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tv   American Artifacts National Museum of the American Indian Trail of Tears...  CSPAN  February 23, 2020 10:00pm-10:41pm EST

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>> this is american history tv on c-span3. each week and we feature 48 hours of programs exploring our nation's past. >> each week, american artifacts takes you to museums and historical places to learn about american history. next we visit the trail of tears gallery at the national museum of the american indian in washington, d.c., which looks at the national debate over the 1830 indian removal act and its impact on southern tribes. associate curator paul chaat smith leads us through the gallery after the introduction in the americans exhibit, which examines how indian imagery is prevalent in products, toys and
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mascots. paul: the exhibition is called americans and its built on a paradox, a riddle. 2018, thex is, in united states is a country of 230 million people. 1%rican indians are perhaps of that population. most americans live in urban areas, suburban areas, parts of the country where they never actually see american indians. and yet, in american daily life, images, advertising, mascots, surround people every single day. the show is about exploring the strange contradiction of how prevalent american indians are in american life really from the earliest memories of americans
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throughout their life, and yet somehow it was never really noticed much, never seemed is important. the territorial team decided to call this phenomenon "indians everywhere." it's about normalizing what's actually a really weird phenomenon. we looked and we couldn't find any other country in which one ethnic group has been used for so many different purposes for such an extraordinarily long time into the present. we went to a larger discussion beyond the egg fears -- beyond of stereotypes or cultural appropriation and look at the vastness and uniqueness of it, and explore the reasons for why it exists. we have over 300 objects and images of representation for american indians before the country began up to the present. they cover every manner of advertising for every sort of
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product. we have a handful of major objects that will get a significant amount of visitor attention, including this indian chief motorcycle from 1948. people who love motorcycles often revered the indian motorcycle, particularly from these years. it was a special model. what is interesting to us about the motorcycle is that the name of the brand was chosen to distinguish it from competition, particularly from the u.k. the company has gone through many changes through the years. it still exists. ownership has changed multiple times. almost nothing exists from the
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early days when it started out as a bicycle factory. and so it went through all of these changes in ownership. the one thing that survives is indian. ultimately, that becomes the most valuable thing about the product. it's the name indian. you see in this motorcycle how much they emphasize that and the color options are all indian related. you don't choose something like that unless you feel it adds value. that sort of name, that sort of advertising strategy. one of the things the exhibition is about is how indians add value to products, entertainment, and ultimately to the nation itself. indians become a signifier for the the united states. something people often look for, and something we always knew was going to be in this hall of over
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300 objects and images, was something about the local nfl team here in washington. washington redskins. we weren't really sure how to present the objects because we felt it would be a little boring. we would just have a football helmet or something. what we chose to do was, in multiple places, really show how these mascots are in everyday life rather than show them by themselves. here we have a photograph of robert griffin the third, a sensational quarterback for the redskins. what we are interested in is to really appreciate why people support teams. very few people say which team has the coolest mascots or best
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name. you almost always support a team because you're from a region, because your family and friends support it. the teams are chosen by rich guys, usually from another century, and it is a determinative thing. we wanted to respect that sports plays a huge role in civic life, brings people together. so having that image of robert griffin iii with a young fan feels like a generous approach to this, while at the same time, it is a dictionary defined slur. most are certainly opposed to it. for me, as someone who lives in the washington area, to see that as a main representation of indians on a daily basis, it is annoying. at the same time, we are not
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about trashing people who support the team. we're more interested in debate about people who support this. for people who look for washington redskins, it is here. i think everyone understands of a new team came up, no one would choose such a name. it was part of our effort to be welcoming to people, including people who don't necessarily agree with us. i've always thought the chicago blackhawks have one of the most attractive logos as far as aesthetics. the professional sports teams are the most famous examples of sports mascots, but there are hundreds of public schools and colleges and universities that have indian names. again, what we think is interesting is that there is
