Forward Continued – Hartman H. Lomawaima

In my university training I had learned something of these remarkable men but what really came through for me with utter clarity was the dignity and sophistication these men possessed.  While I was not familiar with the Northern and Great Plains regions of our country, I saw these photographs as a portal to a time, a place and a people that I wanted to understand.  My friend acquired a third photograph from his customer that featured Navajo men on horseback.  The Southwest is my birthplace and this photograph was pleasing to me as I often saw Navajo men traveling by horseback singing in precise unison, beautiful riding songs that were intended to make getting to one’s destination safely, enjoyably and seemingly in shorter time.  I would later learn that this image was titled by Curtis, The Vanishing Race.

The digital pathway has made it possible to access images of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including the corpus of Curtis’ work.  However, there is no substitute for the personal experience of viewing a photograph from one of the original folios of the 20- volume set of The North American Indian.  The experience is further accentuated when one reads the passages and song lyrics contained in the ethnographies that accompany the folios.  Among the rich cultural resources at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, are two sets of The North American Indian.  As a museum professional, I have had the privilege of working with extraordinary collections and remarkable people.  In recent years I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with filmmaker, Anne Makepeace, a truly remarkable person.  As a Hopi man, I have lived in Sipaulovi, a village photographed by Curtis and have strong family ties to all the Hopi villages depicted in Volume XII of The North American Indian.  I have often wondered what it would have been like to have met Curtis as did some of my relatives.  Would I have sat for him?  Probably not.  It would not have been the Sipaulovi way.  I did agree to serve as humanities scholar and consultant to Anne’s Curtis film project, Coming to Light.  I saw the project, in part, as a vehicle to return or repatriate images of a people to the places where the photographs were taken and to the descendants of those photographed.  Anne adopted this approach and the finished product became a remarkable, humanistic documentary film of a diverse people who have dealt with changes of every magnitude in diverse ways.

During the film’s production stage, Anne Makepeace extended to me several invitations for an on-camera interview.  I always managed to find something “more urgent” to do elsewhere.  After awhile she began to refer to me as the “vanishing Indian,” an application of the concept that Curtis would not have understood.

The present volume emphasizes Indian leaders and leadership.  Chief is a term that has been used historically and widely to identify remarkable people whose legacies have become part of the social and cultural fabric of people and communities that comprise Native North America today.  It would be incomplete if not indiscrete to consider Chief Joseph, the remarkable Nez Perce leader, only as Joseph.  Historically, many Indian leaders received their designation as chiefs and warriors from their admiring military foes, government agents, biographers and photographers.  Curtis, too was called chief by his staff and close friends.  It would not surprise me if Indian leaders of the time referred to Curtis as chief or something equivalent in their respective languages.  Chief is not necessarily gender specific.  In recent times the term chief or specifically Principal Chief, has been applied to females who have been elected to political offices of leadership.  Leadership, tradition, religion, language skill, self-image and far sightedness have brought us to our present position as American Indian and Alaska Native People.  We continue to demonstrate leadership in the ways of our ancestors.  We also demonstrate leadership in other arenas such as museums, businesses and civic organizations. The portraits that follow are of remarkable people, photographed by a remarkable person.  Choose your favorite portal and begin the rewarding journey of understanding and appreciation.

Hartman H. Lomawaima (November 11, 1949 – July 8, 2008) was the first Native American director of the Arizona State Museum. He was only the fifth director in the history of the museum. He also was the first Native American to hold a position as director of a state agency in Arizona, and was on the board of trustees for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.