Saving American Indian tribal histories

I have written many times about how U.S. history, as written and taught in our schools, largely and perhaps purposefully ignores the existence of American Indians pre-Columbus and the history of American Indian nations, cultures, and societies even to the present day.

But learning and teaching this story is not the full responsibility of non-Indian scholars and school systems. Indigenous peoples and nations have the major responsibility and role in preserving, researching, and promoting the study, recognition, and preservation of tribal histories.

I am very happy that some tribes have been writing and commissioning books to be researched and written about their histories. For example, the Salish and Kootenai tribal elders committee wrote a book about their reservation and history in 2005, and the Siletz Tribe in Oregon just released a 2010 book on its history that it commissioned Professor Charles Wilkinson to write.

I think these are very positive developments.

So, I was also glad to see this news item today that
George Horse Capture Sr., a Gros Ventre activist and historian, has devoted himself to reclaiming the heritage of his tribe. He has published about his tribe’s history and culture, and has worked for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

While growing up on the Fort Belknap Reservation, Mr. Horse Capture only heard stories about his tribe’s past. There were no history books on the Gros Ventre. This is true for most American Indian and Alaskan Native tribal groups.

So, after graduating from Butte High School, he entered the University of California at Berkeley and began gathering information about his people, their language, their music, and their art. He later published a bibliography of studies on the Gros Ventre and about 10 other tribes.

In the late 1980s, he was asked to help with development of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. where he has served as deputy assistant director and as senior counselor to the director of the museum.

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