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Two new exhibits at Museum of the Rockies explore Native American themes



By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Saturday, Sept. 23, marks the first of two new exhibits opening this month at Museum of the Rockies, both of which explore Native American themes past and present.

“Memory on Glass: D. F. Barry on Standing Rock, 1878-1891” is a collection of historic photographs of Native American men and women, frontier scouts, soldiers, trappers, missionaries and other pioneers who populated the Northern Plains in the late 19th century. Barry’s portfolio includes depictions the forts and battlefields of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in present-day North Dakota.

The Lakota and Dakota tribe members with whom Barry formed long-term relationships called him Icastinyanka Cikala Hanzi, or Little Shadow Catcher.

Although Barry was one of the most prolific and successful photographers of his time, details about his early years are scant. Barry was born in upstate New York in 1854. When he was seven, his family moved to Wisconsin. Around the age of sixteen, he assisted the roving photographer O.S. Goff for a short time; a relationship that was rekindled more than 20 years later when Goff again hired Barry as an apprentice in his Dakota Territory photography studio.

Through unwavering dedication to his craft, Barry eventually progressed from Goff’s student to his business partner. In the mid-1870s, Barry struck out on his own and began traveling west, joining the ranks of a number of photographers who were chronicling the dramatic erosion of Native American culture.

On loan from Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, “Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge. Shared Science” explores how ancient practices can be applied to today’s ecological concerns. The highly interactive and educational exhibit opens on Sept. 30.

Barry’s portfolio features the key players in the radically changing character of Dakota Territory, both American Indian and Euro-American, including Chief Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph, George Custer and his military associates.

In addition to images of these prominent figures, “Memory on Glass” includes depictions of the creation of the Standing Rock Reservation and explores the ongoing controversies surrounding American Indians and their relationship with the U.S. government to this day.

An interactive, educational exhibit on loan from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, “Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge. Shared Science.,” opens on Saturday, Sept. 30. While keeping with the Native American theme, this exhibit shifts its focus to how ancient wisdom can be applied to modern-day ecological concerns. “Roots of Wisdom” invites guests to understand the important issues that indigenous cultures face, discover innovative ways native peoples are problem-solving and contributing to sustainability efforts through the reclamation of age-old practices.

From restoring ecosystems to rediscovering traditional foods and crafts, “Roots of Wisdom” transforms the stories of four indigenous communities into real-world examples of how the combination of ancient knowledge and cutting-edge Western science can provide complementary solutions to contemporary concerns.

The exhibit will explore the Cherokee method of re-establishing native plants. Visitors will learn how river cane affects water quality and how Cherokee elders are teaching new generations about the traditional craft of basket weaving. Guests will have the opportunity to experiment with river environments and even try their hand at basket weavings.

Another segment draws upon the knowledge of Hawaii’s indigenous peoples in relation to the restoration of fish ponds. Attendees will have the chance to act as a pond caretaker and to follow a droplet of water down a tropical mountainside while learning about the disruption of native ecosystems and efforts to restore them.

“Rediscovering Traditional Foods” looks to the Tulalip tribes for insight into balancing a need for natural resources with the loss of land rights and environmental degradation. Guests will learn about wild harvesting and gardening, and how Western medicine has confirmed these ancient practices to be beneficial to human health.

Finally, from the perspective of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, “Saving Streams and Wildlife” uses the lamprey, an eel-like fish seen as a pest in some areas of the country, as an example of a species that is important both ecologically and as a food source to many indigenous people. The exhibit will illustrate how traditional ecological knowledge and Western science are being applied to bring this fish back from the brink of extinction.

Employing everyday items like duck decoys and surfboards, popcorn and chocolate, “Roots of Wisdom” illuminates how native knowledge impacts our daily lives and celebrates the contributions that indigenous peoples have provided over centuries.

“These exhibitions provide an important and timely opportunity to appreciate how the portrayal of Native American peoples and cultures has grown more sophisticated over the past 150 years from both historical and contemporary perspectives,” said Museum of the Rockies Marketing Director Alicia Thompson. “[They] are rich ground for educators and learners to meaningfully dive into Montana’s Indian Education for All standards across the age and content spectrums.”

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