Museum showcases Indigenous boarding school experience, art

Sierra Clark
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Traverse City — Two temporary exhibits are now on display at the Dennos Museum Center that explore the off-reservation boarding schools for Indigenous children and contemporary Anishinaabek art.

“Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories” and “Close to Home: Contemporary Ansihinaabek Artists” will run until the end of October. Both exhibits are intended for visitors to explore and immerse themselves in the complex histories that surround U.S government-funded residential schools, and the current trends and connections of traditional practices through Anishinaabek artists in the region.

Close to Home: Contemporary Anishinaabek Artists is an exhibit of works from Anishinaabek artists in our region, supplemented by objects in the Dennos Museum Center’s collection.

“Away from Home” is the updated installation of the long-running boarding school exhibition, “Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience” at the Heard Museum, in Phoenix Arizona.

The six-week exhibition is made possible by the NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reports.

According to Heard Museum, the exhibition was developed with an advisory committee of scholars and culture bearers from Indigenous communities nationwide and presents diverse perspectives that highlight personal stories.

Through the compelling collections of archival materials, photographs, art, and first-person interviews from former boarding school students, visitors will witness a kaleidoscope of voices in a series of interactive timelines and immersive environments including classroom and dormitory settings.

The exhibit explores the impact that the schools have had on Indigenous communities, and how those impacts are felt today through historical education panels.

In a statement made by the Heard Museum, “It is a story that must continue to be shared and one that is central to remembering the nation’s past and understanding its present.”

Jason Dake, deputy director of museum programs and learning at the Dennos Museum Center, said he put in the request for the exhibit more than two years ago in an effort to open up representation in the community.

He sought out perspectives from people that aren’t from the “mainstream majority” and requested the six-week exhibit to fall with Indigneous Peoples’ Day, which is officially observed in Traverse City on Oct. 11th.

He was unaware that the timing would coincide with the recent horrifying news of the remains of thousands of Indigenous children discovered at former residential schools’ property sites.

In addition, the museum worked closely with Eric Hemenway, director for the department of reparations, archives and records at the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, to supplement the exhibit.

The Dennos Museum will feature additional panels with educational information about Holy Child, which, as previously reported by the Record-Eagle, was a government-funded and Catholic-ran residential boarding school that operated in Harbor Springs until closing in 1983.

“It is important to localize the stories,” Dake said, adding that the museum in the past has not been fully engaged with the Native American community in the Grand Traverse region.

He said that he wants to hopefully make it clear that the museum is listening and wants to open up the dialogue on how to better it.

“We want to have conversations on how to better improve to serve the Indigenous community,” Dake said.

Adjacent to the exhibit is “Close to Home: Contemporary Anishinaabek Artists.”

This includes Indigenous art from the region, including work by 2-spirit Anishinaabe artist Jamie John, 20, a citizen with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

John wanted his artwork available for visitors to see Native art in the 21st century.

“I feel when people think of Native American art, it’s not representational to our contemporary work,” John said.

He added that he wants visitors to think outside of baskets, or weaving.

“Though those are vital pieces of our culture, we are also print makers, painters, and fashion designers.”

Pieces from his collections, “Unceded Ancestors” and “The Invisible” will be on display in the exhibit. Both explore the ongoing effects of colonialism and how it has intertwined in the way society treats the land and each other, especially in Indigenous communities.

He dedicated his ink paintings, “The Invisible,” to his Aunt Teenie, who passed away last year.

He stated that through these paintings his hope is to bring awareness to the medical abuse that Indigenous peoples face within the hospital system.

“It’s important to talk about these issues, because of the ongoing and silent genocide that Indigenous communities are going through today, the issue is so big and I want people to see that connection,” John said.John’s work has been featured in the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center as well as a current exhibit in the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum.

His work will be alongside featured Anishinaabek artists including Renee Dillard, Jenna Wood, Yvonne Walker Keshick and Kelly Church until Oct. 31.