Friday, January 14, 2011

Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West

About five years ago, the librarians at Harvard University’s Houghton Library realized they had something special on their hands: a Plains Indian ledger book, filled with drawings made by Lakota Sioux of their battle exploits. Ledger drawings — pictographic art made by Plains Indians in the 19th century, often in accounting books acquired from Euro-Americans — are not uncommon artifacts, but it is unusual to find them bound in their original context.

The book, a goldmine of a historic document, launched research resulting in “Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West,’’ an exhibit at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology co-curated by the museum’s Castle McLaughlin and Butch Thunder Hawk, a Lakota artist who teaches at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D. It’s a riveting dip into Lakota warrior culture, which imbued warfare with spirituality, illustrating how one particular band of Lakota weathered the history of westward expansion sweeping across the Plains, pitting native warriors against US forces.

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