For my fourth location I chose to visit the Oregon History Museum at the Oregon Historical Society. The main part of the museum was closed, but the gift shop was open. I was intrigued because it seemed as though a lot of the items in the store were somewhat related to the exhibits within the museum. Right as I walked over I started talking to Connie Miller, a volunteer who has been working at the Museum for 15 years. She explained to me that most of the items in the store were made by North West artists. I asked her if she knew whether or not the native american artwork was made by native americans since I noticed that most all of the artwork looked like it drew from traditional designs and imagery. "Well," she said "most of the art is made in the North West by local artists, and the native american designs were released for reproduction in these artworks. So they are all traditional designs, I mean, some of the art is made in Indonesia or China, but the designs were signed by Native American community figures so that they could make profit as well as distribute their artwork."
This gets me thinking about a lot of different things, about different dialogues I've been having with people about how cultures and minorities are represented in modern american culture and how we arrived at this place. My globalization class has been focusing a lot on American history and the incredible amount of control and limitations that government has put on what we know about the stories of our countries. American culture somehow manages to look over the horrific events of genocides, violence and brutalities in history when it comes to the relationship with Native Americans and the complete destruction of native and indigenous cultures all over the world. What do we really know or think we know about Native Americans? I know I don't know enough and I’m always gathering more information and I know that the typical school text book doesn’t teach us about this history or Native American culture as it should. I am confused and disgusted at what American culture still accepts and portrays in our society and the false images that deny other cultures and simultaneously justify the actions that have been made for us to reach such a point of ignorance.
“I wonder how individuals within Native American communities feel about their culture’s artwork being commercialize and popularized such as here,” I said to Connie. I’m not sure she understood exactly where I was coming from and it was proving to be a bit difficult to get more than professional information from her. “There was a spiritual stone on a reservation that wanted to be viewed and in order for people to see it there needed to be 150 something separate signatures collected by different people all over the U.S.,” Connie explained to me, “So, you know...” Well I didn’t really know, but I was trying to understand and create my own opinions of how I felt about that. Or maybe more so how publicizing a culture and people that America has denied, torn apart, assimilated and marginalized continues to support and reinforce our extremely unequal and greedy country.
I decided to take this discussion out of the museum and to a few friends and ask them their opinions about owning/buying Native American artwork and the kinds of feelings and associations they make with it. I know people who are uncomfortable with dreamcatchers as they could symbolize a part of Native American culture that has been completely commercialized and accepted as a part of American culture and maybe forgotten for it’s true meaning. When I was little, I had horrible nightmares. I remember having a dreamcatcher and really believing that it caught all of my bad dreams and let me keep the good ones. I am a really visual thinker and so having this image and belief that this physical item could help me to control my dreams was really helpful. I learned how to make a dream catcher from a friend who makes really elaborate ones using feathers and bones that her parents find on the land their house is on, out in the middle of nowhere. She sews them and weaves them and they are beautiful. For my whole life I’ve always made hand made gifts for my friends and family. My mom is very creative and crafty, so making things by had has always been something I really value and enjoy. I talked to my friend Joel about my museum visit and dream catchers and poured out some of my ideas to him and he had some really interesting things to say. “I feel like things are different when you make them your self and have an understanding about what it is your making or where it comes from. And I also really dislike the way that our culture has marginalized and popularized these cultural items and art for American consumption, and also typically the rich American’s who can afford to be tourists,” Joel said to me. “I have a dream catcher that a friend made for me and that is something I separate in my mind from the commercialization of Native American art work where it becomes a gift with other informed intentions.”