"Indian head" pennants hang on display at the Maidu Museum, each with
a profile of a man wearing a feathered war bonnet.
The images, almost exactly the same, do
not depict a prominent Native American in history or a person that
once lived. Instead, "it's the same generic idea of an Indian that
gets manufactured," and stands to represent all Indians, said Brian
Baker, who curated the exhibit.
"The Americana Indian: American Indians
in the American Imagination" is currently on display at the Maidu
Museum and Historic Site and runs through Nov. 30. Baker will give
a talk during the 3rd Saturday art walk Aug. 20.
Composed of seven major themes, the exhibit
highlights the powerful characteristics of the Americana Indian
that have been embedded into popular culture and commerce. Baker
aims to show how these representations convey a narrow and singular
message about Native Americans.
In many ways, these fictionalized, commercial
representations erase their identities and mock their cultures,
The collection features more than 100
items such as advertisements, board games, toys, dolls, sports paraphernalia,
soda bottles, food packaging and more.
it all together is pretty powerful," said museum Supervisor Mark
Murphy. "As a culture, we have represented Native Americans in such
a way that's not as flattering as it could be. It's important to
Baker has a personal interest in the topic.
He is a Bad River Chippewa who grew up on a reservation in Wisconsin.
He is also an associate professor of ethnic studies and American
Indian studies at California State University, Sacramento.
"Dealing with images and stereotypes is
something I commonly focus on," Baker said. "I just started collecting
objects six or seven years ago."
Baker finds items at antique fairs and
stores, online sites such as eBay and some have been given to him.
He now has 300 pieces.
One item, in the museum, is a sign with
the sentence: "Indians roamed in the area for thousands of years."
Baker describes "roam" as a politically and culturally charged term
in the narrative of discovery that attempts to claim Native Americans
didn't settle the land.
A board game on display, called "Go-Together,"
has children match cards by identifying the correct relationship
between objects and in the process, socializes these kids,
For instance, one card shows a war-dancing,
wild Indian wielding a tomahawk and wearing a feathered headdress.
The card it matches? A teepee.
Indian is not associated with a bathtub, a school, a worksite,"
Advertisements for shoes, cigarettes and
nail polish depict Native American squaws or princesses as highly
sexualized objects. An Indian War Bonnet Kit shows people how to
These representations reduce Native people
to objects, Baker said. For instance, the exhibit notes how Ishi,
the "last wild Indian," became an object of scientific study and
inquiry. After dying from tuberculosis, he was decapitated and his
bran removed for examination.
Baker said he'll show his students a photo
of a Native American in stereotypical dress and ask, "Who is this?"
They answer, "An Indian." Then he'll show them a photo of a specific
person, perhaps a Maidu, and repeat the question.
"They are unable to identify local Native
people who are their neighbors," Baker said.
Supervisor Murphy hope this exhibit, as
seen in the context of the museum's other exhibits, will help change
Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.
"The Americana Indian:
American Indians in the American Imagination"
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through
Saturday until Aug. 31. New hours begin Sept. 1 and museum will
open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday. 3rd Saturday art walk 6:30-8:30 p.m. Aug. 20. Exhibit
runs through Nov. 30.
Museum and Historic Site, 1970 Johnson Ranch Dr. in Roseville
Cost: $4.50 per adult, $4 child or
senior, $16 for family of four, $2 per person from 2-4 p.m. Tuesday
through Friday. Free entrance for 3rd Saturday art walk.
Info: Visit www.roseville.ca.us/indianmuseum
or call (916) 774-5934