One century after “The Indian Removal” of the antebellum era, Native peoples in the American Southeast provide an important but often overlooked example of how racial policies, this time rooted in eugenics, led to a documentary erasure of Indians as peoples in the twentieth century.
This paper was written in conjunction with the “Our Lives” exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities
September 21, 2004–July 6, 2015
Our Lives reveals how residents of eight Native communities live in the 21st century. Through the stories of the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians (California, USA), urban Indian community of Chicago (Illinois, USA), Yakama Nation (Washington State, USA), Igloolik (Nunavut, Canada), Kahnawake (Quebec, Canada), Saint-Laurent Metis (Manitoba, Canada), Kalinago (Carib Territory, Dominica), and Pamunkey Tribe (Virginia, USA), visitors learn about the deliberate and often difficult choices indigenous people make in order to survive economically, save their languages from extinction, preserve their cultural integrity, and keep their traditional arts alive.
The main section of Our Lives centers on various layers of identity. For Native people, identity—who you are, how you dress, what you think, where you fit in, and how you see yourself in the world—has been shaped by language, place, community membership, social and political consciousness, and customs and beliefs. But Native identity has also been influenced by a legacy of legal policies that have sought to determine who is Indian and who is not. The issue of Native identity continues to resonate today, as Native people across the Americas seek to claim the future on their own terms.