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An Introduction to Native American
History and Culture

A Living Culture
Think not of indigenous cultures and nations all dead and gone from this sacred land. The physical world is not at all silent or what it seems. The nations live! My spirit lives! The spiritual world is everywhere!. If you listen, you will hear. There are so many ancient voices shouting from this sacred land. In the distance, I hear one of a thousand songs of an ancient spiritual man…

- Anna Lee Walters, Pawnee and Otoe-Missouria

American Indians are not extinct people. Their cultures have a past and present and a future. Generalizations about Native people contribute to stereotypic notions that make no allowance for individuality or for any possibility of change over time. Native American objects reflect aspects of cultures that should be ascribed only to the people who produced them and to the particular time in which the objects were made. In doing so, we respect the diversity of Native people and acknowledge that their cultures, like all others, and are not fixed in time.

North America, Northwest Coast, Makah Basket, 20th century, Grass, Gift of Stanley H. Brackett 75.13.2

Ideas about Art
In the past, Native Americans did not create art for its own sake. The form and decoration of handmade objects evolved out of daily needs and spiritual beliefs over thousands of years. Art, beauty, and spirituality are so intertwined in the daily life of traditional Native Americans that it is nearly impossible to speak of them separately.


Nicolas Poussin, The Death of Germanicus, 1627, oil on canvas, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 58.28

Art in Western European tradition developed in a very different way. Paintings were the most esteemed form of fine art, with history painting considered the most important of painting types. European utilitarian objects were considered craft rather than fine art.



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