Flandreau Indian School students are sharing their interpretation of Native American history in South Dakota through art on display at the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science.
With 35 exhibits, the students show the chasm between races, the indoctrination at boarding schools and some historical moments in their culture. The exhibit is on display in the Pavilion’s Young Artists Gallery through Nov. 30.
Students worked on the project last year before the coronavirus pandemic closed the school to in-person learning and students returned to their homes across the country.
For Jacquelyn Cabarrudia of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians from Michigan, her two pieces focused on a photo of 64 boarding schoolboys and girls, who pose with sober expressions, while dressed in communion robes. She titled it “Laceration to the Mind,” and featured the photo cut shaped like a heart, broken in two on a blotchy purple background.
“We are not taught the hurt and historic trauma left from boarding schools. The stories of our grandparents being treated like guinea pigs, of them being beaten, raped and molested on a daily basis,” she wrote in her description of the piece.
Students were given access to the archived photos at Augustana University’s Center for Western Studies, through a grant from the Council for Independent Colleges’ Humanities for the Public Good. The program was designed to support critical thinking and innovative ways to make university archives available to the public.
Along with research, the students curated and transformed the materials into re-presentations of Native American history in South Dakota.
The photos from the exhibits span the years from 1870 to 2004.
Planning for the project came about because the Center for Western Studies had the photographs in its archives but the photos were all taken and preserved by white missionaries, said Liz Cisar, collections assistant. Instead, the exhibit was designed “to allow Native Americans to re-present the material and bring in their own ideas.”
In one re-presented photo, artist Atlantis “Sid” Hanks drew long hair on boarding school children in a black and white photo.
“You see these kids here. Their hair was cut. So I wanted to add some of that hair back,” he said.
Tara F. from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, found a photo in the archives from a scene at Wounded Knee. “Trying to make something of this without making it feel completely sad felt like a challenge for me,” she wrote.
Some of the pieces shared the theme of blessings.
Caprice Snow titled her work “Confidence,” a cutout photo of children in traditional clothing on a background of sky and earth. “We walk with confidence; we walk on the bloodshed of our ancestors. We walk on prayers every day, already made for us. Unseen blessings.”
Tashina B. Palarious of the Rosebud Sioux from Omaha, chose a woman subject on a prairie background, indicating the woman is “walking over the lands and blessing them with her peace pipe.”