Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Editorial: Smoki People had good intentions

The Smoki kick just goes on, although I expect it's is a conscious effort to publicize the current exhibit at the Smoki Museum, which is not a bad thought. Perhaps the editor should spend some time at the exhibit himself. In writing today's editorial, he clearly hasn't read the literature closely.

In defending the intentions of the old Smoki, he kicks right off on the wrong foot:

"Laboring under the misconception that the Native American culture was vanishing, the group decided to put on a show mirroring Southwest and Plains Indian dances."
In point of fact, in the late teens and early '20s traveling, professional Wild West shows were popular entertainments, and the Prescott business community simply decided to try raising money by putting on an amateur version. The fake Indian dance was only one scene in the show, and there's no evidence that it was researched at all, or that it had any more to do with the idea of preserving Indian culture than the contemporary minstrel shows of the South were about preserving black culture there. For them it was just a goof, like the Kiwanis jug band.

Their intentions were not about the Indians, they were about money and having fun, and the Smoki maintained that tradition for almost 70 years. The high-minded 'preservation' idea came later, grafted on to create a paternalistic public face for the group, and eventually they all came to believe it. But to maintain that belief they had to willfully ignore the express wishes of the people they were supposedly honoring -- for decades.

Now, says the editor,
"The Smoki Museum is striving to make amends for slights the Native American people feel by incorporating their input in planning the exhibit "The Sign of Smoki: Art & Artistry of Prescott's Smoki People." ... a plan is in the works to bring together tribal leaders in a discussion that would conciliate any bad feelings that remain over the Smoki People"
The editor is about five years late to the party.

Under its first professional director, JT Tannous, in 2005 the Museum began reaching out to the native people of this region, adjusting its mission and practices, creating a native advisory board, cleaning funerary objects out of its collection, and putting together the permanent Smoki People exhibit, both as history and public amends. The museum now has a native director as well, and is well on its way to winning trust, expunging the stain of Smoki that spoils all of Prescott for natives across the region, and moving toward its goal of becoming a respected resource for Southwest anthropology and culture by directly involving the people who made that history.

And about those intentions the editor hopes to credit: pavers on the road to hell, as I recall. Let's focus more on actions, we'll get more good teaching moments that way.

"Let us hope that we can now lay to rest controversy over the Smoki People," says the editor in fatherly benediction. Sorry, Tim, you're in too big a hurry. Give it another 30 years, and try to keep the facts straight. Above all, avoid attempts to paper over and wish away the ugliness of the insult, which only makes it worse.

Again, readers, if you hope to understand this story with any degree of accuracy, go to the source.

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