Exhibition explores native history
Last updated 5/4/2022 at Noon
Thousands of Oglala and Hunkpapa Lakota of the Sioux Nation gathered near present-day Lame Deer, Montana in early June of 1876 to hold their sacred Sun Dance ceremony. During this event, the holy man and Hunkpapa leader, Sitting Bull, received his storied vision of “soldiers falling upside down into camp.”
Two weeks after the ceremony, it happened. By then, the large gathering of Native Americans had moved 50 miles to the west along a tributary of Bighorn River. Here they attempted to locate and hunt the rapidly disappearing bison in an area known to them as Greasy Grass.
On the afternoon of June 25, Major Marcus Reno led three companies of the 7th Calvary down the small river’s bluffs, then across the ancient floodplain and recklessly attacked the extensive camp that now included significant numbers of Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples.
Women and children were killed in the initial moments of the conflict before the people comprehended what was happening. Responding individually at first and then in increasingly larger groups, the warriors engaged the enemy and rapidly turned the tide of attack into the most infamous rout in U.S. Military history.
“Sitting Bull’s Vision of Soldiers Falling Into Camp,” by George Levi Curtis, Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho, depicts the prophecy of the Hunkpapa chief upon an 1876 antique-original celestial map. One soldier in the drawing, unlike the others in blue uniforms, is wearing a buckskin jacket and has long golden hair.
Levi Curtis’ work upon the map will be part of the second edition of The Homelands Collection, on exhibit at Raven Makes Gallery beginning May 13. This year’s collection includes 65 new works by 20 Indigenous artists.
Western world scholars believe that one human migration wave across the Bering Land Bridge occurred approximately 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. Those particular people almost immediately moved southward along the coastline of Alaska while acquiring a distinct cultural identity — the Alutiiq (formerly called Aleut) Peoples.
Settling in the Aleutian Islands and along the south-central coast of Alaska, they developed the technology necessary for venturing onto the ocean in order to harvest abundant marine mammal resources that could both feed and clothe them.
If the scholars are correct, then this migration and resettlement happened only a few thousand years after the conclusion of the Pleistocene Era in North America and during the Holocene Glacial Retreat Period.
The landscape, coastline, flora, and fauna of Alaska at that time varied somewhat from what it is now, yet the oral stories of Alutiiq Peoples today continue to tell of the world and life back then.
Heather Johnston’s drawing, qangiquusinaq (long long ago), details Alutiiq hunters in baidarkas (kayaks) along the southern coast of Alaska preparing to hunt wiinarpak (walrus) located farther out at sea, on an 1827 antique-original map of the region.
Today, walrus don’t exist in this region of Alaska, but they were still present around Kodiak Island 6000 years ago, as the drawing depicts. This work, as with all works in the collection, was commissioned by the gallery.
Heather, who is Unangan Alutiiq, will be at the Raven Makes Gallery for a private, collectors-only showing on May 12, when the gallery will be closed all day to the public.
The exhibition runs May 13 through June 13. Works acquired during this time will remain on display and can be picked up after the conclusion of the exhibition.