Coffee and Culture: June 21, 2017

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The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) is the country’s leading museum for exhibiting, collecting and interpreting the most progressive work of contemporary Native artists for local, national and international audiences. Please join MoCNA Director Patsy Phillips (Cherokee Nation) for a conversation about a recent donation of prominent American Indian Activist and Scholar, Suzan Harjo’s archives and collection. Before joining MoCNA, Phillips worked at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and Atlatl, Inc., a national service organization for Native Arts (1996 to 2000). Joining Ms. Phillips is Ryan S. Flahive, who is an archivist and curator at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is the editor of two books, Celebrating Difference: Fifty Years of Contemporary Native Arts at IAIA, 1962-2012 (Sunstone Press, 2012) and The Sound of Drums: A Memoir of Lloyd Kiva New (Sunstone Press, 2016).

The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) recently acquired the archive and art collection of Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee), an important American Indian activist, lobbyist, policy maker, and 2011 recipient of an IAIA Honorary Doctorate. "At some point in your life, you have to divest," said Harjo when discussing her donation to IAIA. After a lifetime of advocacy for Native arts and cultures, she recently decided to make the donation. Harjo, who turned 72 on June 2, reflected on her life, "You never know what the future holds and what will happen in life. I decided IAIA is the appropriate place for The Harjo Family Collection as it is merely a continuation of a long-term relationship I have had with the institution which has given me so much including an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities. It pleases me to give back to the Institution and to be able to give to future students and researchers of the archives and collections of IAIA."

Patsy Phillips has known Harjo for over twenty years. When Harjo called Philips to inquire about donating her collection of papers and art collection to the Institute, Phillips was thrilled. "For decades Suzan has worked for the advancement of Native arts, cultures and policies. She could have chosen a number of other museums or institutions to donate her collection, but she chose IAIA," Phillips said. "Suzan is a strategic visionary which reflects in her selection to donate to IAIA where future students, scholars and others will study her work for generations to come."

The Suzan Shown Harjo Papers, donated to the IAIA Archives, document her work as a Native American activist, lobbyist, broadcaster and scholar between 1965 to present. Harjo's papers document the development and passage of several important pieces of national legislation including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978), the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990), and the Indian Arts & Crafts Act Amendment (1990). The archive also follows Harjo’s role as Executive Director of the National Congress of the American Indian (1984-1989), the Morning Star Institute (1984-present), and a lawsuit against the Washington professional football team trademarks which was defeated on a technicality but not on the merit. She organized an identical lawsuit for young Native people which is currently ongoing in the federal courts. The collection also contains other historically valuable material, such as audio tapes from her 1960s - 1970s WBAI New York radio show "Seeing Red," a collection of unpublished personal poetry, and research files from over fifty years of work. "Once processed, the Harjo Papers will be a significant research collection for students and scholars of the 20th century American Indian sovereignty, self-determination, and cultural rights movements," said IAIA Archivist Ryan Flahive, "as well as the history of American Indian arts and culture legislation."

Harjo's art donation, The Harjo Family Collection, was donated to the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and contains roughly sixty works. Many of the works were gifted to the revered activist and include Marcus Amerman (Choctaw), David Bradley (Minnesota Chippewa), Kelly Church (Ottawa), Anita Fields (Osage), Harry Fonseca (Nisenan Maidu/Hawaiian/Portugese), Shan Goshorn (Cherokee Nation), Ben Harjo (Seminole/Shawnee), Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi/Choctaw), America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), Dan Namingha (Hopi), Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), Mateo Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo), Tony Tiger (Cherokee Nation), Richard Ray Whitman (Yuchi/Muskogee Creek), and others. IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts Curator of Collections Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer (Hopi/Choctaw) stated, "Many of these artists are significant to the field of Contemporary Native American Art.  We are thrilled to receive this work by renowned artists like Roxanne Swentzell, Kelly Church, and Tony Tiger. Historically the personal art collection of Suzan Harjo has special meaning as many of the works were personal gifts to Suzan, Frank and Duke Harjo by the artists themselves."

Photo Credits:

Leonard Peltier, Untitled (portrait of Suzan Harjo), oil on canvas, n.d., 24 x 18

Ryan Flayhive, Photo Courtesy Ryan Flayhive

IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts Director, Patsy Phillips (Cherokee Nation)