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Identifying An Unknown Native Man


A museum in Frankfurt, Germany, is looking for a little bit of help. They have an exhibit upcoming this summer that depicts native North Americans on posters relating to health, art, education and religion. One of those posters includes a photo of an unidentified native man wearing a Plains-style headdress. Vincent Schilling, the associate editor of Indian Country Today, decided to use his publication to help identify the man. And he joins us now. Welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.

VINCENT SCHILLING: Well, thank you, Lulu - appreciate you having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how would you go about IDing him? What are some of the clues?

SCHILLING: I actually decided to contact the museum and said, can you send me the entire poster so I can take a look at it? So when he sent me the entire poster, it actually is a poster of a sun dance. And it said Oglala Sioux. And for the - further information, contact Birgil Kills Straight. So I reached out to the community who I know knew Mr. Kills Straight and spoke to Mr. Dave Archambault Sr. And he said, hey, Vincent. This is Frank Fools Crow. And Mr. Frank Fools Crow was a very respected elder.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you actually solved the mystery. Let me ask you...

SCHILLING: Yeah, I did (laughter). Even I'm kind of shocked.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Let me ask you, how important is it to find out about people like the man depicted on this poster?

SCHILLING: It's huge. And it's not very often, Lulu, that people seek to step outside of the stereotypical boundaries of a Native person and actually say, who is this gentleman? Let's find out who he is. Let's know about him, his name.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does it say something about how Native Americans were treated in this country and others? I mean, this is in Germany - that we didn't know who this person was, that there's no record or name given.

SCHILLING: Right. Well, I'm Akwesasne Mohawk. And a lot of people don't even know what that means. My specific community is Canadian First Nations as well as Native American Mohawk. So there are so many little nuances that we hold dear that people don't realize there is any specificity involved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mr. Schilling, I think the testament to that is that you were able to find out who this was so quickly.

SCHILLING: Well, you know, there is a joke that everybody knows everyone in Indian Country. But I did feel very fortunate that, specifically, I looked at this gentleman. I said, OK. He is wearing a Plains-style headdress, so I would suspect that he's Lakota. And I even said - because I could tell by his regalia. I said, I wonder if he's from Porcupine - Porcupine, S.D. And I get the poster. And wouldn't you know it? It says Porcupine, S.D. So there really is that much specificity within a culture. So you'll see stereotypical people wearing headdresses or dressing up like an Indian. But it dismantles the rich culture of each person and the originality between - you know, nation to nation of Indian Country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vincent Schilling is the associate editor of Indian Country Today. Congratulations on figuring out who this is and...

SCHILLING: Well, thanks (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And thank you so much for speaking with us.

SCHILLING: Appreciate it - thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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