Native American Experience in the Collections

by DAPP Tours

This selection of objects from the Harvard Art Museums’ collections, which was assembled by the Ho Family Student Guides in collaboration with the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP), aims to elevate the voices and perspectives of Indigenous peoples in the modern United States. With that in mind, the first eleven works in this collection are by contemporary Native artists such as Wendy Red Star and Will Wilson. These dozen or so objects are some of the only works by Native artists in the museums’ collections, and this represents a real gap in the collections that we hope will be addressed in the future. The second part of the collection includes works by non-Native artists, both past and present. Some of the more recent works, like Stephen Coit’s portrait of Caleb Cheeshahteamuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, ask us to rethink traditional narratives of imperialism and indigeneity. The museums also hold many more problematic images, such as 20th century photographs by Edward Sheriff Curtis, which were created during a time when white photographers and anthropologists believed that Native cultures needed to be documented before they disappeared. We chose to include these and other such works to show multiple perspectives on the Native American experience. It's important to remember that these images ultimately represent perceptions of that experience by outsiders though. We hope this collection will inspire conversation and serve as a starting point for future collaborations and dialogue around the Native American experience and the museum space.