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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Celebrating The 'Art of Ceremony'
by Lauren Dake - The Bend (OR) Bulletin

Warm Springs museum's traveling exhibit offers rare glimpse of traditional regalia

WARM SPRINGS — The Museum At Warm Springs' latest exhibit was missing something.

There was a nearly empty platform where headbands, decorated with abalone shells and adorned with orange and black feathers, were supposed to be.

Clothes, a skirt made of maple bark and an apron fashioned from ring-tailed cat hide, all from the Coquille Indian Tribe, were also gone.

Yet no one was worried. The ceremonial regalia was being worn — danced in by tribal members from the Coquille Indian Tribe in their summer solstice celebration.

"They were being worn 24 hours before (being placed in the museum)," said Rebecca Dobkins, a professor of anthropology and curator of Native American art at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem. "This is a living exhibit. In the sense that these objects, many of them literally come out of people's closets and will be danced in ceremony when they get home."

The recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces Project, "The Art of Ceremony: Regalia of Native Oregon" is currently at The Museum At Warm Springs. From the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon comes ceremonial regalia used in memorial dances ranging from weddings to celebrating the first huckleberry feast to mourning the loss of a tribal member in the longhouse. The types of clothing vary, depending on the location of the tribes. Many of the pieces are contemporary, crafted in this century. Other works have been passed down through generations.

But all the pieces offer a rare glimpse into an often-private world.

"This is an opportunity to see work that is otherwise almost never seen," Dobkins said.

From the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians comes the traditional wear for the Feather Dance.

"This is the first time they have taken their dance regalia outside of the community," Dobkins said. "The Feather Dance, called a world renewal ceremony, is a multi-night ceremony in a traditional dance house. They celebrate the solstice and renewal with the earth and creation, and the coming of new generations. They honor woman because they bring forth the new generation.

"I think we're at an important moment historically," she said. "Tribes have gotten stronger through economic development and what the public sees is just gaming. They don't have a clue about contemporary native life ... I think there's a real and well-deserved pride and identity, an awareness of the preciousness of this tradition."

From the Siletz tribe comes women's caps made of hazel sticks, spruce roots, bear grass, worn during the Feather Dance. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs shows a wedding scene, complete with the intricate bead work the tribes are known for. And a replica of a "canoe journey" indicative of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon can be viewed at the exhibit.

"(The exhibit) tells the world who they are," said Carol Leone, the executive director of The Museum At Warm Springs. "It shows they are following the traditions of their ancestors."

Julie Tripp, 62, of Portland, said she took a different route to her John Day destination Friday afternoon, just to see the exhibit.

"I've been wanting to see this exhibit … and it has not let me down," Tripp said. "The work that went into these, and they must look sensational when they're dancing."

The exhibit was initially placed at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. From there, it went to the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. After Warm Springs, the exhibit will be placed in the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.

Christine D'Arcy, the executive director of the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust, said the American Masterpieces Project grant is given once a year.

"Every year we make hard decisions about good projects," D'Arcy said. "This one really resonated with people, because it brought together work from different parts of the state from each one of the nine federally recognized tribes contributed. The material was presented sensitively with lots of information (placards with historical information accompany the artwork). … The proposal to collaborate with other museums to show the work across the state (was also favorable)."

The project was awarded a $50,000 grant, which gave it a running start. The entire project cost about $150,000.

Leone said the museum is staying open seven days a week until the exhibit moves on Sept. 12. Museum officials have decided to keep their doors open seven days a week because of the large response to the exhibit.

"These are unique and beautiful objects," Leone said of the exhibit. "The objects have a story. They are objects people are using or have used. They are living history objects themselves. It's an important exhibit. We're happy it was available to come to this museum and be available for Central Oregon."

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