Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program
Back in May, the Sam Noble Museum released a most exciting announcement on our blog, detailing a prestigious contest for conservation. We diligently urged our followers and fans to vote for our deteriorating treasure, a swatch of Native American lace from the 1400s, and promised to keep our faithful readers updated with the latest news.
The Spiro lace
For two months, the museum’s staff sat on pins and needles, eager to claim the attention and aid that could accompany a place in the 10. After long days of waiting for that fateful email, the results finally arrived on August 6.
The Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust recognized the Sam Noble Museum as having one of Oklahoma’s top 10 endangered artifacts. In addition to receiving the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award for earlier campaign progress, the Sam Noble Museum will receive free lodging to attend the Oklahoma Museums Association Annual Conference in Enid, Oklahoma. The museum will also be recognized at the OMA Awards Program on Friday, September 27.
Top 25 finalists receiving the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award
As you recall from our first post, the Spiro lace, from 1400 AD, was discovered buried beneath Craig Mound at the historic Native American Spiro Mound site in eastern Oklahoma by a University of Oklahoma excavation team operating under the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s. The Spiro Mounds are known as one of the most significant ceremonial sites in North America and were actively used from 800 to 1450 AD.
The Spiro Mounds
Since then, many cultural artifacts have been recovered from beneath the mounds, including cups, pottery, tools and textiles like the Spiro lace. The lace survived in part because of its proximity to copper plates beneath the mound, whose metallic properties served as a preservation tool for hundreds of years.
“It looks like they [Oklahoma Native Americans] had many clothing and elaborate costumes we know nothing about,” said Elsbeth Dowd, the former collection manager of the Sam Noble Museum’s archaeology department and current museum registrar.
According to Dr. Dowd, this fragment of lace survives as Oklahoma’s oldest textile and offers previously unknown information about the way Native Americans lived centuries ago. Unfortunately, when this piece was discovered many decades ago, as a good-intentioned effort to prevent further deterioration and tearing, the lace was glued to a yellow matboard.
The lace glued to matboard
Current preservation efforts are geared at safely removing the lace from the matboard, as the acidic properties of the board will gradually wear on the lace and inflict further damage. Additionally, with the lace removed, archaeologists like Dowd would be able to conduct a more informative analysis of the lace using methods such as fiber analysis and 3D scanning.
“Being able to conserve this to give people access to the lace would really be great for research,” Dowd confirmed.
Thanks to your votes, the museum is one step closer to obtaining the preservation care so desperately needed. Through the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program, the Sam Noble Museum hopes to gain further recognition and support for its conversation efforts. It is evident that Oklahomans care deeply for their rich history, which is precisely why the museum is dedicated to preserving it for generations to come.
If you would like to support the Sam Noble Museum’s preservation efforts or any of its other programs, operations, and development of exhibits, click the donate button on the museum’s homepage.
Native American languages are often associated with a bygone era of history, but many people fail to realize that Native American culture thrives today just as it did centuries ago through families dedicated to keeping their heritage alive. Now, more than ever, the emphasis on cultural preservation is being placed in the hands of Native American youth.
One way these students promote the continuation of their heritage is through the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, held annually in early April. Since 2003, children and teens from all across the state of Oklahoma and elsewhere have traveled to compete in their knowledge of Native American languages through music, drama and dance. This year, the fair received a record-breaking 921 students.
A group performance at the 2013 ONAYLF.
“I wanted to compete in the language fair because I wanted to push myself to try and learn more language and tradition,” Chyna Chupco said, a Muskogee-speaker and past ONAYLF participant.
Although students come to the fair to gain language experience, they often take away even more. Kiowa-speaker Kristin Allen said that the fair has helped her overcome a personal struggle.
“I decided to come back [to the fair] because it’s fun, and it helps me with my shyness,” she said.
Native American languages are not outdated, as some may believe. They have developed over time like any other language by adding words for new concepts, even Facebook. By constantly adapting to changes in society, Native American languages retain their relevancy for younger generations.