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such a tiny number of other examples. people say what about the notre dame irish? what about the dallas cowboys? in terms of an entire ethnic group, it's like 1000 to one. we are looking at what makes this both socially acceptable and somehow, something you don't really need to think about. most people never thought about it. it just seemed right to call a team warriors or indians or apaches. it wasn't really an issue. that's really what we are trying to get at, really look at how pervasive it is and how strange it is once you take a look at it. this photograph is of michelle obama, when she was the first lady of the united states, with people wearing chicago blackhawks jerseys. this is something to show how this becomes normalized and
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ordinary. when we thought about how to show this in the exhibition, one decision we made was, when possible, to show it in children's clothing, and in infants. it's about how people usually decide to support a team, usually because that's where they live. it tends to be a unifying force in many ways. and it comes in a way that dehumanizes american indians. this is something that happens to native american people. rarely does it happen to other ethnic groups in the united states to this degree. there is not one opinion as far as american indians on this phenomenon. two examples that are clear are the cleveland indians, which most people would say the image , you know, the chief feels very
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stereotypical. some might disagree but i think most non-indian people would say that feels out of place. the team is now phasing that logo out. and the washington redskins being a dictionary-defined slur. others aren't clear, blackhawks, or the name "indians," without a stereotypical name. one of the images we have here is the pennant from the golden state warriors back when they were called the san francisco warriors. this is a national basketball association team. they used a headdress to promote their team in the early days of that franchise. now, they are still called the warriors, but they make no reference to american indians. i think those are interesting things to debate. our point of view is how vast the phenomenon is.
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we decided to avoid saying prescriptive saying this one is ok, or chicago blackhawks, if you make this change, it's fine. we are really looking at the larger picture. i think every exhibition should have a photograph of elvis presley in it. that is my own point of view. in this case, it is an example of how many distinguished americans have found themselves wearing a headdress. elvis presley did a movie in which he played a native american character. other people are here that weren't playing a native american character, including franklin delano roosevelt, richard nixon, the famous union leader jimmy hoffa, cher. the reasons why people wore headdresses in these particular ways vary. again, what we're interested in showing is how people would never think in this context
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would end up wearing a headdress. through most of the country's history, it would seem like something that just made sense. when we talk about these representations surrounding americans throughout their lives, one of the most important ways is through movies and television. we have a section in this exhibition which really shows 100 years of these images, going from john ford's 1935 movie, stagecoach, all the way to the unbreakable kimmy schmidt and other contemporary television comedies. and everything in between. it's a little bit like the celebrities that end up playing an indian or wearing a
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headdress. kind of like chaka khan wearing an indian outfit. that comedy in the 60's and 70's had nothing to do with indians. they would routinely have some indian themed shows. sometimes it was thanksgiving, sometimes it wasn't. it could be the munsters. it could be seinfeld. it was interesting to us because television was a more intimate form than film because it's in your living room, it's in your house. watchingctually indians in american life on your tv and in your living room. if you ask people about those tv shows they may not remember, but in this gallery people see it and they often say, oh yes, that brady bunch episode. i remember all about it. i always knew i wanted this in a show, but felt we would probably
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decide against it because kids today didn't grow up with this image. this is called the rca test pattern. in the early days of television, it would be broadcast at the beginning of the broadcast day, at the end, and often throughout the day, when television still had limited amount of programming. actually you see this image now in hipster t-shirts, in video games. it has established a life of itself, even though it could -- a quit being used in television broadcasts in the 1960's. what was interesting about it was, in the late 1940's and 1950's, when tv was new, it's a completely different kind of light that didn't exist. this cathode ray tube. it's this weird machine that's in your house.
