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The story of the interweaving of American Indians and their horses is explored in A Song for the Horse Nation, a major exhibition that will open Oct. 29 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition includes 122 historic objects, artwork, photographs, songs and personal accounts that contribute to the epic of how horses changed everything for the American Indians — traveling, hunting, waging war, exhibiting bravery and conducting ceremonies.
"When American Indians encountered horses — which some tribes call the Horse Nation — they found an ally, inspiring and useful in times of peace, and intrepid in times of war," said Kevin Gover, director of the museum and a member of the Pawnee Nation. "The exhibition shows how these splendid creatures came to represent courage and freedom to many tribes across North America."
The exhibition includes:
· A 16-foot-tall, 38-foot-circumference Lakota tepee, whose surface is covered by 110 hand-painted horses, some with riders, all at a full gallop, rendered in rich reds, turquoise blues and golds. The 19th-century scenes proclaim the heroic deeds of the warrior who once lived in the tepee.
· Life-size model horses, one pulling a 19th-century Cheyenne travois -- a frame used to drag heavy loads over land -- and another in fully beaded traditional Apsaalooke (Crow) regalia.
· Rifles that belonged to Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache), Chief Joseph (Nez Perce) and Chief Rain-in-the-Face (Hunkpapa Lakota).
· The ceremonial dance stick (circa 1890) created by No Two Horns (Hunkpapa Lakota) to honor his horse that died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
· The Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) Young Horsemen's Program, which seeks to preserve the Appaloosa horse breed made famous by their ancestors.
· Horse traditions that thrive on the Crow Indian Reservation.
· The Lakota’s annual trek on horseback called the Oomaka Tokatakiya — Future Generations Ride — in South Dakota, which evolved from an annual healing journey to honor those who died at Wounded Knee.
· The story of Joseph Medicine Crow, Apsaalooke (Crow), who liberated horses from the Nazi SS during World War II; he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2009.
"For some Native peoples, the horse still is an essential part of daily life," said Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota), curator of the exhibition. "For others, the horse will always remain an element of our identity and our history. The Horse Nation continues to inspire, and Native artists continue to celebrate the horse in our songs, our stories and our works of art."
Photo: A glass horse mask made by Marcus Amerman (© Ernest Amoroso/courtesy The Smithsonian Institution)
Joanne Garrett is an editor and producer at Bing Travel.
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