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.
- Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy video from Portland Art Museum
- 6 Works of art that shaped America’s views of Natives article
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?
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.
- The Misrepresentation of Native American Culture in Mass Media blog post, video
- How to Argue Against Racist Mascots article
- US Indian Encounter, Colonization, and Devastation Since Time Immemorial Curriculum - Elementary School
- WA Exploring Washington State Prior to Statehood Since Time Immemorial Curriculum – Elementary School
- Civic Action and Responsibility Since Time Immemorial Curriculum – High School
- Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots - Scholarly Article
Talk About It
How are these stereotypes perpetuated? And by whom? What’s the impact on Native peoples, and on other communities of color?
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.
- What is cultural appropriation? video
- What’s wrong with cultural appropriation? These 9 answers reveal its harm article
- Should Indian Sports Mascots be Repealed Evergreen State College
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.
- Why the Dawes Act Matters video
- Assimilation, Relocation, Genocide PBS resource
- Blood quantum influences Native American Identity article
- The Tribal Perspective: Encounter, Colonization, and Devastation Since Time Immemorial Curriculum – Elementary School
- US-Development and Struggles in the West, Industrialization, Immigration, and Urbanization – Indian Land Tenure Curriculum (Dawes Act) Since Time Immemorial Curriculum – Middle School
- US Industrialization: Allotment Since Time Immemorial curriculum – High School
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?
Beyond the Frame Recommended Reading
- Whale Wars Group vs Makah: Who Decides if Traditions are Authentic? article
- This article asks a very pertinent question to many tribes today, and focuses on the violent anti-Indianism the Makah have faced while returning to whaling.