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the engineers that devised to this, they wanted something that could help them adjust the broadcast quality, the picture quality. that explains the lines and the numbers and everything. they also wanted a drawing to get that quality as well. again, this is just one example that made sense to use an indian in a headdress because everyone knows an indian in a headdress. it also signifies american-ness. it's for an american audience. i think there's something spooky and subversive about this strange kind of light in a brand new technology. it's in your living room, it's on early in the morning, late at night. i, somehow, feel there is something bizarre going on with
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the american consciousness, or this is somehow getting into people's heads in a way we don't fully understand even today. in this main hall, we have hundreds of objects and images. -- in -- images of indian representations. we have three galleries that look at these huge moments in american history. we will look at one now. 50 years after the american revolution, the united states passed the indian removal act of 1830. this section of the exhibition is about the trail of tears, which is one of the results of the indian removal act. what we are really looking at here is how the indian removal act, in our view, is the most significant law ever passed. it was more important than any other treaty or federal action. we look at why we believe that to be true. we also look at it in this moment in which american
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democracy was on trial. at this time, in 1830, the united states was the only representative democracy in the world. revolutions had failed in europe. despite all the horrific flaws in the united states in 1830, the enslavement of black people, women couldn't vote, indians being dispossessed. in fact, not too many years earlier, even white men couldn't vote unless they owned property. this was after the revolution. so it is all of these terrible flaws in the united states. it still was a beacon of hope around the world. it was still a country that took seriously it's enlightenment ideals. in 1830, this national conversation that had been simmering for some time comes to
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a head and the jackson administration proposes the indian removal act. what it's about is trying to manage this problem, which is there are indian nations inside the borders of the united states. this is something that causes problems for the state, limits their development, and it feels intolerable to a certain number of americans that there should be these self-described indian nations within the united states. in 1830, the act, that is really modest in length and in language, proposes something that is really quite extraordinary. it really imagines a future in which the united states would exist without american indians. it proposes an exchange of lands so that indians inside the territorial borders of the united states would move west of the mississippi.
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this is one solution and it ignites a very intense national debate. and what we show in this section is how many points of view there were on this. and in fact, american indians had a great deal of agency and influence in the conversation. john ross, the cherokee leader, was a national political figure in the united states. he was well known. he was somebody that could marshal allies in the country in both politicians, members of congress, but also civic groups. there were legislators opposed to what this act was talking about, which was a removal of american indians. we knew that most americans today, if they knew the term trail of tears, they understand that it was a moment of national shame for the united states.
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there are very few people that say that it was their finest hour, that was great, let's do it again. we know people understand it was something the country regrets. what we were interested in doing is trying to explain how there was a real national debate about this. that people at the time, including people in congress, predicted that it would not go well. we wanted to show that it was a national conversation that happened. in this section, we show a range of points of view. we start with president jefferson who was a leader that understood there was a contradiction, in his mind, about having these indian nations within the borders of the united states. he thought a lot about what the different solutions might be to that. usually, with some form of removal dispossession that was
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being talked about. during the early decades of the 19th century, the cotton kingdom was just coming into its own. it was clear that cotton could be an engine of economic development in the deep south. by 1830, when this was happening, indians in the south are under intense pressure to remove themselves, and some actually do accept offers of removal in exchange for land and money, but this debate is a moment in which the country really has to think about what it stands for. we show points of view of president jefferson, of john ross, the cherokee leader, and we talk about different civic organizations that were involved
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as well. a particular member of congress, who spoke really eloquently against the removal act, and again from the point of view of it as a betrayal of american principles. so i think president jackson, in a way, gets too much credit for indian removal. there were two choices behind this before he came into office, but he was certainly the manager and executor of the policy and the one that oversaw the passage of the indian removal act. it is interesting that it has become synonymous with this one part of his administration because, for most of the decades since he left office, he was much more known for other policies, such as the bank of the united states, being the
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first person who was from massachusetts to become president. it is interesting to us because it shows how history changes. at the same time, if you had to take a person to say that was most responsible, it was certainly president jackson. one thing that's a surprise to most visitors is how close it was in congress. it passed with a margin, but it wasn't an overwhelming margin. i think it's fair to say that after this debate, it really became national policy in a genuine way, that even though the vote was split, once it was enacted into law, it really does become the policy of the united states of america. one of the things that was set in place was a template for a kind of paternalistic approach towards american indians. there was this interesting
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humanitarian argument that said this was really good for american indians. they are going to be much better off west of the mississippi. they are going to be just fine, and they are being compensated. that humanitarian argument carried over in the sense of central policies following this, that basically said the united states knew what was best for american indians. this section of the american activation is really about words and texts. it is startling to read, which visitors can do because it's not very long, 200 words. it never references any particular indian tribe. it does not even reference the south in a particular way. it is almost like a real estate pitch you know, "let's come to a deal, if you want, exchange lands."
