SchoolArts Magazine

March 2017

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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P O I N T O F V I E W Denise Horton Respecting and Honoring Native American Culture Sacred Iconography One example of this is duplication of Hopi katsinas. The Hopi embrace katsinas (also known as kachina dolls) as sacred. For this reason, only certain people are allowed to create them. An assortment of activities can now be found online to make objects similar to katsinas. Too often these production activities are insensitive and presented without knowledge of cultural significance. Another example of disrespectful treatment of sacred Native American iconography is Navajo sand paint- ings. Traditionally created in a hogan a nd then destroyed at the close of a ceremony, sand paintings hold partic- ular significance to Navajo culture. G rowing up on the Navajo Reservation, I had opportuni- ties to discover a nd learn about my own culture. Navajo history and language were meaningful parts of the schools' cur - ricula. I was taught that c ertain elements of Navajo culture are respected and honored as sanctified and, because these elements are sacrosanct, they must not be replicated. Because of this, when I explore other cultures, I do so with sensi - tivity and question my own i nterpretations. No Learning in Replicating Fast-forward to today's quickly changing society. A quick Web search of any topic can provide informa- tion about how to make almost anything. This includes replicating or appropriating objects sacred to Native American tribes. Teachers unfamiliar with cultural icons have too often taught their students to create carbon copies of Native American artwork. To this I respond in the bluntest of terms: There is no meaningful learn- ing by copying Native American art- work; moreover, it is disrespectful to indigenous tribes and their beliefs. To underscore this sig- nificance, the Navajo word for sand painting translates as "the place where the gods come and go." These "dry" paintings were once so sacred that they could not be recreated outside of a ceremony. For teachers, finding activities that imi- tate sand painting processes is simple; however, these activities rarely bring cul- tural awareness. Provide Authentic Exercises Each and every tribe across the Americas is very dif- ferent, so I would strongly e ncourage you to do some research to find a way to teach about that specific culture. So, how do you go about this in the right way? My first suggestion is to find information about spe - cific tribes. I would research t he tribe and find a contact to ask if what you're doing respects that tribe's beliefs and values. A relevant exercise would be to examine a particular tribe's history or story and have students create it in their own personal way rather than making a copy of a tribe's cultural item. Allowing students to create something that personally resonates with their own experience is power - ful and original. Create Awareness I have observed far too often the katsi- nas, sand paintings, dream catchers, and totem poles that have a blatant disregard for the beliefs of the culture I encourage ou to teach about these cultures but also to be mindful of what those s bols, images, and objects reall mean. This mudhead katsina was made for commercial reasons to sell and is not a sacred or ceremonial one. CONTINUED ON PAGE 53 SCHOOLARTSMAGAZINE.COM 17

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