MHS exhibition to showcase Native American photos from 1920s to 1990s

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Curator Rita Walaszek Arndt (right) and another person go through photos and files at the Minnesota Historical Society.

By Brad Hagen

The Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) will be launching a new exhibit titled “Our Homes: Reframing our Stories” in Fall 2023 that will showcase photos of Native Americans around Minnesota from as early as the 1920s to the 1990s. The photos were initially being stored by the Star Tribune and discovered in a box simply titled “Indians.” After their discovery, MHS staff sorted the photos into the corresponding decades during which they were taken. Some photos were published previously, while others have never been seen by the public.

Amber Annis (Cheyenne River Lakota) and Rita Walaszek Arndt (White Earth Ojibwe), the MHS staff with whom I spoke, were intrigued to find that some of the notes written alongside these photos were less than kind, with mentions of “young braves” and obvious negative feelings toward AIM activity at the time.

Their findings sparked the question: To what extent has media coverage affected the narrative that surrounds Native Americans, and how can it be rectified? The goal of this exhibit is to answer that question and to offer a first step on the road to a solution by reclaiming our narratives as Native people through telling our own stories that go along with the photos.

Some of the photos that were initially being stored by the Star Tribune and were discovered in a box simply titled “Indians.” The MHS will put them together in an exhibit, with plans to open in 2023.

While the launch date of the official exhibit is still over a year away, MHS is beginning to prepare for it now by seeking community engagement with the photos. They intend to provide a space and a platform for members of the Native community to come together and share stories of anyone whom they recognize in the pictures, stories that may yet to have been told.

They will be holding an event on July 28th from 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Minnesota History Center (345 W Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul) for people to view the photos from the collection, to reminisce, to share a story, and perhaps hear a new one, and maybe most importantly, to reclaim our story.

A Google Form has been created by MHS for people to view some of the photos ahead of time and leave comments on them. It can be found here: https://forms.gle/ZaFt1G5eRrK69Eqx

For more information on the MHS’s Native Amercan art collection, see: https://www.mnhs.org/historycenter/activities/museum/our-home.