Lurie – Powwow Exhibit

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The basic idea is that it was to be the introduction to a revision of the whole North American Indian wing. And we started out with today to make sure that people realize, as the Indian people put it, “we’re still here and we plan to stay.” And so out of this the idea of the powwow evolved. And then the people volunteered and we figured we needed about 36 figures. We had more than 100 volunteers. And of course everyone wanted his kid to be in it and the sculpture firm wouldn’t take anyone younger than six years old because even though it’s only 12 minutes to get the face cast, it’s asking a lot of the little kid. But the Indian people went through the list of volunteers and they settled on members [so] that there was representation of all of the tribes. And so if a person were a fancy dancer, then he would wear a fancy dance outfit, a traditional dancer, she’d wear a traditional dress and so on. And they also agreed with the coordinating committee, who did this work, on the choice of the people who would be chosen. There were some people who were disappointed, but as far as we know nobody’s feelings were hurt because it was very carefully explained and at the general councils it was discussed, and they knew that we couldn’t use 100 people, [and] that there would be culling. And one of the questions that was asked, that delighted us, was, “Do you want us all ‘Indian lookers’?” And we in the museum said, “we want it to look the way you want it to look.” And so we have people who are not all shiny straight black hair, people who look more or less Indian as the case may be and people, some of them wearing glasses and so on. But what you would see at a contemporary powwow.

And one of the things that we initially said [was] we would need crafts people when we still thought we were going to use the Howard collection. We said that we would need people to make moccasins because armitures have to come up through the soles of the feet, and so we didn’t want to cut up into these historic moccasins that came with the Howard collection. So we knew that we would have to make moccasins. So when that came up in the discussion, then this led almost immediately, “Well, why don’t we make the whole outfits?” And everybody was happier because they would be modern [and] they’d all be the same period. The conservators were happy. The Indian people were happy to show off their finest work today. It really, really worked out very well.

And so the people agreed that either they themselves would make the outfit or the committee would choose artisans to do so, or they’d donate. And some people said, you know, “I’ve got a lot of material, but I can’t afford the time. I’ll donate the material.” Or, “If somebody will give me the material or pay me for the time, I’d love to make outfits.” So it worked out, and each outfit sort of has a history of its own. But this follows a format as much as we can within a museum setting like this.

The so-called “princesses,” young girls who are being honored, and then the flag bearers, the American flag. And then there was a big discussion about having somebody, as is usually the case in a Grand Entry like this, representing the armed forces. And then they said, “How about a woman?” And we ended up with an Army nurse who contributed an entire uniform, right down to her pumps and her stockings. And in fact, we held our breath because we cast her face and she was scheduled to be sent overseas and we just managed to get her into the whole picture. And then you would have the traditional dancers, the men and the fancy dancers, and then the women—oh, and the grass dancers—and then the women traditional dancers, and the jingle dancers, and the shawl dancers, and then the little kids, the “tiny tots,” youngest ones, as they say, six years old, cute little girl. And the emcee, the late Wayne Martin, Menominee, was a very popular emcee here in the Milwaukee area, in this area. This lady next to him, Irene Mack, also was Menominee. Jackie Schellinger, who is a local attorney, Stockbridge-Munsee. And so the people are dressed and posed as they would be in their role in the powwow.

My name is Nancy Oestreich Lurie, and from 1972 to 1993 I was head of the Anthropology Department here at the museum.

Production credits:

Executive Producer, Loretta Fowler
Assistant Producer, Brian Mornar

Production, Mike Media Group
Camera, Michael DiGioia
Video Editor, Kahrin Deines

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