2014 marked another year of artistic achievement and cultural controversy in Indian country. Here, we bring you the second half of our recap of the 20 biggest stories of the year in arts and entertainment.
Happy Anniversaries, NMAI
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian celebrated a quadruple anniversary in 2014: 25 years since its creation, 20 years since the opening of the museum in New York, 15 years of the Cultural Resources Center in Maryland, and 10 years since the opening of the DC museum on the National Mall. To mark the occasion, the Washington museum organized “Nation to Nation,” a massive exhibition on treaties that will run through 2018, and the New York museum mounted an unprecedented show of jewelry by the Yazzie family.
Seal of Approval
Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq won the Polaris Prize, an award that goes to the best album by a Canadian artist. Animism, a disc that Tagaq says expresses “how I feel about colonialism, government and society,” bested releases by such well-known artists as Drake, Arcade Fire, Mac DeMarco, and Owen Pallett. In her acceptance speech, Tagaq defended seal hunting and lashed out at animal-rights do-gooders. “[Seal meat is] delicious and there’s lots of them and fuck PETA,” she said.
Rebel Music, an MTV series that focuses on music created by people facing political or social adversity, looked at young stars from Indian country in a second-season premiere streamed on Facebook. Frank Waln, Inez Jasper, Nataanii Means and Mike “Witko” Cliff were featured in the 19-minute clip, which to date has racked up 4.4 million views.
Indian country lost its most accomplished young actress, Misty Upham, whose performances in Frozen River, Jimmy P., and August: Osage County had established her as a formidable talent. The Blackfeet actress, who (according to her father) suffered from bipolar anxiety disorder, disappeared on the Muckleshoot Reservation in Washington state on October 5; her body was discovered at the bottom of a ravine ten days later.
Take That, Edward S. Curtis
Bolstered by a popular video on the hugely influential website Upworthy.com, photographer Matika Wilbur’s Project 562 blew past its crowdfunding goal. Wilbur was shooting for $54,000 to finance her quest to photograph members from every federally-recognized Tribe and Nation; over the course of a month, she raised $213,461.
NDNs on TV
SundanceTV’s Red Road series, starring Jason Momoa and Kiowa Gordon, and featuring Zahn McClarnon in a supporting role, finally gave Natives an edgy drama in prime time. But it was just one of numerous TV shows making heavy use of Indigenous actors in major storylines; others include Longmire, Banshee, Hell on Wheels, and House of Cards.
Movies for the Masses
The rush of acclaimed films by and about American Indians and First Nations peoples released in 2013-14 found an audience in everyday Natives no matter where they live thanks to technology. Movies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls, The Cherokee Word for Water and Shouting Secrets, which pleased festival audiences but would never make it to a middle-America megaplex, are now available through Netflix, iTunes, and other streaming services.
Smells Like Ted Nugent
Ted Nugent, who has always claimed a kinship with Native Americans—whether they want him or not—got his comeuppance for years of inflammatory remarks when Native-owned casinos and resorts decided to cancel his shows. He reacted in his typical defiant style, further alienating many Natives who said they were revoking their fanship. A Nugent show at the Sturgis Bike Rally in South Dakota was protested by Native activists (whom Nugent called “stinkyass unclean dipshit[s]”), and the event’s organizer remarked that he would have canceled it had he known of the controversy beforehand.
Can You Not?—Part III
It’s well documented that Germans have a fascination with Native culture that can (perhaps innocently) go a bit too far, but the Karl May Museum, in Radebeul, has usually been a friend to Indian country. That relationship became tense when it was revealed that the institution had 19 scalps of Natives, some of which were on display. A repatriation struggle has ensued, with some Native leaders urging pressure and the musician Jana Mashonee announcing her withdrawal from the popular annual festival. Some progress has been made, but at present, the issue remains unresolved.
White People Behaving Sadly
A segment on The Daily Show that put Washington Redskins fans in the same room with some of the leading anti-mascot activists sparked controversy when the football fans told the Washington Post they felt duped by the producers and threatened by the activists. One of them burst into tears on the set, and later called the police. When those same Native activists showed up for pre-game tailgating with Daily Show reporter Jason Jones, they actually were threatened by Redskins fans.