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Exhibit Themes and Terms

Themes Explored in Indigenous Appalachia Exhibit

  • Complexities involved in public discussions and portrayals of Indigenous cultures and histories in consideration of European and American colonial history, U.S. policies, and social forces, including centuries of genocidal acts 
  • Acknowledgement of WVRHC's Indigenous related holdings- WVU’s Native American Studies Program 
  • Indigenous Place Names in West VirginiaIndian
  • Trails in West Virginia
  • Indigenous People in Appalachia Today and their ancestry
  • Contemporary Indigenous Appalachian perspectives through creative work 
Indigenous Medicine Garden

Key Terms in Indigenous Appalachia Exhibit

What makes someone an Artist?

Art is a broadly descriptive term for any creative expression including visual forms of all media, craftwork, writing, tool-making, clothing, expressing and practicing culture and ancestry and religion. Indigenous art is a widely studied, revered, and celebrated field in global society. 

What constitutes being an Appalachian?

People define this identity in many ways with different kinds of maps. For the purpose of this exhibit, Appalachian refers to being from or situated within the states included in the Appalachian region of TURTLE ISLAND (the traditional name many Indigenous North Americans used and still use to refer to the Native North American continent), including displaced peoples whose communities are originally from Appalachia.

Who is considered Indigenous? 

This can be defined broadly, strictly personally, ethnographically, genealogically, or, as an artifact of colonization, by a federal or state government’s recognition of one’s tribal nation. There is no single definition just as there is no one definition as to who is an American. 

“Indigenous communities are not static. Every time we move, encounter other peoples, marry into communities, adopt people, and so on, we incorporate elements into the larger society. However, when this occurs, we don't necessarily change who we are. We are simply adding to the pot of complexity and choice. Think about America: what America strives to be, Indigenous communities have been here for thousands of years. Indigenous communities had gender equality, equity, race was non-existent, and territories had fuzzy boundaries, and so sharing Turtle Island peace became the standard for getting by.” -Joe Stahlman, Director, Seneca-Iroquois National Museum

In the U.S. individuals might self-identify as Indigenous, Native, Native American, American Indian, Alaska Native, and/or self-identify as a citizen or relative of a particular Indigenous nation, tribe, or community. Today there are 574 Federally-recognized such nations, tribes, or communities regarded as sovereigns by the U.S. government (they interact with the federal government on a government-to-government basis).

Some tribes might be recognized exclusively by state governments; other groups of Indigenous individuals have no government recognition as a group but affiliate with each other because of a shared heritage (perhaps all descend from a single tribe or they simply affiliate as Indigenous people who perhaps descend from numerous tribes); and some individuals do not consider themselves to be affiliated with any Native nation, tribe, community, or group. Some citizens of sovereign Native nations (such as Haudenosaunee) claim solely their tribal nationality and do not claim or vote for the U.S. president as their leader. 

Even within families who share the same two parents, individuals may choose to self-identify in different ways; this could be especially true when the individuals’ heritage includes multiple ethnic, racial, national, and/or cultural origins (“Pete’s twin brother identifies as Cherokee, but Pete identifies with his father’s side of the family, which is Swedish”). Some tribes have a matrilineal tradition and others have a patrilineal tradition. This influences whether children will be considered members of a particular clan within a tribe, or be members of their mother’s or father’s tribe if the parents are from different tribes. Some tribes do not allow dual tribal citizenship and couples from different tribes then have to decide in which, if any, tribe their children will become enrolled citizens, if eligible. Kinship laws spelling out how one tribal citizen is related to another are a sacred element of Indigenous cultural traditions, dictating how people are related and whether they may marry each other, etc.

In sum, beyond self-identifying as having the personal (and/or familial) cultural identity of an Indigenous person, in Native North America, these individuals may simultaneously have tribal nation citizenship status, conferred upon them via the sovereign authority of an American Indian tribe or Alaska Native community, or tribal membership conferred by a state-recognized tribe.

Indigenous Choctaw Person Making Food

What makes someone an Indigenous Appalachian Artist? 

Scholars spend significant time analyzing the layered meaning, context, and purposes of Indigenous American art and the role it has and continues to play within respective cultures.

Indigenous people have always created what colonial language labels art. Yet there is no Native word for “art” as defined in a Euro-American sense. Art, as non-Native culture envisions, is mostly ornamental. This is in sharp juxtaposition to a Native perspective, which sees art as integrative, inclusive, practical, and constantly evolving. There is no past or present terminology that can define tribal art. Friend of the Native American Studies Program, Indigenous rights leader, Chief Oren Lyons (Faithkeeper, Turtle Clan, Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee) a painter and graphic artist, said, ‘In our cultures, there’s no word for “art” – we try to make everything with attention to detail [and with regard for aesthetics].’