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  • Writer's pictureJohn Graybill

Honoring Native American Heritage & The Sacred Vote

Updated: May 9

By Daniela Kronemeyer

The Chief & His Staff.
The Chief & His Staff. Apsaroke, E.S. Curtis, 1905.

November marks the beginning of Native American Heritage Month - a time to recognize the many contributions and achievements of Indigenous people in our country, as well as to celebrate their diverse and vibrant traditions. At the same time, we find ourselves mere days away from perhaps the most important election of our lifetimes. For this reason, we humbly ask you to vote with your heart. Do so for the struggles of the Native men and women who came before us, for the health of our communities and families, and out of respect for our most precious Mother Earth.

It was not until 1962 that Native Americans were given the ability to vote nationwide - their rights as equal citizens hard earned after centuries of brutal treatment. We know that Native voters have the power to make a significance difference in important state, local, and national elections in the days ahead - votes that have the power to make key decisions which impact Indigenous sovereignty, welfare, access to education, and environmental rights throughout the country. 

As the wise Indigenous elders across the world have told us, these decisions affect all of us as - for we are all related - living together on Turtle Island. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we engage everyone to be part of the political conversation and use our voices to make our local communities and nation a stronger and more peaceful union. As the wise Native elders tell us: “we vote not just for ourselves, but for those who came before us, and for the next seven generations to come - our vote is sacred.”

Girls At The River.
Girls At The River. Zuni, E.S. Curtis, 1903.

It is this philosophy of honoring the land, our ancestors and the generations to come that drew Edward S. Curtis to the Native Americans he photographed over one hundred years ago, in a country that looked vastly different. He made it his mission to document the lives of Indigenous people out of fear their way of life would forever vanish in this new and modern world. At the time of his work, Curtis had no idea how deep an impact he would have on so many of us today, and how monumental his images were to the psyche of this country. 

Deeply bothered by the harmful policies of the government toward Native Americans throughout the Great Plains and West, he set out on a three-decade journey with no more than six years of classroom education and with no formal training in art, history, science or other academic disciplines to speak of. Sheer determination and a will to complete this great task would lead him to become one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Today, he is most notably remembered for his iconic images of great Indian chiefs and little-known tribes through his twenty-volume masterpiece, The North American Indian

Wedding Party.
Wedding Party. Qagyuhl, E.S. Curtis, 1914.

This month, we look back on the many diverse people who touched Curtis’ heart, and pay respect to their unique way of life, their wisdom, and the many lessons they have taught us along the way. As we continue to carry on his legacy through our various bodies of work, we continue to pay homage to the many Indigenous men, women, and children whom Curtis encountered on his thirty-year voyage. We know that their hope for us today would be to find a way to live in harmony with one another and the natural world. It is in this spirit that we continue the endeavor Curtis began by working to make the Foundation an outlet for today’s Native voices. We know that by amplifying their messages of harmony, we are indeed keeping his legacy alive for the next generation to enjoy and take inspiration from. 

“The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, 

some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other … 

consequently the information that is to be gathered, 

for the benefit of future generations, 

respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, 

must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.”

- Edward S. Curtis

We sincerely thank you for continuing to follow along and appreciate your support in spreading the word to like-minded family and friends who may take an interest in the work we are doing with the many Native American communities we have had the privilege of meeting these past few years. We hope you will consider making a donation now or perhaps next month during our Giving Tuesday campaign so that we have the ability to continue this important work.  With gratitude & warm wishes, Curtis Legacy Foundation

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