For the past six months, I have been part of a group creating a traveling exhibit for the state of South Carolina. The name of the exhibit is “Resilience and Revolution: Native Peoples in 18th Century South Carolina”. The goal of this exhibit is to reveal the rich diversity and powerful resilience of Native Peoples in South Carolina in the 18th century.
My role is the museum educator/art historian for the exhibit, and I feel quite fortunate to be able to participate with a group of scholars who focus on the indigenous people of the Southeast. Not only are they academics like me, but several are members of tribal groups residing in or at one point reside within the confines of South Carolina. I view this connection to our state as a benefit to the scholarly writing, allowing it to be more inciteful of the roles of the American Indian people. Although I am not of indigenous decent one of my goals as an educator is to redefine the views of the indigenous people of North America and to remove the stereotypes of these people. This idea removing stereotypes was a driving force while taking classes at UI&U, which focuses on social justice. Many of the articles I use in my indigenous cultures course shed light on derogatory terms we still use today, and surprisingly still get used in the scholarly work written in contemporary times. When creating the scholarly document for the traveling exhibit, we came across several terms that perpetuate indigenous stereotypes.
Two terms that several of us felt needed to be changed were “braves” and “warriors”. Although these two words may not seem to be offensive, they paint a picture of a stereotype that all indigenous men were blood-thirsty killers, looking for a fight with European settlers.
The fact that not all indigenous males grew up to be fighters, seems to be missing from most books, movies, or television shows over the past hundred years. Unfortunately, the view of peaceful American Indian males wouldn’t work well as the antagonist in Hollywood.
One of the major goals of the exhibit is to not only shed light on the importance of the indigenous people of South Carolina but also that they are still here today. The way the textbooks in our state are written implies that our state only had several tribes, and they are all but in the past. The fact that there were dozens of tribal groups found in South Carolina, and they are still about ten recognized tribes found here today needs to be taught.
When creating the lesson plans that parallel the scholarly document for the exhibit, I strived to create examples that don’t add to the stereotype that so many of us in academia try to break down.
One of the offered items to the traveling trunk, which will accompany the traveling exhibit was a replica set of weapons used by 18th-century Native Americans, which seemed to perpetuate the idea of indigenous people as only blood-thirsty savages. Instead, I focused on the wampum, which acted as a form of early contract between certain tribal groups within South Carolina and European governments. Other lesson plans revolved around the indigenous nations found within our state and their importance to the area.
This month on the 18th is the opening of the exhibit at the Native American Studies Center of USC, in Lancaster, SC. I will be there along with my colleagues that took part in the creation of the exhibit. It will then move on to other tribal centers, museums, and universities across our state.
Bruce Maggi is a Teaching Associate at Coastal Carolina University where he teaches courses in art history and Indigenous cultures of North America.