Listen and Learn


Listen and Learn

Looking beyond the frame of Edward Curtis’s work provides an opportunity to connect around identity, race and resilience, art and culture—at home, in the workplace, with friends. These conversations can explore, for instance, how the dominant culture depicts and appropriates Native culture, and how Native perspectives get lost in the process.

Below, you will find discussion guides and resources to spark conversations about these critical topics. In the months ahead, we’ll be adding to these guides with additional resources that complement Washington state’s K-12 curriculum, Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State.

Art and Cultural Impacts

What implications did Edward Curtis’ photography have on Native culture and identity? As an artist and storyteller, Edward Curtis thought he could use his art to share the Native experience with a broader audience. But his romanticized depiction of Native identity would later lead to a false representation of who Native people actually are. False depictions of Native people are still used today and the ramifications are still felt.

Talk About It

Many of these stereotypes of Native people in media and culture today have roots in the images Curtis created. How has that contributed to modern misunderstandings? 

Still from the Curtis film "In the Land of the Head Hunters"(1914) with the Kwakwaka'wakw peoples

Stereotypes Then and Now

Edward Curtis’ images have produced stereotypical representations (stoic, disappearing, sad, clothing, etc.), contributing to the misunderstanding of Native peoples. We have seen these stereotypes used throughout the history of media and discussions, which have had negative psychological impacts for Native peoples.


Talk About It

How are these stereotypes perpetuated? And by whom? What’s the impact on Native peoples, and on other communities of color?

Florida State University mascots, Chief Osceola and Renegade.

Cultural Appropriation

Did Edward Curtis fully understand the importance and meanings of the unique cultures and traditions he was photographing, whether it was the meanings of clothing or the sacredness of ceremonies? Cultural appropriation is problematic when elements from a culture are used without the consent of those who understand and belong to that culture. This happens throughout society when a person or a group does not understand the significance of the element in the original culture, and uses the element in an inappropriate manner.

Talk about it

What happens when elements from a culture are used without consent, such as sports mascots. Should mascots be banned?

Assimilation of Natives Peoples

Native peoples were experiencing assimilation during the time that Edward Curtis was producing his volumes. How did his photos leave that out? His photos didn’t capture the story of how traditional Native religious ceremonies were once outlawed; how Native families were torn apart; how Native children were cut-off from their culture when they were sent to boarding schools; or how the Dawes Act was implemented in order to ‘civilize’ Native people all at the hands of the federal government.

Talk About It

What was Curtis thinking?
Native peoples were experiencing assimilation during the time that Edward Curtis was taking his photos. How and why did he leave out this story of assimilation?

What’s missing from this picture?
Edward Curtis romanticized depiction of Native identity lead to a false representation of Native people. What’s missing from this picture?

Scene from Carlisle Indian Boarding School

Beyond the Frame Recommended Reading

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