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it does not directly suggest that if american indians choose not to accept lands in the west, they can stay and everything will be fine. it's extraordinarily misleading. it's also revealing in that it does state pretty clearly that the states in the south would grow in economic wealth and power, an explicit goal that this would help build this part of the united states which is being held back by these internal nations within the united states. on one hand, it's very clear what it's saying, that we are doing this for economic development reasons, and it is extremely misleading in that it implies that this is voluntary, this is an offer. it is misleading in that it does not signify that it is targeting
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indian nations in the south. after the indian removal act was passed in may 1830, indian nations still fought against it. they still marshaled public opinion, they filed suits in the united states supreme court to prevent it. and, you know, kept fighting throughout the 1830's. some indian nations did go ahead with removal. it's important to remember, conditions on the ground were really hard at that point. indians were under attack, a racist attack, and a lot of indians understood where this was all going. the cherokee nation fought to the very end. it's become understood in american imagination to be
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primarily about the cherokee nation. i think that's a lot because of their heroic struggle against removal. one of the things we wanted to accomplish in this exhibition is to show that this is a large, national, even global, event. it's not only about the cherokee, it was more than the five civilized tribes. it transformed national borders, transformed national economies. it was also a massive project for the united states to carry out. the federal government was quite small in the 1830's. president jackson had to personally sign every land deal in the united states, and he spent one miserable december signing thousands of them by hand, and was still thousands behind schedule. eventually, they passed a law saying someone else could sign the deed.
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it gives you an idea of how small the federal government was. in this section, which we call the machinery of removal, we focus on how epic a project it was and how it was brillantly successful in meeting one of its goals, which was to create economic wealth in the united states. and a catastrophe, that the act could somehow do this, and that this would be a good thing for american indians. of course, it was a disastrous failure. one of the things few people understand is that removal from the passage of the act until the final removal treaties were amended and changed and the final payments were made out, it actually spanned nine presidential administrations. andrew jackson actually wasn't even the president during the final, horrific journey of the trail of tears. again, it became a huge national policy. it was epic in scope. it involved half of the states
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of the union in removal routes, involved west of the mississippi. it was extraordinarily expensive. it was budgeted for 500,000. some scholars estimate it would be something like $100 million total in today's dollars. it was something that not only affected the south but created economic wealth in new england. cotton was the most important commodity on the planet. it created wealth in the united kingdom as well. we are looking at how massive a project this was. visitors who may think it is only about a terrible thing that happened to some american indians, orchestrated by bad president, it was a national policy carried out. it was brutal, it was visionary.
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it was all of those things at once. by the end of the decade, the wealthiest americans in the country had zip codes in louisiana and mississippi and alabama. some of the cotton kingdom's explosion wasn't due to removal, but it removed the last barrier to have the south be a region that was connected by railroads that could develop economically and create this new wealth. we focus on the cotton kingdom a lot and for that reason, it is important to point out that the five civilized tribes were really understood as slave states. most indians in those states -- in those nations didn't own slaves. which is all true of most white people in mississippi. but they were, by law, slave states. they reenacted -- reinstated slavery when they went into indian territory, and they
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fought with confederacy. one of the goals this museum has been is to show indians as fully human, as capable of all the good and evil anyone -- any other kinds of people do. so we have the image of the house of a native leader who had hundreds of enslaved persons, and his mansion was based on one owned by napoleon in france. so it is complicated. this is something you see that is taking on to show that the complexity of some of this history. the cotton kingdom's success of building it, of course, comes at an extraordinarily high cost. first of all the enslavement of , millions of human beings, the dispossession of native americans, but even that wealth, the success of building the country on the cotton kingdom
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that could not exist without a slave labor results in a civil war, the worst war in american history. and so, the end result of this is something the country is still coming to terms with. what we hope is in this exhibition is to show that there is an argument to say that indian removal was the most significant event between the american revolution and the american civil war. so when american indians arrived in indian territory, it is a different landscape, a different environment, different situation pretty much all around. i think people from the 1830's would be really, really surprised if they understood that in the 21st century, these very same indian nations
