wilbur, Kevin Gover, Gregg Deal, Brett Shelton.

L to R at the Heard Museum panel on Indian identity, art, and law, Oct. 9, 2016: Matika Wilbur, Kevin Gover, Gregg Deal, Brett Shelton.

Matika Wilbur then spoke, presenting her itinerant photo experience with Project 562, which aims to photograph citizens of each federally recognized tribe in the United States (there are now 566).

As she describes on her site:

“Most of the time, I’ve been invited to geographically remote reservations to take portraits and hear stories from a myriad of tribes, while at other times I’ve photographed members of the 70 percent of Native Americans living in urban settings. My hope is that when the project is complete, it will serve to educate the nation and shift the collective consciousness toward recognizing our own indigenous communities.”

A longtime educator from Seattle, Wilbur asked, “When are we going to stop asking our children to choose between cultural education and Western education?”

Wilbur also spoke about how Indian identity is “inextricably connected to the land.” Discussing the sensation known as solastalgia—separation from home—she wondered how the Cocopah, for instance, known as the people of the blue-green water, could be Cocopah if access to that water is denied or destroyed.

In the subsequent panel discussion, attorney Kevin Gover addressed that issue and the way violations have been visited on Native peoples by the American legal system. For example, in Fletcher v. Peck (1810), the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Indian title to land was not true title, as Indians were itinerant hunters and had never been farmers—an absolute misstatement of the facts. But it was decisions like that which provided the veneer of law to unjust decisions.

In fact, Gover pointed out, the most famous Native-land-title cases were collusive ones, manufactured conflicts presented by land speculators to prod a desired outcome from a compliant Court. To America’s enduring shame, the Court proved a willing co-conspirator in the effort.

The American legal system, Gover said, “played a huge role in the removal and dispossession of Native peoples.”

Through their art, Matika Wilbur and Gregg Deal explore America’s complicated relationship with Native peoples. As a teacher, Wilbur reminded the audience that these mainstream viewpoints are learned ones, and that the dominant Western view of Indians helps shield society from honest appraisals.

To illustrate that, she showed search results in Google images from searches for the simple terms “African American,” “Asian American,” “Hispanic American,” and, finally, “Native American.”

Among all of those searches, the Native American search was the only one that yielded an almost uniform view of Indians as historic beings—and actually as faux historic beings. Nearly every image reconfirms the popular image of Indians as conceptualized 150 years ago.

Google image search results for "Native American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “Native American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

Where are the modern Indians who live among us, Wilbur asked.

They are all about us, Wilbur and Deal said. If people are willing to see.

Again, here are today’s Heard Museum events.

Google image search results for "Asian American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “Asian American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for "African American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “African American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for "Hispanic American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “Hispanic American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

 

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Among the elements of a Heard Museum dialogue will be the screening of a short documentary about Gregg Deal and his performance piece 'The Last American Indian on Earth.'

Among the elements of a Heard Museum dialogue will be the screening of a short documentary about Gregg Deal and his performance piece ‘The Last American Indian on Earth.’

This Sunday, October 9, the Heard Museum in Phoenix hosts an event that examines important intersections. “A Conversation at the Intersection of Art, Law and Indian Identity” will include a panel discussion of attorneys and American Indian artists. Some of the questions addressed will be, How does an artist’s vision implicate such identity? And what are the consequences, both legally and in the wider community?

For the event, the Heard is partnering with the Native American Rights Fund and the Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Admission is free, but RSVP here is required. A reception begins at 3:30 p.m., and the program begins at 4 p.m.

Kevin Gover will moderate the panel discussion. He is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Panelists will include:

  • Brett Shelton (Oglala Sioux Tribe), artist and staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund
  • Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute), contemporary artist/activist
  • Matika Wilbur (Swinomish/Tulalip), artist and social documentarian in Indian Country. She is founder of Project 562 which explores Native identity and experience through a dedication to photographing contemporary Native America.

Organizers say:

“The program will include the screening of a short documentary The Last American Indian On Earth, about contemporary artist Gregg Deal’s first performance piece ‘The Last American Indian On Earth’ (TLAIOE), a piece he carried for a year. TLAIOE explores the romantic, misunderstood and often racist interactions average Americans have when encountering an Indigenous person. The performance allows Deal to explore this strange American interaction, the problems with it and the critical thinking that goes in to asserting identity and enacting change.”

For more background, here is a great video with Gregg Deal speaking in Washington DC. (at Creative Mornings in July 2014):

More information including a link to the free tickets is on the event’s Facebook page.

heard-museum-event-on-art-law-and-indian-identity

Kevin Gover

Yesterday we received two news items that were three time zones apart, but each says something important about Indian law issues.

The more specific Indian Law analogue was the announcement of an ABA award to Kevin Gover, who is the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Pertinent for us, he has Arizona ties and is a longtime law professor at the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

He will receive the 2011 Spirit of Excellence Award, given by the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.

More information on the award is here. You can read Gover’s profile, via the ASU Law School, here.

As the ABA says:

“Gover has been a tireless champion for the rights of Native American tribes,” said Fred W. Alvarez, commission chair. “He walked his first picket line as a 10-year-old member of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and marched as an undergraduate at Princeton University to draw attention to the plight of American Indians.  He rose to become Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the United States Department of Interior, responsible for policy and operational oversight of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and overseeing a $2.2 billion budget and supervising 10,000 employees  Since 2007, he has led an institution dedicated to advancing knowledge and understanding of the life, languages, literature, history and arts of the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. His career has been truly extraordinary.”

“Gover began his career in Indian affairs more than 30 years ago, with his post on the American Indian Policy Review Commission. Shortly after receiving his law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, he joined the Indian law division of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Kampelman, where he worked exclusively on matters relating to the American Indian community. Gover later formed his own firm, focusing his practice on Indian law, which eventually became one of the largest Indian-owned firms in the country. His work caught the eye of then President Bill Clinton, who appointed Gover to his Department of the Interior post in 1997.”

Charles Calleros

(The Arizona honor continues even further: Also earning the Spirit of Excellence Award is ASU Law Professor Charles Calleros. Congratulations to both.)

The other news item that affects Indian Law issues was the announcement by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that a vacancy on the Supreme Court would be filled by Robert Brutinel, a judge on the Superior Court for Yavapai County. We reported on that yesterday.

It was Faith Klepper, former chair of the Arizona Attorney Editorial Board, who pointed out (on Facebook) that Judge Brutinel has some experience in Indian law matters.

According to his application for the position (available here at the Supreme Court website, but who knows for how long, now that he’s been named to the Court), he indicates that when he was in private practice he represented an Indian tribe. He goes on to say:

“As a practitioner, I was involved in the drafting of major revisions to the Yavapai–Prescott Indian Tribal Code. I drafted a number of ordinances in various areas of the law for the Tribe.”

Judge Robert Brutinel

The new Justice is highly accomplished in many areas, and has even been honored this year as the Judge of the Year by CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates.

But having some Indian Law experience could be extremely helpful in Arizona. And it may even have an impact on how law is taught in this state.

As we’ve noted before, a petition submitted to the Arizona Supreme Court to add Indian Law to the state’s bar exam has been tabled for quite some time now.

If the addition of Indian Law will not happen while the Court considers signing on to a broader uniform bar exam, maybe Justice Brutinel will be influential in another area: getting Indian Law added to the training for lawyers admitted on motion, without taking an Arizona bar exam.

After all, a lawyer who has worked on the drafting of an Indian Law Code may be particularly attuned to its value. That, too, would add to a spirit of excellence.