by Alexandra Rudolph, Museum Operations Manager, The Smoki Museum of American Indian Arts and Culture
Did you know the first antidiscrimination act ever written into United States law was the result of a Tlingit woman’s tireless fight to better the lives of her family? Her name was Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich, and the day the Antidiscrimination Act of 1945 was signed into law is a state holiday celebrating her life in Alaska.
Did you know it was a Cherokee woman who helped us pioneer space travel, put a man on the moon and paved the way for all future interplanetary travel? Her name was Mary Golda Ross and her research, much of which is still classified, will one day help humanity travel to Mars.
What about the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe? Did you know it was their first female chief who helped form their tribal council and establish their reservation? Her name was Viola Jimulla. She and her husband Sam helped to secure tribal lands for many of your neighbors. She was also an extraordinary basket maker.
To say that indigenous women are resilient is an understatement, a grossly minimal summary of their incredible strength, talents and leadership. Native women have been at the forefront of the arts, politics, sciences and education for decades.
Their courage in the face of adversity and unwavering determination has shaped our cultural landscape more than we know. That is why, when The Smoki Museum of American Indian Arts and Culture set out to plan our next exhibit, it was clear what it needed to be.
So “The Daughters of Turtle Island: A Tribute to Indigenous Women” at the Smoki Museum is an exhibit not to be missed. Opening Jan. 4, it will run until June 2020. During the exhibit’s run the museum will be celebrating Elizabeth Peratrovich Day on Feb. 16 and the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on May 5.
Popular culture recognizes a few great indigenous women. Sacagawea and Pocahontas will undoubtedly be called to mind. Their contributions are well known, sometimes misconstrued in film and other media, and by no means should their accomplishments be disregarded. However, they are only two of the hundreds of incredible women who have shaped this country.
A combination of biographical spotlights, artifacts and media presentations will bring the legacies of Turtle Island’s (North America’s) important indigenous women to life. These are women, both from the past and in our present, who have contributed to the shaping of our future. From tribal leaders like Wilma Mankiller, Trudie Jackson and Annie Dodge Wauneka to mathematician Mary Golda Ross and artists like contemporary Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor Roxanne Swentzell, who uses her art to advocate for the conservation of indigenous knowledge and the environment. From the pottery of the world-renowned Nampeyo family to the ballet performances by Maria Tallchief, Native women have brought beauty and grace to all they touch. The achievements of Native women are staggering and diverse.
Our living women are of great importance to us. Their present-day efforts are changing the world around us as we speak. Activists like Suzan Shown Harjo have continued to secure the rights of Native people, carrying on the fight started by such pioneers as the 18th century lawyer and activist Lyda Conley. These advocates speak on a national scale, but local leadership roles of equal importance are being filled by Native youth.
At powwows, young Native men and women compete and are honored by royalty titles. These titles place great responsibility on the shoulders of the young people who hold them. They are ambassadors for their communities and representatives for their cultures.
They lead by example and encourage all Native youth to conserve and continue indigenous knowledge. A special presentation by our reigning Yavapai Apache princess will help educate visitors on the incredible responsibilities of Native royalty and youth.
Sadly, the exhibit must also touch upon the heartbreaking and undeserved violence that afflicts North America’s Native women. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls study by the Urban Indian Health Institute in the United States and the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada released their final reports in 2019. Both studies resulted in the same conclusion: Indigenous women and girls suffer disproportionately high rates of violence, disappearances and murder, more than any other ethnic population.
This blight has claimed the lives of countless women. Countless because exact numbers are not known. Inadequate record keeping, poor communication between tribal and non-Native law enforcement and discrimination have made determining the true number of women effected extremely difficult.
To bring awareness and to assist in the efforts to prevent the continuation of this epidemic a memorial wall will be created as part of the exhibit. Donations can be made by visitors and 100% of the proceeds will be given to Southwest Indigenous Women’s Coalition, a statewide tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalition serving the Tribes in Arizona. Additional information can be found at: www.swiwc.org and www.uihi.org.
The Smoki Museum is located at 147 N. Arizona Ave. in Prescott. For more information visit www.smokimuseum.org or call 928-445-1230.