Matt Reed, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and curator of the American Indian Collections for the Oklahoma Historical Society, has been envisioning since he got the job to have events during this month that educate the public about the Native peoples of Oklahoma.
Reed said November is a busy time for Oklahoma’s tribes. “With November being American Indian Heritage month everybody is being pulled in different directions, so I kind of scrambled around to try to find somebody that was available,” Reed said.
“In the past we've had dance demonstrations here from the Caddo, we've had some stomp dancers here that were Shawnee, Chickasaw, I think we've even had Cherokee stomp dancers. So there's been a real heavy presence from southeastern cultures,” Reed said.
Reed wanted to bring in natives from other parts of the state, so he turned to the Pawnees in northern Oklahoma.
“I wanted to branch out. I contacted the school group out of Pawnee Public Schools to come down to do a dance demonstration,” Reed said.
“What I've ask them to do is to focus on straight dance and traditional Pawnee clothing associated with that, talk about the dance, what it is that people are going to be seeing, what it is the kids will be wearing, why you're wearing it, protocols,” Reed said.
“Basically introducing to somebody that's not from Oklahoma, maybe not even from the United States, to the cultures here in Oklahoma,” Reed said.
Reed said this kind of introduction to the Indian world is how natives would pass on their traditions to their own children. In the future, when and if Oklahoma’s visitors come upon another native culture it won’t be “so foreign to them.”
Reed said he never knows who will be attending these events.
“I’m always surprised by who is walking around inside the museum. Its real easy to think that your average visitor is going to be from the metro area,” Reed said.
“We get a lot of folks that are traveling through on I40 or I35 and they may be from New York or California or who knows where else. And you know, I've been kind of cornered several times down in the gallery by people from Germany, France, Italy, Japan,” Reed said.
Reed said many times the visitor is overcome, the onslaught of information, as he puts it, “blows their mind.”
“Then you start telling them there’s at least 39 different cultures here. There's all these influences from languages and culture and religion and the way you dress and everything,” Reed said.
The dance and demonstrations, Reed feels, is a nice way to introduce all that diversity.
On Saturday, November 23rd, the event will focus on women from the Caddo, Cherokee and Cheyenne Nations of Oklahoma through their clothing, historically and contemporary.
“I've got three representatives coming in so we'll have somebody that's talking about historical Cherokee clothing and how what she's making is being incorporated into contemporary women's fashion.”
“We've got a couple representatives to talk about traditional Caddo women's dress and regalia. And then I've got another lady to talk about Cheyenne clothing, to compare and contrast contemporary traditional clothing with historical clothing and what the differences are, to try to explain to people what it is that they're seeing,” Reed said.
Reed said he is often called on to decipher the difference between what was worn in the 19th century and what will be seen currently at powwows and Indian dances.
“There's a lot of similarities, there's a lot of differences. Its a living culture and things change. We incorporate contemporary materials into regalia,” Reed said. “I’m just to trying to expose people to those things.”
Since this is the first year for these events, Reed has some apprehension.
“If it all goes perfectly how I had it planned in my head, that's what we'll end up with,” Reed said.
“But, it’s all organic and things will change so, it should be something interesting to see and something fun, so, I've got a positive outlook on this whole thing.”
Reed said the fascination with American Indians exhibited by some of the foreign visitors is sometimes mystifying to him.
“Being from Oklahoma and coming from this area, I have no idea why they're so fascinated, but they are. It presents itself as an excellent opportunity to get rid stereotypes and myths and misconceptions.”
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