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reconstituted themselves formally and legally and exist in, you know in pretty good , shape in the united states. that they still have a sovereign status. i was just in oklahoma, and you see television commercials on the major channels from the chickasaw nation, from the cherokee nation, the choctaw nation. these are indian nations that have actual, genuine power today and have recovered in a way that i think would be really shocking to people who had seen what they went through in the 1830's. so that is certainly an element of the story that native people went through removal really want that to be understood, that they not only survived, but they did prosper. the trail of tears is a really
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famous event and pretty much all americans know that phrase, trail of tears. i think they pretty much know it is something about indians, something really bad that was done to indians, and a lot of people know andrew jackson's part of that story. but what we found is that it tends to be seen as a shape of moment in history but kind of a small event. it was really something done to indians. and what we hope to do here is to show how it was a much larger event. so we operated from what people already think and what people already know. so at the concluding section of the exhibit, we look at trail of tears in national memory over time. and what is really interesting is the trail of tears was never forgotten by american indians. but in national memory, it faded away pretty quickly. when you look at what historians were writing in the late 19th
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century into the first half of the 20th century, it is rarely in textbooks as a major event involving indians. and it is often completely omitted from discussions of the jackson administration. there are many, many books written that barely touched on it or ignored it altogether. it is quite interesting to hear in the 21st century, it is the first thing people think of when they think of president jackson, and that people really around the world are familiar with that phrase. so in our last section, we show how that didn't just happen by accident. this countryually of young indian women in the early 20th century that launched their own sort of campaigns. there was a poem that used "trail of tears." it started to catch on. there was different kinds of writings. there was a cherokee woman who dressed in indian clothing even
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though that is not what cherokees wore and she knew that, to talk to people about indian removal. the phrase trail of tears really caught on among the american public over time. it wasn't quick. it was really not until the 1950's that it started appearing a lot and not until the 1960's and 1970's that it became very, very well known. we are always fascinated about how american history changes over time, how we understand events today is different about how people understood it at other times, even though the facts of what happened don't actually change. we look today and see the largest national park is the trail of tears national trail, and you see native americans walking and riding through that. you see motorcycle clubs you see
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, all kinds of people enjoying that. it's not something that's understood as a really major event in american history. what we hope this exhibition will do is enlarge the understanding of it, that it really was an epic chapter that was about national borders, global economies, and setting forward policies about indians that had affect long after the actual removal. this billboard behind me, trail of tears, not what you think, not what -- not even close, we chose that because we wanted to suggest something provocative that has visitors kind of question what they may already think they know about it. and again, to say that this was a moment of huge national significance that affected the entire country, and not simply an unfortunate policy carried out by a single president.
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[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] announcer: you can watch this and other american artifacts programs by visiting our website, ♪ announcer 1: c-span, your unfiltered view of government. created by cable and 79 and brought to you today by your ticket -- your television provider. night on the communicators, from the state of the net conference, the associate attorney general, and thermer fbi general on decryption and privacy. >> their facebook ends encrypting its platforms, the company itself will lose visibility into what is happening. learn aboutr even
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it. think about the children who are being abused as we speak, who we won't be able to track down. >> law enforcement needs to --hink its approach to the in light of the facts congress won't act and these significant cyber threats and embrace encryption instead of trying to find ways to break it. that is not what law enforcement is trying to do. it needs to find a way to enhance the cybersecurity. announcer 1: watch the communicators monday in a clock eastern on c-span two. announcer: next on american history tv, smithsonian national air and and space museum dorothy cochrane uses images to discuss the legends and legacy of a record-setting aviator, amelia earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the atlantic ocean
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and the first to fly solo across the united states. she also discusses some of the theories behind earhart's 1937 disappearance, while attempting a 29,000 mile flight around the world. the smithsonian associates hosted this event. lauren: good evening. i'm lauren rosenberg with smithsonian associates, and i'm so glad you have joined us for tonight's program. to our members, i'm glad you are here. it is your ongoing support that make events like this possible. to any of you joining us for the first time, an equally warm welcome and an open invitation to explore the wide range of programs we offer at smithsonian associates. now is the perfect time to turn off your cell phones or anything else that might make noise during the program. thank you for doing that. 85 years ago this month, amelia earhart became the first aviator to fly solo from honolulu, hawaii to oakland, california. and of


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