In this way, Native American culture can also go hand in hand with pop culture. To hear a clip of previous ONAYLF winner Niigan Sunray singing Adele’s popular song “Someone Like You” in Kiowa, simply click here.
Niigan, and her siblings, Tdohasan, Kowi and Onde, are all first language Native-American-language speakers. They are currently involved with the KIOWA KIDS language program, which recently assisted Kiowa elder Modina Waters in publishing a children’s book through through Native American Languages at the Sam Noble Museum. The book, titled Saynday Kiowa Indian Children’s Stories, tells traditional Kiowa fables in both Kiowa and English. Through their involvement with the children’s book, the Sunray children have learned at an early age the importance of cherishing and preserving their culture.
KIOWA KIDS language program attendees.
“We can teach our children to keep the language going on,” Niigan said, the eldest child. “Not many people know it anymore.”
Every night the Sunray children sing a traditional Kiowa hymn together, called A-HO Dawkee (Thank You, God). To hear them sing A-HO Dawkee, click here.
Many previous ONAYLF participants consider their role in cultural revitalization an honor as opposed to a burden as they stated a strong interest in passing down their language to future generations of their own. Katy Shackelford, a 16-year-old Chickasaw-speaker, expressed difficultly in imagining a future without Chickasaw.
“We speak Chickasaw words every day, even if it’s not necessarily whole conversations,” she said. “You can’t really get rid of who you are. A lot of things that we do we do with the tribe, with our culture.”
Katy and Dale Shackelford at their first fair (2004) and the 2013 ONAYLF.
Katy and her brother, Dale, also emphasized a commitment to sharing their culture with those who may hold outdated ideas about Native Americans.
“We do inform people about Native American culture, even if it’s not specifically Chickasaw,” Katy said.
“Even in Oklahoma, there are lot of misconceptions about Native Americans,” Dale added.
Through outlets like the ONAYLF, Native American youth like these are given the tools and support necessary to preserving their heritage. Participants in the ONAYLF give reason to believe that the future of Native American culture is bright indeed.
You can read more about this year’s ONAYLF on the KFOR website.
Forgive me for being slow in posting, but things are very busy around the museum in spring, and this spring, with my assistant, Krysten, on maternity leave, I’m even more busy than usual.
The past two days we have been up to our ears in the 7th annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair. This year was the biggest fair yet, with more than 800 young people participating, ranging in age from 4 to 18.
There is a sort of street fair atmosphere to the place when this event is taking place. Well, really it’s more like where street fair meets Pow Wow meets family reunion meets school awards ceremony. On top of the 400 - 500 kids there each day, there are teachers and parents, grandparents, judges and their friends and family, reporters from local and Native papers and television stations, dozens of volunteers, museum staff and graduate students. It is a multi-generational event.
Everyone loves the first day because the little kids perform that day, and they are very cute, all in their matching school T-shirts, or in their miniature versions of tribal dress. Some are fearless, some are terrified, all are adorable. The second day is more serious, with the older kids, grades 6 through 12, who seem to have more at stake. Some are really really nervous, and barely get through their performances. Some are cool as cucumbers.
Over the past seven years, I’ve seen several students grow up in the Fair. Kids who were too short to reach the microphone the first year are now coolly performing in the 8th and 9th grade categories.
It’s good to hear the languages, too. You hear elders speaking fluently, and the teachers and students who are not fluent, but learning, toss Native words into their conversation. Many of the emcees speak both in their Native language and in English as they make their announcements… the Choctaw, Cherokee or Euchee rolling off the tongue, with that sound that only Native American languages have. I don’t know what language I’m hearing, but I always know I’m hearing a Native American language, not an Asian or European or African tongue.
After seven years of the fair, some of the songs have become familiar. Some I know the sounds for, can almost sing along with. It makes me feel like part of something… even if only a little bit.
The language fair is central to the mission of the museum. Helping to preserve languages is every bit as vital as the fight against extinction of species. The fair is one of many lifelines hooked to our collective American culture that we hold on to and pull hard on, trying to make sure our children and their children will inherit the same rich, fascinating and diverse world that we did.
Makes you want to go learn a Native language, doesn’t it?